Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Committed" to Marriage

Over the weekend, while I was sick and laying in bed, I read "Committed", by Elizabeth Gilbert.  If the name sounds familiar it's because she wrote the juggernaut, "Eat, Pray, Love" which is the most self-indulgent memoir I have ever read.  I picked it up at the library, considered the author and then put it back down.  Then I decided that just because she was completely self-absorbed and out of touch with the reality that most North American (actually the world) women live in, didn't mean that she might not have something more worthwhile to contribute than her sad introspection on her privileged life in her previous best-seller.  "Oh, my life is so hard, my marriage wasn't going well, so I had an affair and have to pay alimony to my ex-husband, then I traveled around the world having a wonderful time and thinking about myself, with no responsibilities and good health, and by the way, I was so sad about getting divorced that I got really thin."  Cry me a stinkin' river.

Her follow-up memoir, "Committed" is actually an informative and interesting read.  Probably because she doesn't just focus on herself, but actually gives a lot of information about the Institution of Marriage in the Western world.  This isn't a self-help or how-to book about marriage, but rather focuses on what marriage actually is and how it is viewed by different cultures and societies throughout history.  There is a lot of discussion over whether society has shaped marriage or vice versa.  I liked the historical information and agreed with a lot of the conclusions she came to.  I guess you could say that I have a grudging respect for her now.

What especially stood out to me was her chapter on marriage and women.  She talks about how women sacrifice self for the benefit of their families and marriages.  Here is an excerpt from her book:

"But I just want to say here - to lock it forever in print, if only to honor my mother - that an awful lot of my advantages as a child were built on the ashes of her personal sacrifice.  The fact remains that while our family as a whole profited immensely from my mother's quitting her career, her life as an individual did not necessarily benefit so immensely.  In the end, she did just what her female predecessors had always done: She sewed winter coats for her children from the leftover material of her heart's more quiet desires.

And this is my beef, by the way, with social conservatives who are always harping about how the most nourishing home for a child is a two-parent household with the mother in the kitchen.  If I - as a beneficiary of that exact formula - will concede that my own life was indeed enriched by that precise familial structure, will the social conservatives please (for once!) concede that this arrangement has always put a disproportionately cumbersome burden on women?  Such a system demands that mothers become selfless to the point of near invisibility in order to construct these exemplary environments for their families.  And might those same social conservatives - instead of just praising mothers as "sacred" and "noble" - be willing to someday join a larger conversation about how we might work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised and healthy families can prosper without women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it?"

This is something that I have struggled with myself, but I'll save that for another post. Whether you liked "Eat, Pray, Love" or not, this book is worth the read.

This is too funny to not share, you will laugh & laugh!  Men in Belted Sweaters


  1. Sounds like an interesting book.
    Maybe one day I will read it.
    Motherhood is a gift. It is putting selfish wants aside for their children. Let's face it, it goes by quickly. Soon enough children are grown and out of the nest. If a person isn't ready to be "selfless to the point of near invisibility" then perhaps they aren't ready for the most important job in the world.

  2. I agree that motherhood requires an unbelievable amount of selflessness. But I think that until you become a mother, there is no way to quantify it, and then it is too late. Motherhood is a heavier burden for some to carry than it is for others, and I think we should all try to understand that we come at it from different places. I do wholeheartedly agree that if you aren't prepared to completely change your lifestyle for children, you probably should reconsider your decision to have them, but not everyone has that luxury either. This is something that I will be talking about in a later post. I appreciate your comment!

  3. I loved your conclusion of 'Eat, pray, love". Never read it or saw the movie and now I don't have to! So thanks! Motherhood....hmmmmm....I'm not sure why it would be a heavier burden for some except that our responses are different. I don't know, maybe you're right. At any rate, full time kindergarten starts in the fall and this mommy is very excited!

  4. The heaviness of motherhood can be taken in two ways. In a practical sense, single parenting or parenting an ill or special needs child is much harder than having healthy children in a two parent home. You're correct in assuming that the response is the other way. The best way I can explain it is with a quote from "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". Here it is, " I know I'm supposed to help you, but I can't. Instead of being your support I'm your weight. Life is very heavy to me, but it is so light to you. I can't bear this lightness, this freedom... I'm not strong enough."

    Some people are able to shrug off things and skim through life without letting all the changes and hard knocks get them down. But then there are people like me, who find life very heavy. Everything is fraught with meaning and feels overwhelming. It's just my nature I guess!