Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: Committed

Committed: A Love Story, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Rating: 3.0/5.0

First of all, can we talk about the title of this book? Its original subtitle was "A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage." Between the time that I saved this book to my library wishlist and the time that I actually got around to reading it, it had changed to "A Love Story." I don't get the need for this, other than marketing. Considering that one of the most common criticisms of Committed is that it's not like Eat, Pray, Love, this seems to be deliberately misleading people. The original subtitle is far more accurate.

At the end of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert meets Felipe and the two fall in love. In Committed, they learn that if they want to live together in the United States, they are going to have to get married. As both of them are divorced and swore that they'd never remarry, this is not good news. Adrift in Southeast Asia while they wait for Felipe's fiance visa to be approved, Gilbert sets out to learn about marriage and to find a way to make peace with the idea of being married again. This is not a sequel to Eat, Pray, Love; the book is partially a memoir but is mostly a dissertation on marriage in a historical, social, and religious context.

It was an interesting read, especially against the backdrop of the same-sex marriage debate going on in the US. The people who argue against it like to argue that marriage has always been defined as being between a man and a woman, and that it's a sacred institution. As Gilbert discovered, none of that is true. In ancient Rome, for instance, it was perfectly legal for two men to marry when circumstances made it beneficial for them to do so. Most of the time, marriage was about politics or convencience. Not at all sacred. The church itself was initially against marriage altogether until it realized that people were going to do it anyway. Unable to prevent it, they began trying to control it instead.

Gilbert's research brought up several facts and ideas that I found interesting/thought-provoking:
  • Western culture has a different view on the purpose of marriage than the rest of the world and we place a very high degree of importance in its role in our lives. We also tend to expect our spouse to be responsible for our own personal fulfillment. Not surprising, then, that we tend to be more unsatisfied and disappointed.
  • The laws of coverture. Ridiculous.
  • There is an actual genetic basis for the dad vs. cad theory. There is a particular male gene, the length of which can predispose a man to either father a child and take off (the cad), or stick around and raise his kids (the dad). 
  • Seagulls mate for life. Who knew? But even among seagulls, there is a 25% "divorce" rate. I found it interesting that there is such a thing as a fundamental compatibility (or lack thereof) between individuals.
  • Educated women tend to have more solid marriages. And in societies where women become financially independent, marriage is the first thing that changes. This is because a woman's "need" or motivation for marriage is lessened or removed.
  • The Marriage-Benefit Imbalance. There is a study showing that while men benefit socially, physcologically, and physically from marriage, it has the opposite effect on women. When I tried to find more on this, I came across a series of articles on Psychology Today which debunk it instead. It starts here.

In addition to the research, Gilbert shares stories of her mother and grandmother's marriages. I enjoyed that and it was amazing to hear how much things changed in just one generation. The book was well written but did get repetitive at times. Also, as much as I like her, Gilbert came across as someone who, even after her journey in Eat, Pray, Love, is still insecure and worried about what people will think. There are many passages in the book where she'll make a statement and then, in anticipation of how someone might criticize or misinterpret her intentions, she'll qualify and defend it. That got annoying after a while. Finally, her entire premise was about making peace with her own second marriage but after laying out all of her research and reflections, Gilbert doesn't really discuss how she ultimately did make that decision to go forward and be ok with it. It just happens. I got to the end and felt like something was missing.

Overall, while it could have been better, the book was still a worthwile read. It was interesting and I learned some new things. It made me reflect on my own relationship and marriage.

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