I'm delighted to kick off the first ever 2000dollarwedding book club discussion about Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert. You all are such an insightful and smart bunch--I just wish we were discussing this book in person over chocolate fondue!
I chose this book for a couple reasons. First, I'm a big fan of hybrid genres. I am engaged by narratives injected with interesting factoids and tangents. I also wanted to immerse myself in the topic of marriage. Before I head too far down the baby path, I want to spend sufficient time holding marriage in the palm of my hand, savoring it, and investigating its nooks and crannies.
All in all, I'm glad I read the book, although I'm not going to gush about it. I'd give it three out of five stars.
Here were my major take-aways:
- We should enter into marriage with seriousness and gravity. She says, "I had jumped into my first marriage, at the totally unfinished age of twenty-five, much the same way that a Labrador jump into a swimming pool-with exactly that much preparation and foresight" (19). Now, I'm not saying there's some sort of age cut-off as far as being prepared for marriage goes, but I do believe that we should enter into the commitment much more consciously. There are so many forces at work that can easily distract us from the seriousness of the undertaking: centerpieces, cake-toppers, hair pieces--oh my! It's sometimes hard to clearly see the Marriage through all the Wedding static. Getting married is a big, big deal. It's a commitment that changes the path of your life--for better or worse. It deserves more forethought and consideration.
- The poetry. Something about Elizabeth Gilbert irks me. I can't quite put my finger on it (perhaps I subconsciously know what it is but won't admit it to myself because I realize that what I don't like about her is probably something that I don't like about myself--thanks Carl Jung). However, I do love the way she can serve up poetic phrases like stuffed mushrooms at a cocktail party. For example, she said, "Flopping in the meantime from country to country, we came to resemble nothing more than an insomniac couple trying to find a restful sleeping position in a strange and uncomfortable bed" (22). I find her prose enjoyable to digest.
- Breaking off into smaller and smaller family units can put a strain on our marriages. I loved her discussion of the Hmong people. They structure their families and clans much more broadly, and they don't expect their partners to be their everything--"your best friend, your most intimate confidant, your emotional advisor, your intellectual equal, your comfort in times of sorrow" (32). When I was dating and scouring the planet for my one true soul mate, I had unrealistic expectations about finding a partner who would fulfill all of my needs. As Gilbert describes: "For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that perhaps I was asking too much of love. Or, at least, perhaps I was asking too much of marriage. Perhaps I was loading a far heavier cargo of expectation onto the creaky old boat of matrimony than that strange vessel had ever been built to accommodate in the first place." Although Matt does fulfill many, many of my needs, I still need to analyze life with my best friend Andy and talk educational policy with my friend Brent and brainstorm next steps with my friend Alisa. I don't expect Matt to complete me; we both continue to make connections outside our marriage in order to to live whole, full lives. We also go out of our way to build community around us. We host monthly potlucks, we strike up conversations with our neighbors, we make a conscious effort to make new friends. Also, pursing lives apart from each other always helps to renew our appreciation for the times when we are together.
- Romantic love is not the most important indicator of a good marriage. Gilbert says, "The emotional place where a marriage begins is not nearly as important as the emotional place where a marriage finds itself toward the end." I agree with the idea that prioritizing partnership over passion can help contribute to a relationship's longevity.
- Interesting interludes. I love books that give me something to talk about at parties. For example, her discussion of the vasopression receptor gene and its role in creating men who are "trustworthy and reliable sexual partners, sticking with one spouse for decades, rasing children and running stable households" (107) was intriguing. I also appreciated her discussion of Shirley P. Glass's work on marital infidelity. Glass proposes a very interesting theory about how casual friendship can lead to infidelity (e.g., you start sharing a lot of your emotional self with someone new and that feels good) and how you can be conscious of the signs and intervene before it's too late (e.g., by talking to your spouse about what's happening rather than feeling shameful and keeping it a secret--which causes you to feel even more connected to the new person with whom you share everything). And I was fascinated by her description of the Laotian wedding loan system: "When a Laotian couple is about to get married, they send invitation cards to each guest. The guests take these original invitation cards (with their names and addresses on them), fold the cards into the shape of a small envelope, and stick some money inside. On the wedding day, all these envelopes go into a giant wooden box. This immense donation is the money with which the couple will begin their new life together....Later, when the wedding party is over, the bride and groom sit up all night and count the money. While the groom counts, the bride sits with a notebook, writing down exactly how much money was given by each guest," so that the exact amount (plus a little for interest and inflation) will be returned as a gift to the original giver on his/her wedding day. "The wedding money, then, is not really a gift. It's an exhaustively catalogued and ever-shifting loan, circulating from one family to the next as each new couple starts a life together" (140).
And I worried about the "Marriage Benefit Imbalance" that suggests that women do not reap as many benefits from marriage as men do (167). Gilbert discusses the research and says, "If there was ever a good moment in Western history...for a woman to become a wife, this would probably be it. If you are advising your daughter on her future, and you want her to be a happy adult someday, then you might want to encourage her to finish her schooling, delay marriage for as long as possible, earn her own living, limit the number of children she has, and find a man who doesn't mind cleaning the bathtub. Then your daughter may have a chance at leading a life that is nearly as healthy and wealthy and happy as her future husband's life will be" (168).
I also loved hearing about Gilbert's mom. She "had been a hard worker her whole life, but this job--this career--became an expression of her very being, and she loved every minute of it" (180). Yes, we should all find jobs that are the expression of our very being and that bring us immense joy.
All in all, I enjoyed reading the book. Although I found myself skimming some of the slow parts, I got a lot out of the book.
So what about you? What was your overall response to the book? What resonated with you? What bothered you? How will your life be different after reading this book? Also, do you have any recommendations for the next book club title? I'm thinking we should do something less cerebral and more practical--something about how to continue to build and develop strong partnerships (something like Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts with the accompanying workbook?). Other ideas?