APW Book Club: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed

I read Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed: a Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage a few weeks ago, after Meg first posted about it as the selection for the next book club meeting. I'd enjoyed Dan Savage's The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family but that APW book club meetup happened the same day as our engagement shoot so I missed the book club in favor of getting fake eyelashes, pretty much. I was rather skeptical of Elizabeth Gilbert and the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing, but realized that I was unfortunately pretty much playing into exactly what Meg was talking about in the "if women like it, it must be stupid" assumption. Very disappointing, and to make up for it, I decided to trust Meg and give it a shot.

And actually, I quite enjoyed it! And then went ahead and read Eat, Pray, Love afterwards, too. The thing that won me over was when I realized, sure, Gilbert can seem rather self-absorbed and privileged at times, but she is entirely self-aware of this and even makes fun of herself sometimes for it. And then I found myself just enjoying how she uses words and her sense of humor. Even though she and I have very little in common, there were still many passages when I felt myself nodding along.

I went to the NYC meetup tonight at Entwine and had a really lovely time with the five other women who came. Everyone had pretty different backgrounds and prior expectations when it came to marriage, but they all had insightful and interesting things to say. I think meeting people off the internet is one of the best ways to meet people, since it's generally related to some already stated shared interest and so when it happens, there isn't that painful awkwardness of trying to find some topic to discuss and you know when you do start talking about that shared interest, it's probably a self-selecting enough group that the conversation flows far more easily than it would at a party or happy hour or whatnot.

I figured while I still had the book around, I'd try jotting down my quick answers to the questions posed for the book club:

Gilbert talks about how pragmatic marriages caused alliances and saved kingdoms and ran farms. Now marriage is mostly touted as a very individual, or a ‘for the kids.’ Do you think there is something that marriages, generally or individually, can offer to the larger community? Economically? Socially? Emotionally? For our neighborhood, our nation, our friend group, our families, or another group? Discuss.
  • I think there marriages are a stabilizing force in societies. People like to know where other people stand, and while of course you'd never know what truly happens behinds closed doors, there's a strong enough cultural assumption of what a marriage means that to know that someone's partner is a "husband" as opposed to "boyfriend" can be rather comforting (boyfriend = on and off partner, just met 2 weeks ago, or have been living together for 10 years?). Marriages are certainly not the only stabilizing force, however, and in many instances the stability is not worth the costs paid in an unhappy marriage.

Has the evolution of men’s and women’s roles in our social network negatively or positively affected our marriages in the Western world? (see page 31)
  • I think the evolution of gender-based roles in our society may have only negatively affect marriages if you define a positive effect to consist solely of most people getting married, and married for life. I see what Gilbert's saying about the evolution towards the idea of your spouse being your end-all-be-all of your social network, instead of one part of a larger community as she says it is among the Hmong people, setting unrealistic expectations for many people, but I think she's mixing up two different things here. Not needing an entire community's mutual support to survive and being self-sufficient is different from taking up the idea of finding your soul mate.

Gilbert asks on page 185 “how might we work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised with out women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it?” Discuss.
  • Much like not demanding that your partner match your every need, I think we as a society need to not expect mothers to have all the answers and ultimate responsibility for children that are borne. I also think we definitely need to have greater acceptance of the concept of paternity leave and that stay-at-home dads shouldn't face social stigma.

Early in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert says that “every intimacy carries the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.” Do you think that’s true of your relationship? Does it make you feel doomed, or hopeful?
  • Yes, I think that's true of all truly intimate relationships. When someone really loves you, and I mean you, not the facade of you, they know all your deepest secrets and fears and nastiness--and the wonder of it is, they love you anyway. I think you can't have real intimacy without exposing yourself and becoming vulnerable to this person you've decided to trust not to hurt you. And unfortunately, sometimes that part doesn't work out, but you can't let that possibility stop you from opening yourself up to hurt, because you'll miss out on love, too.

On page 35 Liz states “… the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality. Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reflected back to the world.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
  • DISAGREE. I mean, yes, who you choose to marry says a lot about the kind of person you are, but I utterly recoil from these kinds of absolute statements. I just reread that section and you should note that Gilbert is actually discussing her theory of how western cultures perceive marriage, and how especially for women, their marriage is "at the center of their own emotional biography." I agree with her characterization, and I also think that it's part of the culture of holding up marriage on such a lofty pedestal that contributes to a lot of disillusionment when people realize that "and happily ever after" doesn't exist magically.

How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage? Have you learned anything surprising about their marriage as an adult?
  • I'm skipping this, because I'm not comfortable discussing this in a public arena (generally when I think about what to blog, I imagine how I'd feel if the last person in the world I wanted to read it actually did read it, and then I decide), but I'll just say that I do think it's very important to examine the models that you may be unconsciously looking to, for both yourself and your partner, so that you can try to emulate or avoid aspects of these models consciously.

How did Gilbert’s list of demographics’ effect on marriage make you feel about the prospects of your own marriage?
  • I thought this part of the book was so funny. I was fond of her at this point, as someone who dove into books and research and general obsessiveness when trying to deal with a conundrum (my modus operandi when I feel like I don't know something is to go out and get a book on it...hence this rather long list now of wedding/marriage books I've read in the right sidebar). Anyway, you can't apply generalized statistics like that to yourself directly in that way at all. That's not how it works. It is interesting for the noting what may be your "risk factors" and try to plan for how to lessen their potential effect.


GF said...

I'm so glad you posted this! It's great to see some folks' thoughts on the reading and the meeting. :) I didn't have time to read the book this time around, so I'm hoping to head out for the next one -- maybe I'll see you there!

Anonymous said...

glad you recapped, i'm in the process of doing the same...i didn't actually get a chance to read it (shame) but i'm pumped for the next one for sure, lady.

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