Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has just released her new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. In Committed, Gilbert, still recovering from a messy divorce from her first husband, charts her journey to make peace with the institution of marriage in order to marry (and secure U.S. citizenship for) her Brazilian-born beau.
Elizabeth Gilbert talks with us about Committed and marriage.
The title of your book, Committed, is a clever double entendre. How did you choose that title?
When I do public speaking events and say I’m writing this book about marriage and it’s called Committed, there’s usually about one-quarter of the audience who starts to giggle like they get it. And others say -- “how nice, it’s about commitment.” It is, but it’s also about how there is sometimes insanity about that institution. This book has had many titles along the way and then I finally sent out emails to practically every person that I knew, like I was having a contest. I had to come up with a catchy one word title for the book.
Would your wedding and marriage have been different in any way if you hadn’t been able to research and write this book?
When the Homeland Security Office informed us that we had to marry, one of the first thoughts I had was that I don’t want anyone to know about this. It almost had a shameful tint to it. Had you asked me on that day “What is your wedding going to be like?” – the answer would have been one word – secret. I just had so many issues with tradition. I didn’t want anyone to know about it or to be there. It’s almost like I wanted to keep it a secret from myself so that I could almost cover my ears and go “lalalala” and pretend that it never happened. And that we could just continue being the way we’d always been. And obviously by the end of the book, that had changed, and I had made enough peace with the whole notion. I was not just comfortable, but eager to have it be an event that was shared with our family. It had finally dawned on me that this is an institution that doesn’t just belong to two people who are involved in it. It also belongs to the close relatives and friends of the people who are involved because they are deeply impacted by whatever happens to that couple. It belongs to the state and to history. And you just want to share it. With regard to that, I just wanted to make it an event. It was a happy day.
Now that some time has passed, does marriage still seem like a subversive institution?
What I see happening -- and you can see it going on in the press right now – is the battle for same sex marriage. It is a powerful political force. People fight very, very hard for it and they always have to set their own terms for what this is going to be. It does feel that way to me – more than ever. There’s a stubbornness. Couples will continue to insist on privacy in which to practice intimacy. And in order to safeguard their privacy, they will want a circle drawn around themselves that must be respected by the law and the community. And they will fight very hard for that circle against a great deal of resistance from the powers that be. And, ultimately, they win, which is why marriage is such an evolving notion and why its shape changes with every generation, with every century. And why none of us, even the most conservative people in America today, would accept marriage on its 15th century terms. It must change or else people won’t have it anymore.
So you’re now at peace with your relationship to the institution of marriage?
I’m at peace with my marriage. I believe in my husband and I believe in the relationship that we’re creating and the community that we’re a part of, the family that we’re a part of. And I believe that we could not have the peace and freedom and liberty that we have as a couple without marriage. That’s a no-brainer. We wouldn’t be able to live here in the U.S. without it. So it’s benefited us enormously at a bureaucratic level. On a personal level, I feel like – yes, I know what this thing is now. I know that marriage is a long, evolving human story. I’m a part of this history. I’m a part of the way it grows and changes. I feel connected to generations of people who have also shaped what we now consider institutionalized partnership.
Elizabeth Gilbert is an award-winning writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her short story collection Pilgrims was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, and her novel Stern Men was a New York Times notable book. Her 2002 book The Last American Man was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award. Since its initial publication in January 2006, her most recent book Eat, Pray, Love spent 57 weeks in the #1 spot on the New York Times paperback bestseller list. A film adaptation of the book is coming out this summer from Columbia Pictures.