Monday, 21 February 2011
Committed - A Love Story: Review
Published by Penguin
Published in 2010
I bought this book in an uncontrollable book binge at PageOne in Taipei. I was not paid for this review.
When I walked down the aisle nearly two years ago, I thought I was ready. I thought that I knew what I was getting myself in for. I thought I was good to go and ready for married life. In hindsight, I had no idea what I was getting into. To be fair, the marriage situation I was getting myself into was a little outside of the ordinary - we'd been together for six years at that stage but for three of those years we'd lived in different countries... different HEMISPHERES even: he was in Taiwan and I was in New Zealand. Then after three years of a two week trip here and a 10 day trip there, I relocated to Taiwan. Picked up everything in my life that would fit in cardboard boxes and trundled over to a country where I didn't know the language, didn't have a job or even know many people to join a man who had been living like a bachelor for three years. I thought that this would all go off without a hitch. How naiive was I?!
The first year of our marriage can be summed up in three words: steep learning curve. Luckily, we survived and life is now good. I absolutely love living here, am slowly picking up the language, have a great job, amazing new friends and plenty of Skype credits to keep in contact with everyone in New Zealand. My only wish is that Committed had been around for me to read before I got married.
Just in case you don't know the story, here's the brief version: Elizabeth Gilbert was a successful writer living in New York with her husband. Problem: she has no desire to be married to him anymore. He's not a bad guy, it's just not a happening thing anymore. Second problem: he disagrees. Commence messy and drawn out divorce proceedings, a rebound love affair and a near mental breakdown. Elizabeth decides what she really needs is a year to figure herself out and chooses Italy (for the love of the language), India (for the attempts at meditation and inner peace) and Bali in Indonesia (because a medicine man told her she would return to see him and he'd teach her everything). She goes. She eats, she prays, she falls in love and then she comes back to write a bestseller about it all.
In Bali, she met a gorgeous Brazilian gentleman who she calls Felipe in Eat, Pray, Love and who is obviously the guy who she falls in love with. However, as they have both been through traumatic divorces they swear eternal love for each other but refuse to marry. This all works rather well until border control finds out that Felipe has been using a visitor's visa to effectively live in the States and turfs him out. The only way back in is if they get married. They spend a year living in and around South-East Asia while they battle bureaucracy and this book evolved as Elizabeth's attempt to get her head in the right space to enter the marriage game again.
Although this is certainly not an academic text, it is very well researched. When Ms. Gilbert has a problem, she reads about it. I sympathise with this response, I do exactly the same thing. The resulting book is half memoir, half sociological/historical tour of the institution of marriage and I found it utterly fascinating. It's split into several sections, such as Marriage and Expectations, Marriage and History, and Marriage and Women, coming at the question of "Why get married" from various angles. The most interesting thing I learned from this book? The fact that despite culture telling us that women are the ones who want to get married and men reluctantly acquiesce, marriage is actually far more statistically beneficial for men than it is women. Married men live longer, get richer, are happier and suffer less addiction problems than single men BUT the exact opposite is true for women. It's not just that marriage is less beneficial for women - statistically it seems like a really bad idea. So why on earth do we do it?
It's this question that Gilbert answers: eloquently, honestly and intimately. At the end of the book, I am happy to report that while it was an eye-opening experience, I'm still glad I got married and want to remain married. If you know of anyone who is getting married soon, this would make a really good present. I know I'll be recommending it - marriage is a massive decision and it's best to into it as well informed as you can be. Reading this book reminded me of why I wanted to get married (because I adore the man) and why staying married is a good idea (we can build an awesome life together). As a wise person once told me: there are up and downs in everyone's marriage. Stick it out and it usually gets better.
What's the best advice you could give someone who is about to get married? What's the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you regarding love and marriage?