Monday 21 February 2011

Committed - A Love Story: Review

By Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Penguin
Published in 2010
ISBN: 978-0-14-311899-2

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?


  1. I just watched Eat, Pray, Love this weekend after reading the book. LOVED them both. Was thinking of seeking out the squeal. I am happy you posted this.

    Not being married...the advice is limited. Do it for the relationship not the day in the white dress.

  2. I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love and a friend just read Committed and had good things to say about it. Another good book on marriage is Marriage: A History, by Stephanie Coontz. We read it for a book group I was in and had the best conversation. It's fascinating to read about the evolution of history in Western society, and how many of the things we believe were true about marriage (like that it's always been a religious institution) are not actually true.

    Best advice about marriage: don't swing at every pitch. Another variation, leave three things a day unsaid.

  3. I've just finished eat,pray,love and really enjoyed it so i'll definitely be reading this! I'm getting married this year and my mum just told me today that as long as both of us know we cant change the other we'll be ok!

  4. I'm jealous of all the books you read....wish I had the time! The best advice I got (at my 2nd wedding....) was "Stay Married." Outside of abusive situations, I think it is good advice, especially when there are children involved.

  5. @Valerie: I definitely recommend it, especially if you loved EPL. It's the same writing style and the same thought provoking look at life. Great advice too!

    @Robyn: The Stephanie Coontz book sounds really interesting. In fact I have a suspicion that Gilbert may have referenced it in her book. She talked about the whole marriage was not always the religious institution it's made out to be today, which I also found very interesting. Love your advice. Might try to apply that for myself...

    @Bex: Congratulations!! Definitely read this before the big day. It'll be interesting if nothing else and gives you a perspective on the concept you're committing yourself to. Great advice from your Mum - it's true. You know the man you're marrying. Nothing changes post-ring! :)

    @Kim: Haha I don't read half as many as most book bloggers. In fact I end up looking like a right slow poke compared to most but that's OK with me. I'm still massively impressed you have time to read one book a week with three kids!! You're a legend. That's really solid advice, I reckon. It's pretty much what my friends who had been married for a good while told me -unless it's an awful/abusive situation, just keep chugging away. My mother in law once told me: there are days when you'll want to kill your husband. Don't. You'll like him again soon enough!! (I love my MIL!!!)

  6. Best advice for someone about to get married? If you are not sure wait...and if you start saying things like "I can't disappoint everyone." then wait longer. As a veteran of silly mistakes I have learnt that it is only you that has to live with the other person everyday. And, being honest, stuff like "how are we going to live" really does is great but it is not enough...

  7. @THE Steve - Great advice right there. Couldn't agree more. Have seen results of the "Can't disappoint everyone" scenario too. I understand the pressure that must be felt in that kind of situation but you're right. At the end of the day, it's just you and the other person day in and day out. And the practical stuff matters because it's life - without food you get hungry, it doesn't matter how in love you might be.

  8. Loved reading about your personal experiences in the context of your review! I've never really been tempted to pick up Committed, but I'm definitely changing my mind now. :)

  9. @Meg - Thanks! I hope it wasn't TMI ;) There's something about Elizabeth Gilbert's books that seem to tie in directly to my personal life. EPL was the same. I'd definitely recommend Committed - it's extremely interesting.