I listened to this book on the way to North Dakota and if you saw a somewhat hormonal middle age woman weeping while driving on I-94, it is the reason why. Well, that and construction.
Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert is a follow up memoir to Eat, Pray, Love. In Committed, Elizabeth and her lover are forced to marry if they wish to live in the United States. Although they are in love and had even made a private commitment to each other, both had bad divorces and so neither wanted to marry. The book documents the period they were waiting for the paperwork to clear so they could return to the United States and marry. She thinks about marriage and researches the subject on several levels, culturally and historically. Ironically, in the past few days, Gilbert has announced that she and the man from this book have separated.
I was visiting North Dakota to celebrate my aunt and uncle’s anniversary, so the book was particularly poignant. While I was enjoying their celebration, I also reflected on my parents’ marriage – both are notable in their longevity – and how they move through space in an lovely synchronous way. I also watched my sister and her husband in the frantic chaos of child raising – the part of marriage where every decision has to be balanced against the welfare of children.
My husband and I fall somewhere between: in the transition of our nest emptying and all the mixed feelings that emerges. This transition is causing us to renegotiate our marriage contract in a different way. For that reason, I love this section of the book where she says: “I started thinking about my parents’ garden- which is as good a metaphor as any for how two married people must learn to adapt to each other and to sometimes simply clear out of each other’s path in order to avoid conflict…they have divided their garden in order to keep some civility.. In fact, they have divided the garden in such a complicated matter that, by this point in its history, you would practically need a United Nations peacekeeping force to understand my parents’ carefully partitioned spheres of horticultural influence.” My husband and I agree on 85 per cent of the course of our lives, we have 10 per cent in tentative agreement and another 5 in active renegotiation. As our children become adults we spend less time focused on them, we are turning more and more to each other and thinking about the future of our life together. Now everything is up for renegotiation, as the relationships and needs of our children shrink, our needs can take center stage again.
Gilbert writes about her grandmother’s marriage in Minnesota and the trade offs her grandmother had made to her personal freedom. Her grandmother is contemporary of my grandmother. I still love the story my grandfather told me of how he met my grandmother. He was a soldier in World War 2, patrolling the beaches of California. He saw her on the beach in her swimsuit and thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. This is still one of the most romantic stories I have ever heard. My grandfather was from North Dakota, and when he brought her home, I am sure it was a shock for her, between the weather and the landscape.
If you want to spend some time contemplating marriage, I recommend this book. Whatever stage you are in, you will find some wisdom. Even though it didn’t work out for Gilbert, her thoughts on marriage are still poignant and true.