Title: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
When I received Committed for review, I put it on the back-burner for awhile. Middling reviews, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t really that interested in reading it, made me decide to prioritize it pretty low. However, I noticed it recently and decided I’d give it a try. After all, it’s about Gilbert’s exploration into marriages in other cultures. I love reading books about travel and that part of it sounded interesting, so even if I wasn’t her biggest fan, the book had to have some redeeming qualities, right? Right??
To be fair, I only made it 35 pages into the book, which is probably a record for me – I usually give a book until at least page 75. And the cultural tidbits were indeed interesting, but Gilbert was unbelievable. Her preconceptions, prejudices, and utter ignorance made me so angry that I couldn’t continue with this memoir. Case in point:
“In the modern industrialized Western world, where I come from, 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 into the world.”
Umm…no? Doesn’t the fact that it’s your individualism mean that your spouse cannot be a mirror, because you are both individuals? Granted, I’m not an expert on marriage and haven’t been married for long, but my husband and I have different personalities. We definitely complement each other in some ways, but we diverge in others. He is most definitely not a representation of my personality nor a mirror to my emotional individualism. We are both our own independent people.
“If you ask any typical modern Western woman how she met her husband, when she met her husband, and why she fell in love with her husband, you can be plenty sure that you will be told a complete, complex, and deeply personal narrative which that woman has not only spun carefully around the entire experience, but which she has memorized, internalized, and scrutinized for clues as to her own selfhood.”
What???? I really hope that the story of how I met my husband is not a deeply personal narrative because WE MET IN A BAR. Not much spinning I could do about that, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. Sure people ask, and I respond truthfully, but clearly, this is not crucial to my selfhood. I can’t say I really know anyone who has constructed some grand tale about how they met their spouse (though sometimes the stories are really good on their own). People I know don’t define themselves through their spouses, nor do they deconstruct how and when they met their spouses, and when they fell in love, for clues to their own identity. That’s one of the most ridiculous and ignorant generalizations about Western women I’ve ever heard.
“Whatever the details, you can be certain that the modern Western woman’s love story will have been examined by her from every possible angle, and that, over the years, her narrative will have been either hammered into a golden epic myth or embalmed into a bitter cautionary tale.”
I’m sorry, but I don’t know anyone, male or female, who defines themselves through their spouse the way that Gilbert thinks every single Western woman does. (Also? Seriously, you think Scandinavian women, who are trending towards not even getting married to their male partners anymore, fit into these ridiculous generalizations? Get your adjectives correct, you’re talking about American women, even though you don’t know much about them either.) My love story with my husband isn’t an epic myth. I don’t even really consider it a love story – I’ve never thought of it that way. I love him, he loves me, we work together to be happy – that’s about all the thought I, and most people I know, have given it.
I realize this is not a nice review. I also realize that, at the end of the book, Gilbert might revise her opinions on American women and marriage, and come to the conclusion that she has no idea what she’s talking about. But I wasn’t willing to give it that chance. I don’t want to read a book by someone who starts out with such painful preconceptions that she applies to all Western women, rather than just her experiences. After reading these pages, though, I can understand why GIlbert was so ambivalent about marriage if this is what she thought it was. There has to be a reason for her strange ideas, and they might have been revealed, had I kept reading.
This is likely going to be the longest “Unfinished” review I ever write, and I wasn’t sure if I should even write it, considering I got 35 pages into the book before putting it down. But I think it’s important to get my views across, especially because I felt so strongly about these passages in the book. I certainly hope that Gilbert came to a place of peace with the idea of marriage by the end of the book, and understood that while getting married and the person you pick is incredibly important, examining how you met your husband is not vital to your own identity.
Edit: After writing this review, I discussed Committed with some Twitter people, and Natasha from 1330v informed me that, later in the book, Gilbert discusses the marriages in her family and it becomes clear why she has such a warped view of marriage. I think this information would have been very helpful earlier in the book, as well as Gilbert presenting the musings above as opinion, rather than broad generalizations. If I had been cognizant of those details when reading these sections, I may have chosen to continue with the memoir.