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Book Review: Committed

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I admit, I went into reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Committed: A Love Story not feeling too excited about it.  I’d started her wildly popular Eat, Pray, Love and just couldn’t get into it.  It felt rather like she was flitting around, just doing whatever felt good.  Which, I’ve heard from a friend who actually read the whole thing, she was.

But Committed sounded interesting.  Gilbert had fallen in love with a Brazilian with Australian citizenship, but they were essentially living together (90 days at a time, per his visa restrictions) in the U.S.  However, finally the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said either they had to get married or he couldn’t come back to the U.S.  So they were faced with getting married — something that, having both experienced divorce — they had sworn they’d never do.

So Gilbert does lots of research and talking to lots of people in order to really get a handle on what marriage is and what it’s supposed to be.  And boy, does she have some crazy ideas.

Okay, obviously that’s my opinion.  And I’m a social conservative, which Gilbert definitely is NOT and which she in fact looks down upon.  So reading the book was kind of like being attacked, and therefore not a ton of fun.  I appreciated Gilbert’s easy-going writing style, but couldn’t get past the fact that she thinks that marriage is, overall, a boon to men but a detriment to women.

Gilbert seems to think that the only reason people get married is because it’s expected or required in some way.  She was perfectly happy just telling her Brazilian lover that she woudln’t ever leave him and having him tell her the same.  She can’t seem to fathom that people might actually like the commitment that marriage signifies, and might enjoy melding two lives inextricably.

She complains that marrying for love has raised the divorce rate (in cultures with arranged marriages, divorce is extremely rare) but doesn’t take into consideration that maybe it’s not falling out of love that causes divorce, but refusing to keep one’s commitment to actively love another person even when you don’t really feel like it.  Maybe the divorce rate isn’t sky high because people just don’t stay in love forever and so they split up.  Maybe instead it’s that Western culture has indicated that whenever you’re the least bit unhappy — in your relationships, in your job, in your house, in your community — you can just up and leave, not bothering to make the effort to try to improve the situation.  Just give up on it and find something better.

Also, Gilbert rails against the idea of motherhood and women staying at home with one’s children, saying that it destroys women’s careers.  (She never truly considers that lots of women might prefer to stay home with their children than work outside the home.)  She praises the fact that over history, in every culture, there is “a consistent 10 percent of women… who never have any children at all.”  She cheers for these women who have chosen to be childless, but fails to understand that some studies indicate that as many as 10 percent of couples are infertile.  (I’ve heard numbers everywhere from 6 to 10 percent.)  So while she may be cheering for these childless women, many of those very women may be weeping, wishing for the children who would keep them off the corporate ladder.

Gilbert and I are probably never going to change each other’s minds, even if we spent three days hashing it out.  And I’m okay with that.  I just wish she’d been a little more even-handed with her book.

If you tend to agree with her opinions, you would probably really enjoy this book.  If you don’t agree but don’t mind having your opinions knifed on every page, you might not hate it.  For me, it was moderately enjoyable, but the longer I read, the more it chafed.

Score: 7/10

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About Karen Koch

I like the old-fashioned lifestyle. All this new-fangled stuff baffles me sometimes. I cherish living out in the country, raising chickens and rabbits, planting fruit trees, and enjoying a slow life filled with beautiful words and ideas. I don't always achieve a slow life. I teach middle school English and manage a little burgeoning farm with my husband, and somewhere in the midst of that, I try to find time for writing, running, knitting, reading, and playing the ukulele. And sometimes, I actually succeed.

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