Elizabeth Gilbert, I still love you. But the more I read, the more “Committed” feels frustratingly like an extended exercise in self-rationalization: of having a second marriage (would you believe some seagulls marry twice–and the second time they’re sooo happy!), of not having children (did you know Leo Tolstoy and the Bronte sisters were both raised by childless Aunties??), of Felipe, husband number two, and his liberated feminism (once she overheard him say woman’s place is in the kitchen: with a glass of wine and her feet up!).
But some sections, I must admit, still strike a chord. In particular, her inquiry into the question of why so many single women are desperate to get married despite an apparently overwhelming amount of data demonstrating that marriage benefits men far more than women, in every conceivable way. Gilbert surveyed her still-single friends to ask why, and got some predictable answers–many featuring the word “chosen.” And she offers an anecdote about her friend Christine: a woman so burdened by her longing to marry that on her 40th birthday she took a small wooden boat of rose petals and rice to set aflame in the Pacific–symbolically allowing herself to “marry her own life.”
I’m not sure anything has ever made so depressed. “I have got to to go burn some rice petals,” I thought as I read this, horrified, thinking of my writing teacher’s persistent advice (echoed, I should add, by Gilbert when I heard her speak) to “marry my writing” and the similar wisdom of my dear friend J, who last week told me that I must accept the possibility of being eternally single.
This is not because I am anywhere close to forty. It is because if I am going to be honest with myself I must admit that my idea of long-term happiness is contingent on happiness with someone else: on finding love.
I know I’m not alone. But, for me, it’s become a problem. As I’ve alluded, the past few months have been a bit difficult emotionally. Specifically, I’ve gotten attached to a series of three men since September, each of whom got my hopes up and then disappointed me severely.
I’m exhausted. And determined to somehow shield myself so that such patterns don’t repeat.
J’s advice is what makes me think I might need to take up with rose petals. Until a couple of months ago, when she embarked on a super-serious and super-healthy relationship that shows all signs of permanence, J was generally single. Just before this new thing began, she told me, she had gotten to the point of accepting the possibility that she might never find love: that she might be the dreaded “auntie” Gilbert writes so enthusiastically about. It was only then, she said, that she found the security that allowed her to comfortably, safely enter into a partnership. If I didn’t do the same, she warned, I’d continue to be vulnerable to the kinds of flaky advances to which I’ve lately succombed.
And then there ‘s my grandmother’s advice, following my most recent hiccup: “The best way to get over someone is to meet someone else.”
Frankly, I am more tempted to side with my grandmother. But the problem with that advice, as I told her, is that I can’t control it. I’d like to meet someone, but I am not about to jump on the first adam’s apple I see on campus (which is good, because there’s a chance it could belong to one of my students).
And, while it feels incredibly daunting, I can control my attitude toward relationships. Though as J acknowledged, it means in some way denying who I am to think my idea of happiness does not depend on another person.
Baby steps. Last week I sent two emails to two different men who’ve hurt me, both of which I worried would assure I’d never hear from them again. I might not. If so, I’ll be disappointed, but I won’t be crushed. I might still want to be happy with someone else, but at the very least I know that will only come with someone I can be myself with. Even if that someday means a wooden boat sprinkled with rice, and burnt rose petals.