I recently reviewed Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert, and while it didn’t seem as real as Cathy Alter’s Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex, and Starting Over,which is also a memoir about getting over a divorce and getting your head straight, what I love about Elizabeth’s writing is her ability to weave foreign cultures, history, science, religion, philosophy into her own experience and thoughts.
I recently finished Gilbert’s book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. I enjoyed learning about the Hmong culture in Vietnam. We in America, and some other Western countries are so independent and individual as people, but this wasn’t always the case. If we were to look way back in our family history, our ancestors probably lived much like the Hmong. The Hmong families spend their lives living with their extended family. And when I say live together with extended family, I don’t mean in a McMansion. These people sleep on the floor together in a one-bedroom home. And you think your mother-in-law gets on your nerves! Can you imagine? We as Westerners don’t have the patience and tolerance it would take to deal with this. Apparently, new married couples are given a room the size of a broom closet to have sex in private for a few months after marriage, but after those months are up, they are back to sleeping with the rest of the family. Liz writes that these people grow up without any sense of individuality or self, and have no expectations for their future. They are very simple people — so different from us. Some cultures which have settled in America do still live together as extended family, but this is seen as strange and unthinkable to many of us.
I felt like Eat, Pray, Love was like really good therapy for those of us who have gone through a divorce or bad breakup or both. Committed begins where Eat, Pray, Love left off. Liz has gotten herself together, found a great guy, and is trying to build a life with him…until the Department of Homeland Security interferes. Felipe is forced to leave the United States, and won’t be allowed back unless she marries him, which complicates things as she and Felipe have both experienced the ugliness of divorce and don’t feel they need to tie the knot to have a great life together. They don’t want to have kids together. They don’t want to have a bank account together. They just want each other’s love and companionship. I won’t give away the details of the story, but I do want to share some poignant parts of the book that really meant something to me. The book is basically Liz trying to talk herself into getting married to Felipe, so that they can continue to spend their life together. She explores the history of marriage over time, marriage in different cultures, what marriage means in terms of religion, and what it means in society and how government trys to control it. She writes that marriage has evolved over hundreds of years, and must do so to continue as an institution.
I enjoyed learning about the Dads vs. Cads theory:
In evolutionary circles this is not considered a moral judgment call, but rather something that can actually be broken down to the level of DNA. Apparently, there is this critical little chemical variation in the male of the species called the “vasopressin receptor gene.” Men who have the vasopressin receptor gene tend to be trustworthy and reliable sexual partners, sticking with one spouse for decades, raising children and running stable households. (Let’s call these guys “Harry Trumans.”) Men who lack the vasopressin receptor gene, on the other hand, are prone to dalliance and disloyalty, always needing to seek sexual variety elsewhere. (Let’s call such men “John F. Kennedys.”)
The joke among female evolutionary biologists is that there’s only one part of a man’s anatomy that any potential ate should worry about measuring, and that is the length of his vasopressin receptor gene. The scantily-vasopression-receptor-gened John F. Kennedys of this world wander far and wide, spreading their seed across the earth, keeping the human DNA code mixed up and jumbled –which is good for the species, if not necessarily good for the women who are loved and then often abandoned. The long-gened Harry Trumans, in the end, often find themselves raising the kids of the John F. Kennedys.
Society and culture seems to think women benefit from marriage and are the ones who crave it. Well, let me tell you about the Marriage Imbalance, which Ms. Gilbert calls “a tidy name for an almost freakishly doleful conclusion: that women generally lose in the exchange of marriage vows, while men win big.”
To get anywhere close to unraveling this subject — women and marriage– we have to start with the cold, ugly fact that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men. I did not invent this fact, and I don’t like saying it, but it’s a sad truth, backed up by study after study. By contrast, marriage as an institution has always been terrifically beneficial for men. If you are a man, say the actuarial charts, the smartest decision you can possibly make for yourself — assuming that you would like to lead a long, happy, healthy, prosperous existence — is to get married. Married men perform dazzlingly better in life than single men. Married men live longer than single men; married men accumulate more wealth than single men; married men are far less likely to die a violent death than single men; married men report themselves to be much happier than single men; and married men suffer less from alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression than do single men.
Dishearteningly, the reverse is not true. Modern married women do not fare better in life than their single counterparts. Married women in America do not live longer than single women; married women do not accumulate as much wealth as single women (you take a 7 percent pay cut, on average, just for getting hitched); married women do not thrive in their careers to the extent single women do; married women are significantly less helathy than single women; married women are more likely to suffer from depression than single women; and married women are more likely to die a violent death than single women — usually at the hands of a husband, which raises the grim reality that, statistically speaking, the most dangerous person in the average woman’s life is her own man.
The book is a must-read for those who are contemplating marriage, and an interesting read for those who are married, too. I highly recommend this book. It’s very thought provoking! I think you’ll enjoy it!
- Miss A