Jessica's Reviews > Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
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's review
Feb 11, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2010
Read in January, 2010 — I own a copy

In the memoir Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert approaches the topic of matrimony from a variety of angles: historical, sociological, psychological, and emotional. The idea behind the book holds promise, particularly in a time when marriage is scrutinized and on the cusp of evolution. Unfortunately, Gilbert never makes sense of all the facts and views she collects, and the book leaves the author confused and readers unfulfilled.

When the United States Department of Homeland Security denies her Brazilian lover and life partner access into the country, Gilbert must reexamine their relationship. Until that point, the two had maintained a fulfilling but unconventional relationship that satisfied their desire for companionship and independence. As survivors of painful and tedious divorces, the two had mutually rejected the concept of marriage altogether. In Gilbert’s words, “We had sworn with all our hearts to never, ever, under any circumstances, marry.” Faced with the choice of legal commitment or separation, they reluctantly agree to wed.

Playing off the momentum of her well-received 2006 book, Eat, Pray, Love, her latest account follows a similar formula. Anticipating the lengthy legal process before them and unable to be together in the United States, the couple travels through Australia and Southeast Asia. Gilbert capitalizes on this experience by interviewing women she meets in her travels on the topic of marriage, and she combines these first-hand accounts with research into the history of marriage as she attempts to make sense of a concept she wholly rejects.

One cannot fault the author for her skepticism. With outrageous divorce rates and the changing landscape of relationships, many question whether marriage is still an essential function of our culture. Historically, men and women took vows out of economic necessity or religious obligation. As Gilbert points out, today we benefit from more social, financial, and spiritual freedoms. Why, then, are we still choosing marriage?

Gilbert seeks not only clarity but also reassurance, claiming, “This entire book—every single page of it—has been an effort to search through the complex history of Western marriage until I could find some small place of comfort in there for myself.” Fair enough. Where Gilbert struggles, however, is creating a story meaningful enough for an audience.

In fact, the author admits she wrote the book for 27 women in her life, including her stepdaughter, mother, and friends. She spends much of the book airing her views on companionship, marriage, and motherhood, much like one would vent frustrations to a close friend. More than once, she admittedly falls into rants. At times, her arguments produce thought-provoking and interesting points for the reader’s consideration. A bride-to-be could benefit from contemplating a personal definition of marriage based on Gilbert’s research of wedlock throughout history and cultures. However, many of the author’s ramblings come off as self-indulgent tirades.

For example, Gilbert’s diatribe on motherhood comes across as unbalanced and unnecessary. Though not a mother herself, she conveys the strain motherhood places on women. By divulging the personal sacrifices made by her mother and grandmother in the name of family, Gilbert resolves that an independent career woman like herself might better fill the role of “auntie.” The entire section, though, feels like an excuse for Gilbert to justify her choice to remain childless and adds little to the overall discussion on matrimonial commitment:

I can see where I have been vital sometimes as a member of the Auntie Brigade… there are people I’ve been able to help, sometimes fully supporting them for years, because I am not obliged, as a mother would be obliged, to put all my energies and resources into the full-time rearing of a child… thereby freeing up resources to spread more widely across the community. In this way, I, too, foster life.

The lack of authority and reliability from the author detracts from the more interesting features of the book, such as the conversations with married women from different cultural backgrounds. She only scratches the surfaces with her interviews and then quickly drops the subject, as if she doesn’t know how to process the information. Gilbert readily admits that she is not a “professional academic, nor a sociologist, nor a psychologist, nor an expert on marriage.” The jumbled facts and figures presented throughout the book are interesting bits of trivia but also incomplete. For all her rants, interviews, and research, Gilbert achieves no clarity. She remains a skeptic until the end and concludes that marriage has changed throughout history and the dynamics of commitment differ between every couple. It required a journey throughout foreign lands and a year’s worth of research to reach such an ironically noncommittal conclusion?

In Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert inspired readers by emotionally connecting with them through her personal triumphs and losses. In Committed, her constant bellyaching and condescending attitude distance her from the audience and bury the smattering of noteworthy discourse. By the end of the book, readers will feel more sympathy for her patient husband than the confused and pessimistic Gilbert. Perhaps the book should have stayed between the 27 intended readers because it ultimately offers little wisdom or weight for an audience at large.

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