I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love in the bath. A neighbor of mine recommended it right after I had my second child. My older daughter had just turned two, and my neighbor told me I could use some “me time.” I had returned to work after six weeks of maternity leave, though neither my body nor my sleep habits had fully recovered. So “me time” seemed like a decent enough idea.
And so I followed Gilbert as she described her unfulfilling marriage and her divorce. I followed her to Italy as she gorged herself on the most delicious sounding foods. I followed her to India as she searched for inner spiritual enlightenment, and I followed her to Bali where she had lots of hot sex. For many women, the book allowed them a kind of fantasy life where they could focus solely on their own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs for an extended period of time. It was like taking a sabbatical from life.
What would we do with that kind of time? We’re not talking about a week on the beach here, but an extended vacation from reality.
Ultimately, I could never get past that idea. Gilbert suddenly symbolized for me an entire culture of not just self-centeredness but self-obsession. Of course, we all need time to think, and time away from the constant cry of infants and the demands of bosses. And while our core selves are formed in part by our alone time—reading, thinking, and praying—most of us are formed by our interactions with others. Would I really want a break from my husband and children, from my family and friends? The answer was no, but I began to wonder how much Gilbert was tempting other women.
Though she did not reveal it in Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert actually settled down with the object of her affections in Bali and eventually married him. And then she wrote a book about that, too. One could say that by the time the book came out, I needed even more “me time,” having by that point a third child and additional work responsibilities. But if I wanted that, the subject of her second book, Committed: A Love Story, which was about how she made peace with marriage, would not have been the book I would have taken to the bath.
By that time, I began to carve out a schedule that made more sense. I left a job at a newspaper to become a freelancer, spending more of my time actually writing and editing, and less time in meetings or commuting. I found ways to be with my kids more and to try to slow things down when I was—rather than always rushing frenetically to the next event. I found time to exercise and see friends for dinner occasionally. And to the extent that I ever fantasize about a life sabbatical, it would involve my entire family moving to a faraway island.
But the truth is that Elizabeth Gilbert and I have continued to grow apart since her first book was published. She has just announced she left her second husband in the spring and has entered a same-sex relationship with her best friend, Rayya, who also happens to be suffering from cancer. Fans are swooning once again over Gilbert’s relentless search for self-fulfillment.
As one writer wrote on the site, Café Stir, “If you were moved by Elizabeth Gilbert's thoughtful, honest prose in the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, then you should prepare to be emotionally devastated by the author's recent Facebook post.”
On her Facebook page, Gilbert wrote to her fans, “"Because I believe in love, I will ask for love."
Indeed, this is perhaps the best summary of Gilbert’s modern attitude toward love, commitment, and marriage. But who can doubt given her track record that when she has gotten all she can from this new relationship, she will move on again. One can only hope her admirers will catch on sooner rather than later.