Shortly before I left on my cross country trip, while browsing in the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Grove, I chanced upon a book which seemed particularly relevant to the current debate on gay marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. The title itself sounds like a reference the gay movement’s sudden embracing of an idea which many activists, until quite recently, so passionately rejected.
Reading the dustjacket and learning how this bestselling author was “forced” to marry her Brazilian sweetheart so they could live together in the United States, I wondered if any gay marriage advocates had done what she had done, studied the institution of marriage to better understand it meaning:
Having been effectively “sentenced to wed”, Gilbert decided to tackle her fears of matrimony by becoming a student of the institution, trying once and for all to understand what this befuddling, vexing, and contradictory, yet stubbornly enduring habit of human marriage actually is. Over the next ten months, as she and Felipe wandered haphazardly across Southeast Asia, waiting for the U.S. government to permit them to return to America and get married, the only thing she talked about, read about, or thought about was this perplexing subject.
Committed tells the story of one woman’s efforts through contemplation, historical study and extensive conversation with every soul she encountered along the way — to make peace with marriage before she entered its estate once more. Told with Gilbert’s trademark wit, intelligence and compassion, the book attempts to “turn on all the lights” when it comes to matrimony, frankly examining questions of compatibility, infatuation, fidelity, autonomy, family tradition, economic realities, social expectations, divorce risks and humbling responsibilities. Myths are debunked; fears are unthreaded; historical perspective is sought; and romantic fantasies are ultimately exchanged for vital emotional compromises.
I bought the book. This morning, as a respite from dissertation research (and also an opportunity to think about the issues of sex difference I consider in my work), I started reading it. She does write well. I read the first 30 pages in a matter of minutes.
As I read and reviewed the dustjacket which had initially drawn me to the book, I was reminded (yet again) of the failure of gay marriage advocates to consider the meaning of the institution they ostensibly support.
I might take them more seriously if they engaged in the kind of effort Gilbert has and wonder if any of them have considered why her book is particularly relevant to the current debate.