Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | September 1, 2010

Committed – a review and thoughts on marriage

Committed takes up where Eat, Pray, Love leaves off but is a very different type of book. Whereas EPL is the telling of one woman’s journey to find herself, Committed is more of an anthropological study of marriage with a bit of travelogue thrown in. Gilbert repeatedly explains that she is not a sociologist or anthropologist and that the book is littered with her opinions, but it is her intent to understand marriage in order to feel comfortable in getting married herself.

The basic premise of the book is that after finding love in EPL, she and her partner semi-settle down in the US but he only has a 3 month travel visa and so he has to routinely leave the country and then come back. After one of these many trips, the Department of Homeland Security detains him and won’t let him back in the country because he has done it too many times. The only way for him to be able to stay in the US is for Gilbert to marry him – something she has done in her heart, but for a variety of reasons, has issues with doing legally. This book takes place while they travel around Southeast Asia while waiting for him to be given a fiance visa. Gilbert can’t stop her nature as a writer/researcher and so she uses this time to research the history of marriage and try to come to peace with the idea.

All in all, I found the book interesting. At times it was fascinating – her discussions about the history of marriage, how other cultures view marriage, and, because of my own personal opinions on the matter, her discussion about same sex marriage. On the other hand, at times it was tedious, particularly towards the end. While reading, there were many times that I did want to write in the margins as I had with EPL. However, I read a library copy so that would not have been truly appreciated. Instead, I tore pieces of paper and left them in pages that called to me so that I could write down my thoughts here.

The third chapter of her book is on the history of marriage. Marriage has always been a very important concept in the Jewish religion, specifically with regards to procreation, but originally Christianity did not view it that way. In fact, early Christianity looked down on marriage because early Christians were not interested in “making” Christian babies, but rather, in “converting Christians in the intellectual sense.” Marriage alluded to sex and sex was a sin, even in marriage. That of course didn’t stop people from getting married, but it is an interesting historical aside. Marriage had long been about security and building wealth.  Marriage in the Middle Ages was “the safest and smoothest means of passing wealth, livestock, heirs, or property from one generation to the next.” As cities and villages developed, marriage was seen as a “highly efficient form of wealth management and social order.” It was a business arrangement and continued to be so for some time.

In her research, Gilbert also came across all of the racism that has existed for years with regards to marriage. In the USA, it was illegal to marry someone of a different race until 1967. Even when the law was changed, 70% of Americans still believed that people of two races should not marry. However, as she writes, “the last racial barriers were removed from the canon of American matrimonial law, and life went on, and everyone got used to the new reality, and the institution of marriage did not collapse for having had its boundaries adjusted just that tiny bit wider.” This of course leads Gilbert to discuss same sex marriages. I personally cannot understand why people have an aversion to same-sex marriage. While a number of people take religious vows with regards to marriage, a church wedding “is neither required for legal marriage in American nor does it constitute legal marriage in America.” Marriage in the US allows people to file taxes together, to be legally joined when sharing property and for custodial reasons, and it is  vital when it comes to end of life visitation and decisions. Marriage has always been an evolving process. I for one would like to see this piece finally come to rest.

Okay, so getting away from the political discussions, she brings up some interesting facts on marriage and keeping true to yourself. There is an ideal “that one plus one will somehow, someday, equal one.”  The reality is that we should always remain our own person. I think people often forget about this. It is important to do things together as a couple (and without children), but it is also important to remember who you are and to do things on your own. There is a reason that “girls night out” events are so popular – it’s a night to just hang out without being mother and wife and housekeeper or any of the other hats they wear.

Gilbert also gets into the inequalities of men versus women in marriage throughout the years, but I’m not going to get into that. The simple reality is that like everything else, times have changed and the reality of marriage has changed. Some people change with it, some cling to the past.

I did enjoy the book, but I’m definitely ready for some fiction now.

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