Now that nearly every woman in America has had a chance to read, discuss and form strong, intractable, possibly friendship-threatening opinions about Elizabeth Gilbert's post-divorce memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, what does she have to say to them? Don't get married! Okay, so it's somewhat more nuanced than that, but her new book Committed does take a critical, even forbidding stance on marriage, at least the white dress, you-complete-me kind of romance people often embark on here in 21st Century America. Her cold-eyed re-examination of the institution is prompted by her decision to give marriage another try. Since Liz once occupied GQ regularly (and occasionally still does) we were able to get her to pick up her phone to talk about her new book and the burden of her old one.
GQ: If I were a young woman who had, for example, been presented with a big Emerald cut diamond engagement ring from the man of my dreams, and I was reading this book, I'd think that you come across as something of a buzzkill.
Liz Gilbert: [laughs] You know it's funny, because I had no idea how people would receive it but I think that how they read the book will largely be based on their age and position in life. It seems like women in their 40's, who had been disappointed by love, find enormous hope in the book, and thought, Oh you know, this would be a really interesting thing to do with an adult-to get married-as opposed to getting married as a young person and blowing it, like I did. But apparently all the 21 and 22 year-old girls who read advance copies in the office walked away feeling really stunned and sad. So I guess maybe it gives hope to some and sobers others up, and maybe that's not such a bad thing.
GQ: At least you're a benevolent buzz kill.
LG: I think so, I think someone needed to turn out all the lights, and I also think, Come on, we're giving away brides and grooms on television, for entertainment. Maybe it's time. I hope the 22-year olds will read it because they need to more than anybody else, because divorce rates among people who get married very young are so appalling, and there's real life consequences of going through a divorce like that, as anyone who has been through it would know, and that are real and deep and lasting and devastating. So I don't think I'm a stern schoolmarm, I think I'm helping them like kind of the cool, been there through it Auntie who lets you smoke in their house, who will tell you like, 'honey....'
GQ: Do they have to smoke Mores?
LG: They do. No, they have to smoke Virginia Slims. Do they still have Virginia Slims?
GQ: Have you heard from any of these 20-somethings complaining that you'd sort of pulled the blinders from their eyes, positively or negatively?
LG: It's only been out for a week, so no. I think that, because I go very far out of the way to avoid drawing conclusions because I think conclusions are really different to come by on this subject, it's more that I wanted to compile a lot of thinking on it and present it and let people sort through it themselves. But the one conclusion that I feel very comfortable spouting off is the conclusion that we cannot dodge, which is that marriage is not a game for the young. It's not a sport that people should be engaging in before they become mature adults, and I think the fact that we fetishize marriage so much in this country and that marriage is considered this shortcut to adulthood and respectability, puts pressure on people to get married young. And if you add that to a young girl's fantasy of a wedding, you have kind of a perfect storm that causes people to jump into this long before they have formed their own beings. And this is from somebody who got engaged for the first time at 23 and would not have read this book. You know 20 people could have handed me this book and I would not have read this book, because I would have very deliberately refused to know any of this, and because, like many 23 year olds, I would have been certain that I was exceptional. It didn't matter what the statistics were, what the history was, I was exceptional and our love was exceptional and none of this applied to us.
GQ: In a sense, Committed functions like a public service announcement.
LG: A little bit. This is the weird moment in my life, where I will never again write anything that will be the subject of such immediate and deliberate attention as the book that was to come after Eat, Pray, Love This wont happen again. I was really conscious when I was writing it, that, given the fact this is a subject that I want to talk about right now, and because I'm gonna be under this microscope of attention, let me make sure that all of this information is correct and accurate and responsible. If people are reading you right now, make sure that what you're giving them is useful information, and then trust them to come up with their own conclusions.
GQ: Have you been surprised by some of the less charitable reactions to having authored a wildly selling memoir?
LG: Not really, I think I probably would have said the same, or would say the same, at some point. I think it's to be expected. And it's also the big exhale after the giant inhale, and somewhere around 2007, if I was a magazine editor the story that I would assign would be some article about why people hate Eat, Pray, Love. It would be the natural thing to have to do in terms of trend reversal. That's all to be expected.
GQ: Your ex-husband is writing a memoir. Is that right?
LG: That is apparently the case.
GQ: What sort of non-attachment will be required of you when that comes out?
LG: It will be a wonderful test of non-attachment. [laughs]. There's little I want to say about it, but in the end, honestly, I can't get much farther than saying again, it's absolutely his right to do whatever he wants, and he's doing what we all do, he's doing the thing that he feels he needs to do that will make him happy, that he deserves to do, and I'm certainly not after all these years going to argue with him about all of that.
GQ: You must be relieved to get this out and to never have to write the follow up to Eat, Pray, Love again.
LG: (laughs) I feel like I just got out of jail. I really do. I've been euphoric for the last seven days, and I haven't been able to figure out why, 'til literally yesterday, when I was like, 'Oh, I never again have to write the book that comes after Eat Pray Love! It's done, the spell is broken, people can be mad about it, they can be excited about it, whatever, it doesn't matter, it's finished and there won't ever have to be that moment again.
GQ: I'm guessing you don't feel any pressure, or need to expect to sort of match it in any way.
LG: Only if I were mentally ill. If it had been moderately successful maybe, but it was so flukeishly, freakishly huge. I'm not J.K. Rowling, I'm not gonna write Liz Gilbert and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Liz Gilbert and the Temple of Doom, or the Vampire things?
GQ: You could write a vampire series.
LG: What am I doing becoming a social historian when I could be doing a vampire series? I should be thinking of my future here.- Mark Healy
MORE FROM GQ: