She was my love, my heart, my best friend, my teacher, my rebel, my angel, my protector, my challenger, my partner, my muse, my wizard, my surprise, my gift, my comet, my liberator, my rock star, my completely impossible non-cooperator, my otherworldly visitor, my spiritual portal, and my baby. I loved you so much, Rayya. Thank you for letting me walk with you right to the edge of the river. It has been the greatest honor of my life. I would tell you to rest in peace, but I know that you always found peace boring. May you rest in excitement. I will always love you.
Dear Ones: Over the last year, Rayya Elias and I have been through some really difficult days together — but not today. Today was precious and perfect. A simple and spontaneous ceremony of love, surrounded by a small handful of friends and family. Our ceremony was nothing legally binding (no need to alert the authorities, folks!)…just a quiet and private celebration of what we have long known to be true: We belong to each other. More difficult days are to come. It doesn’t get easier from here. Her illness is grave. But our love is strong. We will walk together as far as we can go together. After that, it all gets turned over to God. Create beauty with every day you are given, Onward, LG (And thank you, @bindleandkeep, for putting a rush on @rayyaelias’s suit, and for hand-delivering it yesterday. She looked beautiful. Thank you for the grace, the care, and the compassion. You are good people.)
Elizabeth Gilbert, the best-selling and enormously popular author of Eat, Pray, Love (and don’t forget her many other wonderful books and stories!) announced on Facebook that the reason behind the recent split with her husband was because she was in love with her female best friend Rayya Elias, who is sadly also sick with an incurable form of cancer.
Gilbert explained that she needed to make the announcement to maintain her personal and professional integrity, and her “sanity,” which is in no way unreasonable. Everyone, no matter what, should always be able to love their person (or people) freely and openly and safely.
No one should ever have to love under the cloak of a lie.
Many of Gilbert’s fans happily accepted the news and sent their best wishes to the couple, but as beloved as Gilbert is as a writer, a spiritual leader and a celebrity, her coming out was not unanimously well-received. Gilbert has also been harshly criticized. There were a few expected, trollish, homophobic remarks, but these were actually far fewer than the comments that criticized her for “cheating,” or for being flighty and fickle in love.
Her most popular memoir, after all, began with her leaving her first husband, and ended with the meeting of her second.
A lot of readers were disappointed that this second marriage, which lasted about 12 years, ended. Gilbert had let them down, they felt, because at the end of the book they expected a happily ever after. Many people were attached to that dream, that illusion—that there can be a true love and that it can last “forever.” They wanted to believe the fairy-tale notion that there is a soulmate for everyone out there somewhere, and that that relationship can provide constant security, validation, and romantic bliss eternally. Elizabeth Gilbert and other public figures do not owe us, their fans, the perpetuation of this insidious myth.
For a long time, Gilbert had had the romantic hopes and expectations of millions of others projected upon her. I cannot imagine how that pressure must have felt, which makes her brutally honest public announcement about her love for Elias even more courageous. The fact that she left her heterosexual marriage for a woman, and a woman with cancer, actually seemed to soften the public reaction and provide more room for sympathy and empathy.
At one point I began to imagine if Gilbert were a man who had left his wife for another woman, or if Gilbert had left her husband for another man, who did not have cancer. In either of these hypothetical situations, Gilbert would have been publicly excoriated even more than she already has been.
Because, as a society, we are overly committed to an unrealistic notion of eternal love. This dream is a remnant of outdated religious institutions and ancient fairy tale archetypes. We want to believe that real love endures, and that if it doesn’t, then it wasn’t really love. We live inside the illusion that to leave a relationship, or to leave a marriage, unless we are in a situation where we are a victim of some form of abuse, makes someone wrong, evil, selfish, or sinful.
This is a lie. Stop believing it.
Sometimes (a lot of times) true love doesn’t last forever. And sometimes, what lasts until death isn’t necessarily love.
Those who leave relationships that are no longer serving them (for any reason) should not be subject to public scrutiny, whether or not they are celebrities. They should not, as Gilbert was by some, be called cheaters or liars. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that Gilbert “cheated” on her now ex-husband, and it’s no one’s business anyway.
Ending a relationship is an act of kindness rather than something that is abusive, selfish, or immoral. If we love someone else, if we need to be alone, or if for whatever reason we can no longer live our truth within the confines of a relationship we must all be granted the freedom to walk away from it with dignity without being seen as abandoning our partner, or breaking a sacred vow.
Selfishness is keeping an unwilling partner trapped. It is coercing someone to stay with us through threats and emotional manipulation.
Leaving someone whom we once loved, or even still love, takes a great deal of courage, and that kind of bravery is rarely recognized. We praise those who can muster the strength to leave abusive situations, but condemn those who part ways because we have evolved out of a relationship. Unfortunately, this judgment prevents so many individuals from moving forward emotionally and spiritually. It keeps people mired in stagnant, unhealthy situations where they aren’t truly content, because to leave would be to face judgment, to be called a bad person. With that judgment from peers, friends, and family members comes loss instead of the understanding and compassion that both uncoupled partners need—not just the one who feels left behind.
Throughout her career, Elizabeth Gilbert has taught her readers many important lessons about finding happiness, indulging our creativity, extending compassion towards ourselves and others, and now she is also, through her own struggles and revelations in romantic relationships, also teaching us a lesson about love. It is not lovers who are fickle—it is the nature of love itself.
Real love is fluid and expansive. It needs freedom. Love evolves and shifts over time, just as our perceptions of it do, and should. As another writer, Glennon Doyle Melton (who is also going through a public separation), says “love never fails,” but sometimes, between two people, it moves on. We must allow this to happen freely for ourselves, our partners, our loved ones, and for public figures without projecting our own expectations or judgments upon them. Just because a relationship ends, does not mean it has failed, Melton explains. She says it has “completed.” And neither partner should be vilified when this happens.
Let’s all send lots of love and support to Elizabeth Gilbert, Rayya Elias and to Gilbert’s ex-husband as they move through this transition. Be happy for each of them as they learn and grow on their own paths.
And of course, we send much healing energy and light to Rayya.
Author: Victoria Fedden
Image: via Elizabeth Gilbert’s Instagram
Editor: Renée Picard