What Elizabeth Gilbert’s Divorce can teach Us about Relationships.

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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.)

A post shared by Elizabeth Gilbert (@elizabeth_gilbert_writer) on


Last week, 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 exceptions.

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.

And why?

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.

 

 

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Author: Victoria Fedden

Image: via Elizabeth Gilbert’s Instagram 

Editor: Renée Picard

 

 

 

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victoriafedden

Victoria Fedden received her MFA in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. Her blog was voted 2011’s Best Humor Blog by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, and her personal essays have been anthologized in I Still Just Want to Pee Alone, Scary Mommy’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and My Other Ex. She also regularly contributes to elephant journal, Scary Mommy, Babble, and Your Tango, among many other blogs and websites. Her memoir THIS IS NOT MY BEAUTIFUL LIFE will be published by Picador USA in June 2016. She lives with her family in Fort Lauderdale and online at her website. Please visit her Facebook page for updates and inspiration.

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Mary Beth Holt Nov 20, 2018 8:21am

“Selfishness is keeping an unwilling partner trapped. It is coercing someone to stay with us through threats and emotional manipulation.”

It always seems to be the default message that we should “work harder” to save a dead marriage. I think that is such an antiquated and tortuous way to live. Just because you can’t accept that your spouse has realized they the relationship is complete, or never meant to be in the first place, doesn’t;t mean you should keep them imprisoned in unhappiness. Why be in a marriage if it has to be so concocted to please so many others. Yes, I understand ending a marriage affects others beyond the two involved, but if one of my sons was married and came to me saying he he was so unhappy and realized the marriage was a mistake, would I tell hi to suffer through it for the rest of his life? Nope.

Noel Kratzer Jul 21, 2018 8:39pm

Ms. Gilbert after all these years still doesn't know what she wants or who she is. I don't care who she is with but I am concerned she doesn't like it when it becomes work time to time. I think her real trouble is true commitment.

Erick DuPree Oct 14, 2017 10:57pm

Who cares? I mean- in a word rocked by so many issues, unfortunately this story just feels like narcissism. Love who you love- BFD- How about some #eatpraylove wisdoms about real issues. Women’s reproductive health, the assault on trans and glbt rights, systemic violence.... in a time when people fee so vulnerable and scared- talk to us about that.

Myheshni Pillay Aug 1, 2017 11:41am

This article does not resonate with me. What I am reading us that now people have the excuse of 'transcending' and running away when relationships get hard or when the honeymoon period is over and real life hits. Real life is not a romance novel or movie it it boring and mundane. But if we leave our partners whenever life gets dull we will never be in long-term relationships and that is truly sad. There are over 7BILLION people on earth and there will be many seemingly more attractive than our mates but real love is sticking with the other person through thick and thin. Abuse is another story altogether but this is selfish and self-serving. Love real love is selfless. Lust and love are 2 very different things.

Lei Mills Aug 1, 2017 8:42am

Wonderfully put.

Lei Mills Aug 1, 2017 8:41am

Can't really compare it to being vegetarian. I can see you are religious. Isn't 'God' meant to love everyone.

Alex Rettie Aug 1, 2017 1:28am

That is an incredibly astute observation. My former wife began the affair that eventually ended our marriage shortly after her mother's death. There are a lot of reasons the marriage was wrong for both of us, but "love is fickle" isn't one of them.

Shani MacArthur Jul 31, 2017 5:59pm

Love this

Heather Plakosh Jul 26, 2017 2:14pm

Although it is entirely possible to love many people throughout one's lifetime, there is something pathological about Gilbert's relationship patterns. My observations are based solely on professional knowledge and training (I'm completing my doctoral studies in psychology), rather than a need to simply criticize individual choices and pass unsound judgment. Her behaviors and patterns are so indicative of personality pathology - extreme, abrupt decision- making and self-serving tendencies that ultimately hurt other people. Sure, relationships run their course and some must end. Let's also add how much she has capitalized on publicizing her love life. That is the real harm here. She has, so to speak, left her previous partners "in the dust" in order to fulfill her own wayward emotional needs. I have no doubt that, following the tragic loss of her current partner, she will waste no time moving onto to the next best thing and publicizing that experience. Finally, I must say that I resent how she hides behind the guise of spirituality and "soul-searching" as a way to justify her self-absorption.

Paul Ginter Jun 9, 2017 4:35am

Sad

Tania Martinez-Yepez Jun 9, 2017 4:04am

What a great article and perspective on being able to leave and move on. I especially liked this "love never fails but, sometimes, between two people-- it moves on." Those are profound words

Angela Pisano Jun 7, 2017 9:49pm

I wish her well, and much happiness. I'vre read her books. I must say my opinion, which doesn't mean much, is she is a restless soul, who for all of her self-realization puts herself at the center, and it's always about her. Ego is a tough thing to move aside. Restlessness is equally difficult. Anyway, congrats to you both, and much happiness!

Ingrid Clark Zavadoski Jan 1, 2017 7:56pm

Narcissism isn't necessarily condusive to long term relationships, or happiness. Life is also about more than self-development. No offense to Elizabeth Gilbert - many of our popular public "personalities" (another ex: Glennon Doyle) are limited interpersonally, perhaps even more so that the average person. Sorry - can't help but see it that way, and I don't really get being an apologist for it. It just is what it is -- and hopefully her husband didn't get his heart broken.

Pamela Standen Jan 1, 2017 6:14pm

I agree with you....My beloved husband left me and our kids after 30 years. Sorry, but I couldnt find it in my heart to wish him well with his new girlfriend. My kids and I were shattered emotionally for 5 years. We had worked hard for all those years, and I thought we were the last happy couple in America.....I dont care what love anyone finds....why does no one think about the devastation you leave behind when you run off. No respect.

Flora Angarita Jan 1, 2017 4:33pm

Thank you for sharing! Every cell in my body felt your words, and the courageous truth! Love is free flowing ... if it's not allowed to flow, it isn't love. Thank you for sharing!!! I am so happy to have read this on this first day of 2017!

Petra Lehmann-Holz Jan 1, 2017 3:58am

Not really in agreement with this article! It sounds as though love in a relationship will always die and that one should then be "allowed" to move on. There is another option: deepening love through commitment and working stuff through when it gets hard! And it will get bloody hard sometimes! But it's the only way to end up with something deep, rich, and enduring. I speak from 30 years of marriage experience! It's worth the slog, and the older we get, the more it sustains us!

Michael Gluck Jan 1, 2017 12:14am

Sorry...I'm having a hard time in this new world environment. I had an exceptionally loving marriage with my best friend. We were together for over 30 years until her passing from cancer. I waited 6 years...til I was finally ready for love again... and..despite a number of heartfelt attempts...have failed to find it over the last 2 1/2 years. I suspect it is in large part because of the new "me, first and foremost" philosophy of the modern female...AND male. Very frustrating to someone who knows how to be a loving partner. So...Elizabeth Gilbert has no credibility with me or message for me that's worth the paper it's printed on. I have no criticism of her for doing whatever suits her in her life. My criticism is that she has the gall to offer advice to others. An awful role model!!

Liz Midgley Nov 2, 2016 8:17pm

I Think it is really difficult having written the book Eat Pray love and for her readers to accept that love was not forever. .Especially if she chooses to leave for another woman! Elizabeth Gilbert is a person like all of us and so she has every right to be with whoever she feels is her rightful partner. We the public have no right to stand in judgement or compare our own relationships with hers. How the hell do we know what was really going on there with her x? and what right do we have to judge her life and her choices? maybe we should all take a long good look at our own lives and not look outside but look within to really see what is going on.

Janie Laviolette Nov 2, 2016 12:59pm

Loved your perspective thank you so much :)

Eibby Faviola Oct 9, 2016 4:29pm

I have enjoyed reading this so much!!!! "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. "

Kate Evans Sep 21, 2016 8:58pm

My heart was shattered when my spouse of 15 years left me. Yet now I see when someone wants to leave, we should let them--because who are we to decide what's better for someone...even our "soul mate"? And ultimately her leaving sparked an incredible transformational journey for me. I hope this for Gilbert's ex. All this judgment of Gilbert is clearly projection. Who knows if she/he/they "worked on" their relationship or not? Someone else's actions related to their love life do not threaten anyone else's marriage...unless that marriage is "threaten-able." Just because we like a book doesn't mean we can dictate to the writer how to live or that we should project our idealized ways of being onto that person. I'm so grateful to know know that I am my own soulmate.

Amy Davis Sep 19, 2016 6:21pm

I think if you fall in love with someone besides your spouse, it is a matter of integrity to leave them (albeit with some loving kindness), unless it is a fleeting infatuation in which case it's really time to look inside and figure out what is preventing you from deepening your love with one who knows you best. Changing partners every 10-12 years, or more often, disregards the depth and breadth that time (shared history) brings to a relationship and I think more often than not reflects a fear of time passing, i.e., death. I am not saying that's the case here, I wouldn't presume to know that a more than I would presume to think Gilbert knows what she's doing or has finally gotten it right. I do know I have thought about the man she has left and wonder if his heart broke into a thousand pieces as did mine?

Claire Roundtree Sep 18, 2016 4:52pm

My mother preached this to me growing up and as an adult: "To Thine Own Self be True" which has served me well in my life. I believe in love. Love is just Love...that's it. It needn't be defined the same way for everybody. I don't think it's fair for people to judge others. There are some people who feel called to share their life story with others in order to help them. I deeply admire these people and have been helped by the things they share. I am so glad they share themselves like that. I have been married 3 times, none of which I consider a failure. The first lasted 5 years, the second lasted 20 years and I'm still married to my third husband of 10 years. I believe each marriage was to my soulmate...they just didn't last my entire life because I believed what my mother told me about always being true to myself and that is why I applaud Elizabeth for being true to herself in making the change that she needed.

Ana Pais Sep 18, 2016 6:20am

This was sad to read. It totally deflated my optimism of a life long loving relationship.

Jerry Mansfield Sep 18, 2016 6:10am

Reading about Elizabeth's divorce and in love with her dying lover and EJ has to put in an add for mindful dating.? Ru serious Then video quotes from Trungpa on relationships ????a drinking,drugging monk?????womanizer while married Check out Crazy wisdom Netflix How about mindful proofing your material

Sarah-Jane Egan Sep 18, 2016 12:49am

In fairness if you read committed neither her or her husband wanted to get married, immigration services did.