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Love and Commitment

March 24, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert's latest.

This morning I came across a lovely Q&A with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (which I read last summer and which has been made into a movie starring Julia Roberts). She talks about her latest book, Committed, and the whole idea of marriage.

A divorcee, Gilbert was uncomfortable with the concept but was forced by circumstance (spelled H-O-M-E-L-A-N-D S-E-C-U-R-I-T-Y)  to marry her Brazilian sweetheart Felipe or lose him. I’m intrigued by her phrase “tiny acts of household tolerance” and her realization that marriage is an enduring institution for a reason, and that it is constantly evolving.

I grew up with the idea that marriage and sex were very sacred, yet saw little of that attitude actually demonstrated in real live marriages. Gilbert’s remarks on Christianity’s changing attitude about marriage are very revealing:

Q: In the chapter “Marriage and History,” you point out that Christians believe marriage to be a sacred union.  Where does this belief stem from, and can marriage really be deemed a sacred union?

A: Just to be clear—Christian leadership decided that marriage was a scared union only very recently. The early Christian fathers demonstrated a serious aversion to marriage, believing instead that the only truly sacred state of being was lifelong celibacy and fellowship (in imitation of Christ and the angels.) For the first thousand or so years of Christian history, the church did not concern itself with the business of marriage at all, because marriage was not seen as a sacrament (as opposed to baptism, say, which was always a sacrament); instead, marriage was considered a worldly and secular affair, that had everything to do with sex and property and taxes and women, and nothing to do with the higher concerns of divinity. That changed in the year 1215 AD, when the Catholic church officially took over the marriage business, as a means of exerting greater control over the unions and divorces of European royalty. And since then, Christian leadership has embraced marriage and preached marriage and now is even “defending” marriage. But all that Christian reverence toward marriage is very recent-certainly in contrast to, say, Judaism, where marriage has been considered a noble union for thousands of years (although even in ancient Hebrew society, the union was never considered inviolably sacred: there was always provision for divorce.)  I am not saying that marriage shouldn’t be seen as holy or sacred, but I object when those words are used as weapons against individuals within something that should be a private union, and that is almost invariably a complicated one.

I used to bemoan not having a boyfriend or being married, back when I wasn’t attached. It wasn’t until I started living with David that I realized, there was probably a very good reason I had never married, despite feeling desperately lonely at times. (Well, desperation is not all that attractive, let’s face it.) Now I think I was deep-down reluctant to hitch myself to another person in a very permanent way that may or may not be good for me. This doesn’t reflect on David, it’s just that certain realizations only come along under certain conditions. Gilbert says plainly what some of us at least suspected:

This is not my opinion, but a fact backed up by every conceivable study: Marriage is far, far more beneficial to men than women. Married men perform far better in life than single men, and are happier than single men, and live longer than single men, and earn more money than single men. Married women, on the other hand, make less money than single women, suffer more from depression than single women, don’t live as long as single women, and are more likely to be the victims of violence than single women. This has always been the case, which does fly in the face of the mythology and romanticizing of marriage that is epidemic in our culture. The “Western Style Problem” my friend Ting in Laos describes is the moment that women start deciding that they might want to delay or even defer marriage -understandable, given the facts-which tends to throw a wrench in the workings of traditional family structure. Social conservatives lament this, but maybe the bigger question needs to be, “How can we create family and marriage structures where women don’t lose so big?” Maybe if that were the question being confronted, more women might be interested in embracing marriage again.

Surviving a Fall

Being ill sucks, there are no two ways about it. (Or is it just getting old?) It’s at least better to be laid up with someone who loves you than alone, that’s for sure. My sweetheart David fell on the stairs in the middle of the night Sunday (he thoughtfully left the light off so as not to disturb me) and landed on his left side, possibly cracking or breaking a rib. We don’t know, because we haven’t been to the doctor. He at first thought it was merely bruised, so we thought there was nothing to do but rest, but the pain is increasing and he’s all but completely immobile now.

Yesterday he felt well enough to get up (veeerrry slowly) and come downstairs and walk around a bit, lie on the sofa, etc. While on the sofa he sneezed a bit and felt a sort of popping, and he’s been much worse ever since. He slowly made it back into bed last night but he’s been immobile today. We have an appointment at the local medical clinic for tomorrow, but I honestly don’t know how I could get him there. Even if I had the strength to lift him, it would very painful for him. Getting out of bed alone (even sitting up to eat—which he can’t do today) is excruciating, then getting in a car, enduring a bumpy, long ride on country roads to town, getting out of the car, etc etc—I just don’t think we can do it, and we worry that it would actually do damage to move him, if there is indeed a fracture and a ragged bone edge.

David did a lot of research on the Internet (mostly sites run by doctors) the past two days (he’s unable to do anything today) to see what the typical advice was, and we are still at a loss as to what to do. Bed rest is one thing, but he needs to be able to get to the bathroom. If he’s a total invalid, he’ll lose a lot of muscle tone. David doesn’t like to take painkillers but has come around to the idea it might be necessary. I’m feeding him nourishing food and he’s taking the supplements Dr. Tom Cowan has previously prescribed from Standard Process, plus ibuprofen and now Aleve.

At the moment he’s sleeping, and the snoring that usually drives me crazy is somewhat comforting now, because I’m assured he’s resting.

Well, time to check on David and give him some fermented cod liver oil, plus fish oil capsules to help with the inflammation, and take him another ice pack. If anyone has advice for healing a cracked or broken rib, please share!


From → Books

  1. I got married at 19 and got pregnant (intentionally) three months later. I was very religious at the time and was expected to marry young and have children pretty quickly. So I obeyed. Later, my partner and I left that religion and that drew everything into question for us, including the institution of marriage itself. I regret getting officially married and would not choose to do it again. It’s not about our relationship – we would live together in a committed, exclusive relationship either way – so it’s not about the commitment, either. It’s just about marriage, itself, the civil institution, and a bunch of other complicated political and philosophical meanderings that probably wouldn’t make any sense. So I’m interested to read this book and learn Gilbert’s thoughts on the matter. I’d like to hear more about your living arrangement as well, if you are planning to get married, and your thoughts about marriage, if you’re willing to share.

    I understand that ribs are a very painful place for fractures and I don’t believe there’s much that can be done except what you’re doing – immobility. If it’s a major fracture there’s a risk of lung puncture, so maybe it’s a good idea to avoid a stressful, jostling car ride. I think shallow breathing because of pain makes pneumonia a possibility. So maybe just make him as comfortable as you can with pain relief – I do what I can to avoid pharmaceuticals, but I think a drug is warranted in this case! Good luck to both of you!

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Thanks Chandelle! I appreciate hearing about your situation. I understand, I think, your hesitation about marriage not being about commitment. David and I aren’t married. He’s been married once before, divorced, and had another long-term relationship (about 7 years I think) and, while not completely opposed to marriage, has no illusions about it transforming a relationship. Living with someone has punctured a few of my illusions, too, that sorely needed to be punctured. I’m not against marriage, but not attached to the concept anymore. I agree with Gilbert that it would be great if religious and civic leaders aspired to make marriage more attractive to women—the reality of marriage, that is, not the fantasy. The fantasy of marriage is part of the problem. Not that there aren’t terrific marriages out there, but I think they’re all too rare.

      And PS, David’s feeling a bit better tonight after icing his rib more. He’s been doing it several times a day for 20 minutes at a time. Your recommendations are similar to what he found in his research. We’re supposed to do a phone consult with Dr. Cowan tomorrow, so we’ll see what he thinks.

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