Today, I heard best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert
talking about her new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage
. Gilbert’s earlier memoir, Eat, Pray, Love
, launched her into overnight success, and then continued on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 100 weeks.
Eat, Pray, Love was her memoir about a solitary trip around the world after a shattering divorce: eating her way through Italy, learning to pray with the yogis in India, and unexpectedly finding herself in love again in Bali. Though Gilbert and her Brazilian boyfriend vow to live a life of love together outside of the bounds of marriage, they soon find themselves with an immigration problem, and in order to continue their affair, they are”forced” to marry. Thus begins, Committed.
I resonated with much of what Gilbert was saying as I listened to her today. She talked about the mistaken notions we American women have about the marriage partner who will “complete us,” while our unrealistic expectations often doom us to failure. She mentioned the cultural impression that a person is not really “grown up” until they are married, even though increasing numbers of us are never marrying. And she also lamented the emphasis too many women place on the wedding day far more than on the hard work of marriage that lays ahead. Yes, far more than I expected, I found myself agreeing with Gilbert on her views about marriage.
Toward the end of the interview, Gilbert said her vision of the future of marriage is what she and her sister have coined as the “wifeless” marriage.
“A lot of thinking women that I know would really like to get married but none of them would like to be a wife and actually their husbands don’t want to be the wives either. It just seems like the short straw to draw in history is to be the wife with everything that that entails about what you give up for the rest of the family. So I see a lot of couples trying to figure out how to negotiate some sort of a marriage where nobody has to be the wife because frankly, except for a few people who are really suited to it, it’s not a terrific job that a lot of people really love and revere.”
When I heard this, first I was angry with Gilbert and the other women who were calling in, lamenting their role as a wife to a man they no longer loved. I longed to tell them that they don’t know how good they have it since some of us would love to be married but aren’t. Then, I was confused, trying to imagine what marriage would be like if no one wanted to give up anything for the sake of the family.
And that’s when it hit me. I realized that this low-view of wifery doesn’t really have as much to do with a woman’s role in marriage as it has to do with a general repulsion for dying to self, with sacrificing your own wants and desires for the sake of others. On top of the complexities of being a woman in the 21st century and living with the same man for 50 years, having to give up your own dreams and desires for others is really more than most women, or men for that matter, can handle. Gilbert’s right, it’s not a terrific job that a lot of people really love and revere.
For those of us walking around in Jesus’ name, however, we are called to this kind of wifely living whether we’re married or not, whether we’re women or not. In fact, Jesus said that marriage roles are really just a picture of how we are relate to and serve God. The husband loves the wife like Christ loves the church, his people. And the wife submits to her husband, gives herself up for him, as the church submits to Christ. (See Ephesians 5.)
And dying to self, considering others needs before my own, is also how I am to relate to all the people in my life, not just the one I’m married to. (See Philippians 2:3-4.)
As I have thought about this interview, rather than lamenting my singleness or despairing over the future of wife-less marriages, I see a third way to think about Gilbert’s ideas, another way to interpret this interview for my life as Jesus might see it.
I see a future for myself, married or not, in which I become a “marriage-less wife.” That I would learn what it means to set myself aside and to love Jesus and others in a way that demonstrates a Jesus-sized love. That is a proposal I am willing to commit to, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, so help me God.