Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

The ever-readable Gilbert churns out another book on love, this time backpedalling her way into a marriage forced upon her by the Department of Homeland Security. The wild success of Eat Pray Love has Gilbert cautiously trying her hand at writing for the massive audience of weepy women who found solace in her inward journey across multiple continents in search of self. After writing a stilted manuscript aimed at that audience, Gilbert chucks it and starts from scratch, focusing on writing for a group of 27 women who have influenced her ideas of marriage throughout her life.
Part-memoir, part-research into global marital traditions, Gilbert tackles the subject of marriage like a wary dog, circling its prey, nibbling at the edges, and finishing with a frenzied toussling. Long story short, the Brazilian gent who “happily-ever-after”‘s her in Eat Pray Love becomes her partner, jetting out of the US every 90 days to renew his visa, until finally one border crossing in Dallas puts a stop to that. It is decided that to return to the US, he must be a US citizen via marriage to Gilbert, who of course chaffs at this suggestion with her newfound freedom.
Happy marriages work best when there are not these overwhelming expectations that the other person will fulfill you, will inspire you daily, will complete you.
I especially enjoyed the section on Marriage and Women– reiterating that marriage is the best decision a man can make to lead a long, happy, prosperous life, but that women generally lose ground when married. Married women don’t live as long or accumulate as much wealth, and are significantly less healthy than their single counterparts; married ladies more likely to suffer depression and die a violent death than single ladies. And the decision not to have kids? “I never had ’em, honey. And I never missed ’em.”

Looking across human population of all varieties, in every culture and on every continent (even among the most enthusiastic breeders in history, like the nineteenth-century Irish, or the contemporary Amish), you will find that there is a consistent 10 percent of women within any population who never have children at all. The percentage never gets any lower than that, in any population whatsoever. In fact, the percentage of women who never reproduce in most societies is usually much higher than 10 percent – and that’s not just today in the developed Western world, where childless rates among women tend to hover around 50 percent. In the 1920s in America, for instance, a whopping 23 percent of adult women never had any children. (Doesn’t that sound shockingly high, for such a conservative era, before the advent of legalized birth control? Yet it was so). So the number can get pretty high. But it never goes below 10 percent.

Such childless women – let’s call them the “Auntie Brigade” – have never been very well honored by history, I’m afraid. They are called selfish, frigid, pathetic. Here’s one particularly nasty bit of conventional wisdom circulating out there about childless women that I need to dispel: that women who have no children may lead liberated and happy and wealthy lives when they are young, but they will ultimately regret that choice when they reach old age, for they shall all die alone and depressed and full of bitterness. Perhaps you’ve heard this old chestnut? Just to set the record straight: There is zero sociological evidence to back this up. In fact, recent studies of American nursing homes comparing happiness levels of elderly childless women against happiness levels of women who did have children show no pattern of special misery or joy in one group or the other. But here’s what the researchers did discover that makes elderly women miserable across the board: poverty and poor health. Whether you have children or not, then, the prescription seems clear: Save your money, floss your teeth, wear your seatbelt, and keep fit – and you’ll be a perfectly happy old bird someday, I guarantee you.