At 32 years old, Elizabeth Gilbert was educated, had a home, a husband, and a successful career as a writer. She was, however, unhappy in her marriage and initiated a divorce. She then embarked on a rebound relationship that did not work out, leaving her devastated and alone. After finalizing her difficult divorce, she spent the next year traveling the world.
She spent four months in Italy, eating and enjoying life ("Eat"). She spent three months in India, finding her spirituality ("Pray"). She ended the year in Bali, Indonesia, looking for "balance" of the two and fell in love with a Brazilian businessman ("Love").
The book was a kind of divorce fantasy, in which Elizabeth Gilbert left her decent husband to have adventures before finally happily remarrying.
But the reality of Elizabeth Gilbert's life has not matched the fantasy. She has not only divorced her second husband, she has gone off men altogether and now has a female partner.
Is this a divorce story for women to buy into? Isn't it yet another example of the failure of the sexual revolution to improve the lives of women?
Traditional Western societies emphasised the ordering of our sexual and emotional impulses to the good of marriage and family life. That was not only good for society and for children but it was also the best way to preserve our individual capacity for a trusting and loving relationship (to pair bond). For centuries, marriage was opposed by those who believed in "free love" - which meant following your emotional and sexual impulses around from person to person, rather than ordering them toward upholding marriage. But the evidence that is now accruing from the sexual revolution is that this "liberation" ( or disordering) of our sexual and emotional impulses doesn't lead to growth and development but to large numbers of jaded middle-aged people who lose a sense of love and admiration for the opposite sex.
It has also led to a lack of prudence in relationships. For instance, there is now a belief that relationships involve an open-ended pursuit of a person who fulfils all our needs. One of the best known dating coaches, Even Marc Katz, has criticised this attitude amongst his female clients:
So it should be no surprise that Eat, Pray, Love has been on my mind recently. Not just because all of my clients feel inspired by it, but because of its billboard campaign for the movie, which reads:
“You Don’t Need a Man. You Need a Champion.”
You hold out for your hero.
We’ll hold out for our Supermodel/Top Chef/Rhodes Scholar.
And all of us will end up alone because there’s nobody that fits the bill. The end!
Not a very happy ending, is it?
Yes, I’m teasing about the billboard, but although my example may be a bit hyperbolic, it’s not that far from the truth.
Men really DO want the Supermodel/Top Chef/Rhodes Scholar.
Women really DO want a hero and a champion.
And yet, in order to find happiness, we both must relax our fantasies a little bit.
Not because they don’t feel great. They do.
The reason to relax your fantasies is because they’re unrealistic, and they almost invariably lead to disappointment.
...The message of this blog post isn’t about settling. It’s not about being with a man you can barely tolerate. It’s about the expectation of what a man is capable of delivering.
...Listen, as a dating coach, my job is to help you find happiness in your love life.
Because of this role, I have a unique access to your inner world. You might even say that I often understand you better than your own boyfriend.
Which is why it’s very easy for me to observe that your expectations of men are RARELY met.
...I usually hear something like this:
“I don’t know, Evan. I just don’t feel INSPIRED by him.”
“I want to feel that thing in the pit of my stomach. To get nervous when he calls. To admire him and think about him all the time when we’re not together.”
You realize that every time you’ve had that feeling, it’s never worked out, right?
“Yes, but I can’t help how I feel.”
Just know that, percentage-wise, the number of men who are cute, smart, kind, tall, funny, generous, ambitious, successful, and family-oriented is minuscule.
Now you want to add in “inspirational?”
You know how many men are left?
That’s okay. Neither do I.
The message of this blog post isn’t about settling. It’s not about being with a man you can barely tolerate.
It’s about the expectation of what a man is capable of delivering.
There are millions upon millions of decent looking, thoughtful, bright, solid men who want to marry you, cherish you, build a family, and create a life together.
If only you would love them and accept them.
Believe me, nobody wants you to achieve your dreams more than I do.
But if you’re holding out for a hero, yet no guy ever fits the bill (and also sticks around!), it may be time to act like Bill, who finally gave up on his Angelina Jolie fantasy and is thrilled to have found YOU.
This is how a man finds love. By accepting all that you are, imperfections included.
You need to do the same with him.
The emphasis is no longer on the idea that "I need to cultivate these moral qualities in myself in order to be a good husband/wife/father/mother" but instead on a flight of fantasy in which some other person is so perfect that they will inspire us to live perpetually in a state of "falling in love" (and intuit our needs, keep us feeling spiritually fulfilled, give us higher social status than anyone else etc.)
As women move from man to man, and as they become older and more jaded, they are likely to experience a decline in what men are willing to offer them and a decline in their own ability to pair bond. There most likely won't be personal growth and development but a psychological closing of doors.