Written by: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
Here was the big literary gossip hit on Friday: writer Elizabeth Gilbert announced she was separating from her husband Felipe after twelve years of being together.
Now, that might not sound like big news, but to many women it was a punch in the gut.
Or it was something to celebrate.
The polarized reaction is because this wasn’t an ordinary marriage. This was a marriage that many people envied, wanted, and desired.
It was also the kind of happy ending marriage that made some people utterly sick.
In case you haven’t read (or seen the movie adaptation) of Eat Pray Love, let me catch you up:
Elizabeth Gilbert (known to friends and family as Liz) is a published author of several well-reviewed novels and she writes for high profile magazines. She lives in a beautiful house with her husband and all is well, except for the fact that it’s not because she’s not happy. Her husband wants her to have children. She doesn’t want to have children. One night she’s so miserable that she goes to the bathroom, then ends up on her knees, praying.
She wrote that God told her go back to bed. It was enough for that night.
At 32, Gilbert divorces her husband, gets in an ill-advised rebound relationship, but breaks up with him, too. She’s still unhappy, on anti-depressants, and everything is dark. She has to get her life back so she decides to go on a year-long trip. First to Italy, then to an ashram in India, and then to visit a holy man she met years before in Indonesia.
In Italy, she eats well, and gains back the weight she lost due to stress.
In India she meets a fellow divorcee’ named Richard who gives her the nickname “groceries” and she learns how to pray and meditate.
In Indonesia, she chats it up with Ketut the Holy Man, helps a native get money to build a house, and-you guessed it–falls in love with Felipe in Bali.
The ending has Gilbert heading back to the states. She feels like herself again, happy and whole. It is understood that she will come back to visit Felipe and he will do the same.
I read EPL several months after it came out and quite enjoyed it. I always enjoy stories where a person comes from a dark place but somehow gets out of it, be it going back to school, pledging to read one book a day for a year, or deciding to do everything Oprah says. I love hearing about other people’s journeys and Gilbert’s journey was no exception.
Commercially, EPL took off. It was translated into 30 languages and it sold over 10 million copies. And Gilbert’s journey resonated with many women who retraced Gilbert’s spiritual and personal journey step-by-step in an effort to find a sisterhood solution to their own woes. In 2010 a movie came out starring Julia Roberts as Gilbert and Javier Bardem as Felipe. Earlier this year to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the book, an anthology of essays (with the intro written by Gilbert) had people write how they were stuck in their lives, but EPL helped them realize their dreams, be it finally writing a book, becoming a singer, or learning to dance.
On Friday, Gilbert dropped a bombshell on social media: she was separating from the Brazilian-born Felipe.
“I am separating from the man whom many of you know as ‘Felipe’ – the man whom I fell in love with at the end of the Eat Pray Love journey,” she wrote. “He has been my dear companion for over 12 years, and they have been wonderful years. Our split is very amicable. Our reasons are very personal.”
Facebook went crazy and it became a trending topic. Many people felt devastated. It was such a wonderful love story! How could they break up? But then other comments came in, smug ones in the vein of “So! Another marriage broke up! Is she going to write another book? I guess she failed again!”
To the haters, I want to ask them why? Why be mean spirited? If EPL isn’t your cup of tea, get another cup. But for the love of God, why be happy about a marriage breaking up? Is your life that perfect you can sit and judge another person? I’m not perfect and sure, I do get smug about a celebrity I don’t like breaking up with their spouse. But you know what? I don’t share my glee on a comment section. I keep it to myself.
To the sad people, I get it. I was devastated when Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore broke up in the mid-eighties. I was sure they were going to be the next Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. But the thing is no one is guaranteed a happy ending. As Trotter told Gilly in The Great Gilly Hopkins: “My sweet baby, ain’t no one ever told you yet? I reckon I thought you had that all figured out…Sometimes in this world things come easy, and you tend to lean back and say, ‘Well, finally, happy ending. This is the way things is supposed to be.’ Like life owed you good things…But you just fool yourself if you expect good things all the time. They ain’t what’s regular—don’t nobody owe ‘em to you.”
I give people permission to be bummed about Gilbert breaking up with Felipe. She was a reminder that we can hit rock bottom in love and come out with the love of our lives. Of course there are no happy endings. You can have a happy life, but life is evolving, always going. I’m not saying you can’t be happy or find someone and be happy together, but life happens. Someone dies. Or you grow apart. It’s painful and hard. But you get through it.
Elizabeth Gilbert breaking up with her husband wasn’t meant to cause mean-spirited joy to haters nor did she do it to sadden her fans.
She’s a writer.
Her job is to tell stories.
But Gilbert admitted on Facebook that this isn’t a story she feels like telling now.
“This is a story that I am living — not a story that I am telling,” she wrote.