Eleven years after Eat Pray Love was published I slinked out of the public library with it hidden in my grocery tote, overstuffed with art and architecture DVDs and a hefty compendium of the Museé d’Orsay. Respectable rentals in case a wayward barcode didn’t get scanned and the alarm went off again when I left. I had waited to check it out until my next library run because I was unwilling to make a special trip and search for parking and endure the shame just for the divorcee’s Lonely Planet. I also had Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life stowed away underneath less embarrassing titles like Louvre City and Masterpieces of the Hermitage. But if that alarm went off any (presumably) well read librarian rescanning everything in my bag of shame and cover-up would find the two books in question.
When Elizabeth Gilbert’s luxuriously self-indulgent memoir came out in 2006 I was traveling to Boston a lot. My little sister had moved there and cross-country flights were surprisingly cheap. And even though I could never justify buying a new book at the airport I always stopped and looked. And at different airports that same title always caught my eye. I picked it up several times, read the description and reviews on the back several times. And even though I too was mostly an unhappy woman staring down my 30s I put it back every time.
Maybe it was because at that same frustrating time in my life I found Mountains Beyond Mountains. I was on a layover to Boston and I stumbled upon the biography of one of the world’s great modern humanitarians, Dr. Paul Farmer, M.D., whose medical practice began in Boston. “Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russian prisons as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity” — a philosophy that is embodied in the NGO he founded, Partners In Health. He enlists the help of George Soros, the Gates Foundation, the U.N.’s World Health Organization, and others in his quest to cure the world.” Just reading the back cover already had me reaching for my wallet.
For the first time in my life I bought a full-price book at an overpriced airport gift shop and I did not care. I started reading it while I was walking to my gate. And I finished it before the return flight home a few days later. I was just shy of exhilarated by the story of one man’s extraordinary selflessness with his expertise and the magnitude of his work rippling out in replicable models throughout the developing world. This was an extraordinary human who had answered a call that mattered to more than just himself. That is to say, it was relevant.
“One Woman’s Search for Everything” seemed the promise of only an internal journey. And even though I was also a single woman wanting to travel and looking for a template, there was a “divine sisterhood” tone to to this piece that made me suspect she would be no Virgil to me.
Fast-forward ten years and I have had multiple female friends, (only female), try to convince me otherwise. But after reading the (funny and enriching) Rolf Potts’ One Man’s Odyssey Into Eat Pray Love, I knew that her quest for fulfillment was written for my least favorite kind of women — the self-proclaimed feminists who strut and trumpet about equality while indulging themselves on society’s remaining double standards in gender roles with an un-guilty pleasure that they toast and bond over. The #girlbosses whose informal “tribal” membership is predicated upon a belief that all women are goddesses and all moms are superheroes. The vibe-attracts-your-tribe types. But these women remain defiantly unperturbed by the fact that women are not required to register for the draft, (and thus eligible for possible jail time and ineligible for things like student loans if they don’t) or that alimony persists as an anachronistic break-up tax — men have to pay even educated working women an allowance who are more than capable of earning their own income. They are un-enraged by this injustice.
These women expect men to be “real men” and gentlemen but decry the incurable chauvinism of men who prefer “feminine” women because any man who shackles a woman with “unrealistic beauty standards” is obviously un-evolved, shallow and sexist.
So why would I bother reading a book that is written by a woman who likely delights in these double standards? Why would I risk drinking the Kool-aid?
Even though I wouldn’t spend money on this hypocritical nonsense I knew I had to read it because I also knew that I wanted to write about dating and relationships in a way that could help as many people as possible. And since the majority of people who tend to read about dating and relationships seem to be women, maybe I should do some archeology to find the hype. And I’ll chase it with some Chelsea Handler since all she seems to talk about is vodka and I will likely need a drink too.
Wish me luck!
My journey with the book continues:
Reading Eat Pray Love Alone in New York
A stapled receipt falls out of the used book I’m reluctantly reading. It’s from an Italian restaurant on East 42nd…
Originally published at heathermedwards.com.