Monday (May 3) was National Broken Heart day in India. I know this because I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new memoir, Committed, in which she discusses her path to (pretty-much) forced marriage with her love interest from the juggernaut Eat, Pray, Love thanks to U.S. Immigration policy.
Because Gilbert’s intended was exiled from the U.S. while they were getting their paperwork and other legalities sorted out, the pair became international nomads. The book begins with Gilbert in a Hmong village talking about the difference between modern Western ideas of marriage versus the pragmatic view of marriage the world used to hold, and which is still maintained in traditional societies such as that of the Hmong.
Before Freud and insight and choice and the “I’m special” revolution, people got married for all sorts of reasons, but not because they needed another person to make them feel whole inside. Marriage resulted from love, family alliances, property disputes and resolutions, last resorts and convenience. Rarely did two people get hitched because they were looking for a lifetime of mutual inspiration.
The women Gilbert spoke to in the Hmong village couldn’t understand the idea of a husband making a wife happy. To paraphrase Gilbert, the idea that your emotional well-being was tied up in your marriage was foreign to them.
I’m fascinated by this, because so many people I know believe the person they date or marry will solve any unhappiness they may have in themselves. If today’s high divorce rate is any clue, this isn’t the case, and we could probably use a National Broken Hearts day, too.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m pro-marriage. I know people with amazing relationships, and what they all seem to have in common are notions of compromise and the understanding that fireworks are relative (that is, love and romance don’t necessarily equate to the antics of your standard romcom).
The women I know who are happiest in their marriages or committed relationships have a strong sense of self. I’m not sure if that comes from the security they feel in their unions or if it’s maturity or something else all together. I’m not married, but I have been in a committed relationship for a long, long time. I like to think I practice what I preach, and I can attest that sticking together is hard – believe me, chucking it all in and taking the easy way out has occurred to me at least once. But – that’s the whole point, right? It’s hard work, which makes the relationship deeper, stronger and more worthwhile.
That being said, I’m not interested in judging divorce or the dissolution of a relationship. There are a million reasons people don’t belong together, and oftentimes no matter how hard one tries things are doomed. Still, I can’t help but wonder if we all wouldn’t find more peace and joy in our lives if the idea (and presentation) of commitment was more about partnership and less about personal fulfillment.