Download Audible CommittedAuthor Elizabeth Gilbert –

CHAPTER TWO Marriage and ExpectationA man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her Oscar WildeA little girl found me that day Felipe and I had arrived in this particular village after an overnight journey from Hanoi on a loud, dirty, Soviet era train I cant rightly remember now why we went to this specific town, but I think some young Danish backpackers had recommended it to us In any case, after the loud, dirty train journey, there had been a long, loud, dirty bus ride The bus had finally dropped us off in a staggeringly beautiful place that teetered on the border with Chinaremote and verdant and wild We found a hotel and when I stepped out alone to explore the town, to try to shake the stiffness of travel out of my legs, the little girl approached me She was twelve years old, I would learn later, but tinier than any American twelve year old Id ever met She was exceptionally beautiful Her skin was dark and healthy, her hair glossy and braided, her compact body all sturdy and confident in a short woolen tunic Though it was summertime and the days were sultry, her calves were wrapped in brightly colored wool leggings Her feet tapped restlessly in plastic Chinese sandals She had been hanging around our hotel for some timeI had spotted her when we were checking inand now, when I stepped out of the place alone, she approached me full on Whats your name she asked Im Liz Whats your name Im Mai, she said, and I can write it down for you so you can learn how to spell it properly You certainly speak good English, I complimented her She shrugged Of course I practice often with tourists Also, I speak Vietnamese, Chinese, and some Japanese What I joked No French Un peu, she replied with a sly glance Then she demanded, Where are you from, Liz Im from America, I said Then, trying to be funny, since obviously she was from right there, I asked, And where are you from, Mai She immediately saw my funny and raised it I am from my mothers belly, she replied, instantly causing me to fall in love with her Indeed, Mai was from Vietnam, but I realized later she would never have called herself Vietnamese She was Hmonga member of a small, proud, isolated ethnic minority what anthropologists call an original people who inhabit the highest mountain peaks of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and China Kurdish like, the Hmong have never really belonged to any of the countries in which they live They remain some of the worlds most spectacularly independent peoplenomads, storytellers, warriors, natural born anticonformists, and a terrible bane to any nation that has ever tried to control them To understand the unlikelihood of the Hmongs continued existence on this planet you have to imagine what it would be like if, for instance, the Mohawk were still living in upstate New York exactly as they had for centuries, dressing in traditional clothing, speaking their own language, and absolutely refusing to assimilate Stumbling on a Hmong village like this one, then, in the early years of the twenty first century is an anachronistic wonder Their culture provides a vanishingly rare window into an older version of the human experience All of which is to say, if you want to know what your family was like four thousand years ago, they were probably something like the Hmong Hey, Mai, I said Would you like to be my translator today Why she asked The Hmong are a famously direct people, so I laid it out directly I need to talk to some of the women in your village about their marriages Why she demanded again Because Im getting married soon, and I would like some advice Youre too old to be getting married, Mai observed, kindly Well, my boyfriend is old, too, I replied Hes fifty five years old She looked at me closely, let out a low whistle, and said, Well Lucky him Im not sure why Mai decided to help me that day Curiosity Boredom The hope that I would pass her some cash Which, of course, I did But regardless of her motive, she did agree Soon enough, after a steep march over a nearby hillside, we arrived at Mais stone house, which was tiny, soot darkened, lit only by a few small windows, and nestled in one of the prettiest river valleys you could ever imagine Mai led me inside and introduced me around to a group of women, all of them weaving, cooking, or cleaning Of all the women, it was Mais grandmother whom I found most immediately intriguing She was the laughingest, happiest, four foot tall toothless granny Id ever seen in my life Whats , she thought me hilarious Every single thing about me seemed to crack her up beyond measure She put a tall Hmong hat on my head, pointed at me, and laughed She stuck a tiny Hmong baby into my arms, pointed at me, and laughed She draped me in a gorgeous Hmong textile, pointed at me, and laughed I had no problem with any of this, by the way I had long ago learned that when you are the giant, alien visitor to a remote and foreign culture it is sort of your job to become an object of ridicule Its the least you can do, really, as a polite guest Soonwomenneighbors and relationspoured into the house They also showed me their weavings, stuck their hats on my head, crammed my arms full of their babies, pointed at me, and laughed As Mai explained, her whole familyalmost a dozen of them in totallived in this one room home Everyone slept on the floor together The kitchen was on one side and the wood stove for winter was on the other side Rice and corn were stored in a loft above the kitchen, while pigs, chickens, and water buffalo were kept close by at all times There was only one private space in the whole house and it wasnt much bigger than a broom closet This, as I learned later in my reading, was where the newest bride and groom in any family were allowed to sleep alone together for the first few months of their marriage in order to get their sexual explorations out of the way in private After that initial experience of privacy, though, the young couple joins the rest of the family again, sleeping with everyone else on the floor for the rest of their lives Did I tell you that my father is dead Mai asked as she was showing me around Im sorry to hear that, I said When did it happen Four years ago How did he die, Mai He died, she said coolly, and that settled it Her father had died of death The way people used to die, I suppose, before we knew very much about why or how When he died, we ate the water buffalo at his funeral At this memory, her face flashed a complicated array of emotions sadness at the loss of her father, pleasure at the remembrance of how good the water buffalo had tasted Is your mother lonely Mai shrugged It was hard to imagine loneliness here Just as it was impossible to imagine where in this crowded domestic arrangement you might find the happier twin sister of loneliness privacy Mai and her mother lived in constant closeness with so many people I was strucknot for the first time in my years of travelby how isolating contemporary American society can seem by comparison Where I come from, we have shriveled down the notion of what constitutes a family unit to such a tiny scale that it would probably be unrecognizable asa family to anybody in one of these big, loose, enveloping Hmong clans You almost need an electron microscope to study the modern Western family these days What youve got are two, possibly three, or maybe sometimes four people rattling around together in a giant space, each person with her own private physical and psychological domain, each person spending large amounts of the day completely separated from the others I dont want to suggest here that everything about the shrunken modern family unit is necessarily bad Certainly womens lives and womens health improve whenever they reduce the number of babies they have, which is a resounding strike against the lure of bustling clan culture Also, sociologists have long known that incidences of incest and child molestation increase whenever so many relatives of different ages live together in such close proximity In a crowd so big, it can become diffi cult to keep track of or defend individualsnot to mention individuality But surely something has been lost, as well, in our modern and intensely private, closed off homes Watching the Hmong women interact with each other, I got to wondering whether the evolution of the ever smaller and evernuclear Western family has put a particular strain on modern marriages In Hmong society, for instance, men and women dont spend all that much time together Yes, you have a spouse Yes, you have sex with that spouse Yes, your fortunes are tied together Yes, there might very well be love But aside from that, mens and womens lives are quite firmly separated into the divided realms of their gender specific tasks Men work and socialize with other men women work and socialize with other women Case in point there was not a single man to be found anywhere that day around Mais house Whatever the men were off doing farming, drinking, talking, gambling they were doing it somewhere else, alone together, separated from the universe of the women If you are a Hmong woman, then, you dont necessarily expect your husband to be your best friend, your most intimate confidant, your emotional advisor, your intellectual equal, your comfort in times of sorrow Hmong women, instead, get a lot of that emotional nourishment and support from other womenfrom sisters, aunties, mothers, grandmothers A Hmong woman has many voices in her life, many opinions and emotional buttresses surrounding her at all times Kinship is to be found within arms reach in any direction, and many female hands make light work, or at least lighter work, of the serious burdens of living At last, all the greetings having been exchanged and all the babies having been dandled and all the laughter having died down into politeness, we all sat With Mai as our translator, I began by asking the grandmother if she would please tell me about Hmong wedding ceremonies Its all quite simple, the grandmother explained patiently Before a traditional Hmong wedding, it is required that the grooms family come and visit the brides house, so the families work out a deal, a date, a plan A chicken is always killed at this time in order to make the families ghosts happy Once the wedding date arrives, a good many pigs are killed A feast is prepared and relatives come from every village to celebrate Both the families chip in to cover expenses There is a procession to the wedding table, and a relative of the groom will always carry an umbrella At this point, I interrupted to ask what the umbrella signified, but the question brought some confusion Confusion, perhaps, over what the word signifies signifies The umbrella is the umbrella, I was told, and it is carried because umbrellas are always carried at weddings That is why, and that is that, and so it has always been Umbrella related questions thereby resolved, the grandmother went on to explain the traditional Hmong marital custom of kidnapping This is an ancient custom, she said, though it is much less in practice these days than it was in the past Still, it does exist Brides who are sometimes consulted beforehand about their kidnapping and sometimes notare abducted by their potential grooms, who carry them by pony to their own families homes This is all strictly organized and is permitted only on certain nights of the year, at celebrations after certain market days You cant just kidnap a bride any old time you want There are rules The kidnapped girl is given three days to live in the home of her captor, with his family, in order to decide whether or not she would like to marry this fellow Most of the time, the grandmother reported, the marriage proceeds with the girls consent On the rare occasion that the kidnapped potential bride doesnt embrace her captor, she is allowed to return home to her own family at the end of the three days, and the whole business is forgotten Which sounded reasonable enough to me, as far as kidnappings go Where our conversation did turn peculiar for meand for all of us in the roomwas when I tried to get the grandmother to tell me the story of her own marriage, hoping to elicit from her any personal or emotional anecdotes about her own experience with matrimony The confusion started immediately, when I asked the old woman, What did you think of your husband, the first time you ever met him Her entire wrinkled face arranged itself into a look of puzzlement Assuming that sheor perhaps Maihad misunderstood the question, I tried again When did you realize that your husband might be somebody you wanted to marry Again, my question was met with what appeared to be polite bafflement Did you know that he was special right away I tried onceOr did you learn to like him over time Now some of the women in the room had started giggling nervously, the way you might giggle around a slightly crazy personwhich was, apparently, what I had just become in their eyes I backed up and tried a different tack I mean, when did you first meet your husband The grandmother sorted through her memory a bit on that one, but couldnt come up with a definitive answer aside from long ago It really didnt seem to be an important question for her Okay, wheredid you first meet your husband I asked, trying to simplify the matter as much as possible Again, the very shape of my curiosity seemed a mystery to the grandmother Politely, though, she gave it a try She had never particularly mether husband before she married him, she tried to explain Shed seen him around, of course There are always a lot of people around, you know She couldnt really remember Anyway, she said, it is not an important question as to whether or not she knew him when she was a young girl After all, as she concluded to the delight of the other women in the room, she certainly knows him now But when did you fall in love with him I finally asked, point blank The instant Mai translated this question, all the women in the room, except the grandmother, who was too polite, laughed alouda spontaneous outburst of mirth, which they then all tried to stifle politely behind their hands You might think this would have daunted me Perhaps it should have daunted me But I persisted, following up their peals of laughter with a question that struck them as evenridiculous And what do you believe is the secret to a happy marriage I asked earnestly Now they all really did lose it Even the grandmother was openly howling with laughter Which was fine, right As has already been established, I am always perfectly willing to be mocked in a foreign country for somebody elses entertainment But in this case, I must confess, all the hilarity was a bit unsettling on account of the fact that I really did not get the joke All I could understand was that these Hmong ladies and I were clearly speaking an entirely different language here I mean, above and beyond the fact that we were literallyspeaking an entirely different language here But what was so specifically absurd to them about my questions In the weeks to come, as I replayed this conversation over in my mind, I was forced to hatch my own theory about what had made me and my hosts so foreign and incomprehensible to each other on the subject of marriage And heres my theory Neither the grandmother nor any other woman in that room was placing her marriage at the center of her emotional biography in any way that was remotely familiar to me In the modern industrialized Western world, where I come from, the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reected back to the world There is no choiceintensely personal, after all, than whom you choose to marry that choice tells us, to a large extent, who you are So if you ask any typical modern Western woman how she met her husband, when she met her husband, and why she fell in love with her husband, you can be plenty sure that you will be told a complete, complex, and deeply personal narrative which that woman has not only spun carefully around the entire experience, but which she has memorized, internalized, and scrutinized for clues as to her own selfhood Moreover, she willthan likely share this story with you quite openlyeven if you are a perfect stranger In fact, I have found over the years that the question How did you meet your husband is one of the best conversational icebreakers ever invented In my experience, it doesnt even matter whether that womans marriage has been happy or a disaster It will still be relayed to you as a vitally important story about her emotional beingperhaps even themost vitally important story about her emotional being Whoever that modern Western woman is, I can promise you that her story will concern two peopleherself and her spousewho, like characters in a novel or movie, are presumed to have been on some kind of personal lifes journeys before meeting each other, and whose journeys then intersected at a fateful moment For instance I was living in San Francisco that summer, and I had no intention of staying much longeruntil I met Jim at that party The story will probably have drama and suspense He thought I was dating the guy I was there with, but that was just my gay friend Larry The story will have doubts He wasnt really my type I normally go for guys who areintellectual Critically, the story will end either with salvation Now I cant imagine my life without him , orif things have turned sour with recriminating second guesses Why didnt I admit to myself right away that he was an alcoholic and a liar Whatever the details, you can be certain that the modern Western womans love story will have been examined by her from every possible angle, and that, over the years, her narrative will have been either hammered into a golden epic myth or embalmed into a bitter cautionary tale Im going to go way out on a limb here and state Hmong women dont seem to do that Or at least not theseHmong women Please understand, I am not an anthropologist and I acknowledge that I am operating far above my pay grade when I make any conjectures whatsoever about Hmong culture My personal experience with these women was limited to a single afternoons conversation, with a twelve year old child acting as a translator, so I think its safe to assume that I probably missed a smidge of nuance about this ancient and intricate society I also concede that these women may have found my questions intrusive, if not outright offensive Why should they have told their most intimate stories to me, a nosy interloper And even if they were somehow trying to impart information to me about their relationships, its likely that certain subtle messages fell by the wayside through mistranslation or a simple lack of cross cultural understanding All that said, though, I am somebody who has spent a large chunk of her professional life interviewing people, and I trust my ability to watch and listen closely Moreover, like all of us, whenever I enter the family homes of strangers, I am quick to notice the ways in which they may look at or do things differently than my family looks at or does things Let us say, then, that my role that day in that Hmong household was that of athan averagely observant visitor who was paying athan average amount of attention to herthan averagely expressive hosts In that role, and only in that role, I feel fairly confident reporting what I did notsee happening that day in Mais grandmothers house I did notsee a group of women sitting around weaving overexamined myths and cautionary tales about their marriages The reason I found this so notable was that I have watched women all over the world weave overexamined myths and cautionary tales about their marriages, in all sorts of mixed company, and at the slightest provocation But the Hmong ladies did not seem remotely interested in doing that Nor did I see these Hmong women crafting the character of the husband into either the hero or the villain in some vast, complex, and epic Story of the Emotional Self Im not saying that these women dont love their husbands, or that they never had loved them, or that they never could That would be a ridiculous thing to infer, because people everywhere love each other and always have Romantic love is a universal human experience Evidence of passion exists in all corners of this world All human cultures have love songs and love charms and love prayers Peoples hearts get broken across every possible social, religious, gender, age, and cultural boundary In India, just so you know, Mayis National Broken Hearts Day And in Papua New Guinea, there exists a tribe whose men write mournful love songs called namai, which tell the tragic stories of marriages which never came to pass but should have My friend Kate once went to a concert of Mongolian throat singers who were traveling through New York City on a rare world tour Although she couldnt understand the words to their songs, she found the music almost unbearably sad After the concert, Kate approached the lead Mongolian singer and asked, What are your songs about He replied, Our songs are about the same things that everyone elses songs are about lost love, and somebody stole your fastest horse So of course the Hmong fall in love Of course they feel preference for one person over another person, or miss a beloved one who has died, or find that they inexplicably adore somebodys particular smell, or laugh But perhaps they dont believe that any of that romantic love business has very much to do with the actual reasons for marriage Perhaps they do not assume that those two distinct entities love and marriage must necessarily intersecteither at the beginning of the relationship or maybe ever at all Perhaps they believe that marriage is about something else altogether If this sounds like a foreign or crazy notion, remember that it wasnt so long ago that people in Western culture held these same sorts of unromantic views about matrimony Arranged marriage has never been a prominent feature of American life, of coursemuch less bridal kidnappingbut certainly pragmatic marriages were routine at certain levels of our society until fairly recently By pragmatic marriage, I mean any union where the interests of the larger community are considered above the interests of the two individuals involved such marriages were a feature of American agricultural society, for instance, for many, many generations I personally know of one such pragmatic marriage, as it turns out When I was growing up in my small town in Connecticut, my favorite neighbors were a white haired husband and wife named Arthur and Lillian Webster The Websters were local dairy farmers who lived by an inviolable set of classic Yankee values They were modest, frugal, generous, hardworking, unobtrusively religious, and socially discreet members of the community who raised their three children to be good citizens They were also enormously kind Mr Webster called me Curly and let me ride my bike for hours on their nicely paved parking lot Mrs Websterif I was very goodwould sometimes let me play with her collection of antique medicine bottles Just a few years ago, Mrs Webster passed away A few months after her death, I went out to dinner with Mr Webster, and we got to talking about his wife I wanted to know how they had met, how they had fallen in loveall the romantic beginnings of their life together I asked him all the same questions, in other words, that I would eventually ask the Hmong ladies in Vietnam, and I got the same sorts of repliesor lack of replies I couldnt dredge up a single romantic memory from Mr Webster about the origins of his marriage He couldnt even remember the precise moment when he had first met Lillian, he confessed She had always been around town, as he recalled It was certainly not love at first sight There was no moment of electricity, no spark of instant attraction He had never become infatuated with her in any way So why did you marry her I asked As Mr Webster explained in his typically open and matter of fact Yankee manner, he had gotten married because his brother had instructed him to get married Arthur was soon going to be taking over the family farm and therefore he needed a wife You cannot run a proper farm without a wife, anythan you can run a proper farm without a tractor It was an unsentimental message, but dairy farming in New England was an unsentimental business, and Arthur knew his brothers edict was on target So, the diligent and obedient young Mr Webster went out there into the world and dutifully secured him self a wife You got the feeling, listening to his narrative, that any number of young ladies might have gotten the job of being Mrs Webster, instead of Lillian herself, and it wouldnt have made a huge difference to anyone at the time Arthur just happened to settle on the blonde one, the one who worked over at the Extension Service in town She was the right age for it She was nice She was healthy She was good She would do The Websters marriage, therefore, clearly did not launch from a place of passionate, personal, and fevered lovenothan the Hmong grandmothers marriage had We might therefore assume, then, that such a union is a loveless marriage But we have to be careful about drawing such assumptions I know better, at least when it comes to the case of the Websters In her waning years, Mrs Webster was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease For almost a decade, this once powerful woman wasted away in a manner that was agonizing to watch for everyone in the community Her husbandthat pragmatic old Yankee farmertook care of his wife at home the entire time she was dying He bathed her, fed her, gave up freedoms in order to keep watch over her, and learned to endure the dreadful consequences of her decay He tended to this woman long after she knew who he was anyeven long after she knew who she herself was any Every Sunday, Mr Webster dressed his wife in nice clothing, put her in a wheelchair, and brought her to services at the same church where they had been married almost sixty years earlier He did this because Lillian had always loved that church, and he knew she wouldve appreciated the gesture if only she had been conscious of it Arthur would sit there in the pew beside his wife, Sunday after Sunday, holding her hand while she slowly ebbed away from him into oblivion And if that isnt love, then somebody is going to have to sit me down and explain to me very carefully what love actually is That said, we have to be careful, too, not to assume that all arranged marriages across history, or all pragmatic marriages, or all marriages that begin with an act of kidnapping, necessarily resulted in years of contentment The Websters were lucky, to an extent Though they also put a good deal of work into their marriage, one suspects But what Mr Webster and the Hmong people perhaps have in common is a notion that the emotional place where a marriage begins is not nearly as important as the emotional place where a marriage finds itself toward the end, after many years of partnership Moreover, they would likely agree that there is not one special person waiting for you somewhere in this world who will make your life magically complete, but that there are any number of people right in your own community, probably with whom you could seal a respectful bond Then you could live and work alongside that person for years, with the hope that tenderness and affection would be the gradual outcome of your union At the end of my afternoons visit at Mais familys house, I was granted the clearest possible insight into this notion when I asked the tiny old Hmong grandmother one final question, which again, she thought bizarre and foreign Is your man a good husband I asked The old woman had to ask her granddaughter to repeat the question several times, just to make sure shed heard it correctly Is hea good husband Then she gave me a bemused look, as though Id asked, These stones which compose the mountains in which you liveare they goodstones The best answer she could come up with was this Her husband was neither a good husband nor a bad husband He was just a husband He was the way that husbands are As she spoke about him, it was as though the word husband connoted a job description, or even a species, farthan it represented any particularly cherished or frustrating individual The role of husband was simple enough, involving as it did a set of tasks that her man had obviously fulfilled to a satisfactory degree throughout their life togetheras did most other womens husbands, she suggested, unless you were unlucky and got yourself a realdud The grandmother even went so far as to say that it is not so important, in the end, which man a woman marries With rare exceptions, one man is pretty much the same as another What do you mean by that I asked All men and all women are mostly the same, most of the time, she clarified Everybody knows that this is true The other Hmong ladies all nodded in agreement May I pause here for a moment to make a blunt and perhaps perfectly obvious pointIt is too late for me to be Hmong For heavens sake, its probably even too late for me to be a Webster I was born into a late twentieth century American middle class family Like untold millions of other people in the contemporary world born into similar circumstances, I was raised to believe that I was special My parents who were neither hippies nor radicals who in fact voted for Ronald Reagan twice simply believed that their children had particular gifts and dreams that set them apart from other peoples children My me ness was always prized, and was over recognized as being different from my sisters her ness, my friends themness, and everyone elses everyone else ness Though I was certainly not spoiled, my parents believed that my personal happiness was of some importance, and that I should learn to shape my lifes journey in such a way that would support and reflect my individual search for contentment I must add here that all my friends and relatives were raised with varying degrees of this same belief With the possible exception of the very most conservative families among us, or the very most recently immigrated families among us, everyone I knewat some basic levelshared this assumed cultural respect for the individual Whatever our religion, whatever our economic class, we all at least somewhat embraced the same dogma, which I would describe as being very historically recent and very definitely Western and which can effectively be summed up as You matter I dont mean to imply that the Hmong dont believe their children matter on the contrary, they are famous in anthropological circles for building some of the worlds most exceptionally loving families But this was clearly not a society that worshiped at the Altar of Individual Choice As in most traditional societies, Hmong family dogma might effectively be summed up not as You matter but as Your rolematters For, as everyone in this village seemed to know, there are tasks at hand in lifesome tasks that men must do and some tasks that women must doand everyone must contribute to the best of his or her abilities If you perform your tasks reasonably well, you can go to sleep at night knowing that you are a good man or a good woman, and you need not expect muchout of life or out of relationships than that Meeting the Hmong women that day in Vietnam reminded me of an old adage Plant an expectation reap a disappointment My friend the Hmong grandmother had never been taught to expect that her husbands job was to make her abundantly happy She had never been taught to expect that her task on earth was to become abundantly happy in the first place Never having tasted such expectations to begin with, she had reaped no particular disenchantment from her marriage Her marriage fulfilled its role, performed its necessary social task, became merely what it was, and that was fine By contrast, I had always been taught that the pursuit of happiness was my natural even national birthright It is the emotional trademark of my culture to seek happiness Not just any kind of happiness, either, but profound happiness, even soaring happiness And what could possibly bring a personsoaring happiness than romantic love I, for one, had always been taught by my culture that marriage ought to be a greenhouse in which romantic love can abundantly flourish Insidethe somewhat rickety greenhouse of my first marriage, then, I had planted row after row of grand expectations I was a veritable Johnny Appleseed of grand expectations, and all I reaped for my trouble was a harvest of bitter fruit One gets the feeling that if Id tried to explain all that to the Hmong grandmother, she would have had no idea what the hell I was talking about She probably would have responded exactly the way an old woman I once met in southern Italy responded, when I confessed to her that Id left my husband because the marriage made me unhappy Whos happy the Italian widow asked casually, and shrugged away the conversation forever Look, I dont want to risk romanticizing the oh so simple life of the picturesque rural peasant here Let me make it clear that I had no desire to trade lives with any of the women that I met in that Hmong village in Vietnam For the dental implications alone, I do not want their lives It would be farcical and insulting, besides, for me to try adopting their worldview In fact, the inexorable march of industrial progress suggests that the Hmong will belikely to start adopting my worldview in the years to come As a matter of fact, its already happening Now that young girls like my twelve year old friend Mai are being exposed to modern Western women like me through crowds of tourists, theyre experiencing those first critical moments of cultural hesitation I call this the Wait a Minute Momentthat pivotal instant when girls from traditional cultures start pondering whats in it for them, exactly, to be getting married at the age of thirteen and starting to have babies not long after They start wondering if they might prefer to make different choices for themselves, or any choices, for that matter Once girls from closed societies start thinking such thoughts, all hell breaks loose Mai trilingual, bright, and observant had already glimpsed another set of options for life It wouldnt be long before she was making demands of her own In other words It might be too late for even the Hmong to be Hmong any So, no, Im not willingor probably even ableto relinquish my life of individualistic yearnings, all of which are the birthright of my modernity Like most human beings, once Ive been shown the options, I will always opt forchoices for my life expressive choices, individualistic choices, inscrutable and indefensible and sometimes risky choices, perhapsbut they will all be mine In fact, the sheer number of choices that Id already been offered in my lifean almost embarrassing cavalcade of optionswould have made the eyes pop out of the head of my friend the Hmong grandmother As a result of such personal freedoms, my life belongs to me and resembles me to an extent that would be unthinkable in the hills of northern Vietnam, even today Its almost as if Im from an entirely new strain of woman Homo limitlessness, you might call us And while we of this brave new species do have possibilities that are vast and magnificent and almost infinate in scope, its important to remember that our choice rich lives have the potential to breed their own brand of trouble We are susceptible to emotional uncertainties and neuroses that are probably not very common among the Hmong, but that run rampant these days among my contemporaries in, say, Balti The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice I have a friend who second guesses herself so compulsively that her husband jokes her autobiography will someday be titled I Shouldve Had the Scampi Equally disquieting are the times when we do make a choice, only to later feel as though we have murdered some other aspect of our being by settling on one single concrete decision By choosing Door Number Three, we fear we have killed off a differentbut equally criticalPiece of our soul that could only have been made manifest by walking through Door Number One or Door Number Two The philosopher Odo Marquard has noted a correlation in the German language between the word zwei, which means two, and the word zweifel, which means doubtsuggesting that two of anythingbrings the automatic possibility of uncertainty to our lives Now imagine a life in which every day a person is presented with not two or even three but dozens of choices, and you can begin to grasp why the modern world has become, even with all its advantages, a neurosis generating machine of the highest order In a world of such abundant possibility, many of us simply go limp from indecision Or we derail our lifes journey again and again, backing up to try the doors we neglected on the first round, desperate to get it right this time Or we become compulsive comparersalways measuring our lives against some other persons life, secretly wondering if we should have taken her path instead Compulsive comparing, of course, only leads to debilitating cases of what Nietzsche called Lebensneid, or life envy the certainty that somebody else is much luckier than you, and that if only you had herbody, herhusband, herchildren, herjob, everything would be easy and wonderful and happy A therapist friend of mine defines this problem simply as the condition by which all of my single patients secretly long to be married, and all of my married patients secretly long to be single With certainty so difficult to achieve, everyones decisions become an indictment of everyone elses decisions, and because there is no universal model any for what makes a good man or a good woman, one must almost earn a personal merit badge in emotional orientation and navigation in order to find ones way through life any All these choices and all this longing can create a weird kind of haunting in our livesas though the ghosts of all our other, unchosen, possibilities linger forever in a shadow world around us, continuously asking, Are you certain this is what you reallywanted And nowhere does that question risk haunting usthan in our marriages, precisely because the emotional stakes of that most intensely personal choice have become so huge Believe me, modern Western marriage has much to recommend it over traditional Hmong marriage starting with its kidnapping free spirit , and I will say it again I would not trade lives with those women They will never know my range of freedom they will never have my education they will never have my health and prosperity they will never be allowed to explore so many aspects of their own natures But there is one critical gift that a traditional Hmong bride almost always receives on her wedding day which all too often eludes the modern Western bride, and that is the gift of certainty When you have only one path set before you, you can generally feel confident that it was the correct path to have taken And a bride whose expectations for happiness are kept necessarily low to begin with isprotected, perhaps, from the risk of devastating disappointments down the road To this day, I admit, Im not entirely sure how to use this information I cannot quite bring myself to make an official motto out of Ask for less Nor can I imagine advising a young woman on the eve of her marriage to lower her expectations in life in order to be happy Such thinking runs contrary to every modern teaching Ive ever absorbed Also, Ive seen this tactic backfire I had a friend from college who deliberately narrowed down her lifes options, as though to vaccinate herself against overly ambitious expectations She skipped a career and ignored the lure of travel to instead move back home and marry her high school sweetheart With unwavering confidence, she announced that she would become only a wife and mother The simplicity of this arrangement felt utterly safe to hercertainly compared to the convulsions of indecision that so many of herambitious peers myself included were suffering But when her husband left her twelve years later for a younger woman, my friends rage and sense of betrayal were as ferocious as anything Ive ever seen She virtually imploded with resentmentnot so much against her husband, but against the universe, which she perceived to have broken a sacred contract with herI asked for so little she kept saying, as though her diminished demands alone should have protected her against any disappointments But I think she was mistaken she had actually asked for a lot She had dared to ask for happiness, and she had dared to expect that happiness out of her marriage You cant possibly ask forthan that But maybe it would be useful for me to at least acknowledge to myself now, on the eve of my second marriage, that I, too, ask for an awful lot Of course I do Its the emblem of our times I have been allowed to expect great things in life I have been permitted to expect farout of the experience of love and living than most other women in history were ever permitted to ask When it comes to questions of intimacy, I want many things from my man, and I want them all simultaneously It reminds me of a story my sister once told me, about an Englishwoman who visited the United States in the winter ofand who, scandalized, reported back home in a letter that there were people in this curious country of America who actually lived with the expectation that every part of their bodies should be warm at the same time My afternoon spent discussing marriage with the Hmong made me wonder if I, in matters of the heart, had also become such a persona woman who believed that my lover should magically be able to keep every part of my emotional being warm at the same time We Americans often say that marriage is hard work Im not sure the Hmong would understand this notion Life is hard work, of course, and work is very hard workIm quite certain they would agree with those statementsbut how does marriage become hard work Heres how Marriage becomes hard work once you have poured the entirety of your lifes expectations for happiness into the hands of one mere person Keeping that going is hard work A recent survey of young American women found that what women are seeking these days in a husband than anything elseis a man who will inspire them, which is, by any measure, a tall order As a point of comparison, young women of the same age, surveyed back in the s, werelikely to choose a partner based on qualities such as decency, or honesty, or his ability to provide for a family But thats not enough any Now we want to be inspiredby our spouses Daily Step to it, honey But this is exactly what I myself have expected in the past from love inspiration, soaring bliss and this is what I was now preparing to expect all over again with Felipethat we should somehow be answerable for every aspect of each others joy and happiness That our very job description as spouses was to be each others everything So I had always assumed, anyhow And so I might have gone on blithely assuming, except that my encounter with the Hmong had knocked me off course in one critical regard For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that perhaps I was asking too much of love Or, at least, perhaps I was asking too much of marriage Perhaps I was loading a far heavier cargo of expectation onto the creaky old boat of matrimony than that strange vessel had ever been built to accommodate in the first placeCe texte fait r f rence l dition BrochAt the end of her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian born man of Australian citizenship who d been living in Indonesia when they met Resettling in America, the couple swore eternal fidelity to each other, but also swore to never, ever, under any circumstances get legally married Both were survivors of previous bad divorces Enough said But providence intervened one day in the form of the United States government, which after unexpectedly detaining Felipe at an American border crossing gave the couple a choice they could either get married, or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Gilbert tackled her fears of marriage by delving into this topic completely, trying with all her might to discover through historical research, interviews, and much personal reflection what this stubbornly enduring old institution actually is Told with Gilbert s trademark wit, intelligence and compassion, Committed attempts to turn on all the lights when it comes to matrimony, frankly examining questions of compatibility, infatuation, fidelity, family tradition, social expectations, divorce risks and humbling responsibilities Gilbert s memoir is ultimately a clear eyed celebration of love with all the complexity and consequence that real love, in the real world, actually entails Ce texte fait r f rence l dition Broch Committed

About the Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

En tant qu’auteur connu, certains de ses livres fascinent les lecteurs, comme dans le livre Committed , qui est l’un des lecteurs les plus recherchés Elizabeth Gilbert auteurs dans le monde.

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