Elizabeth Gilbert Gives Good Advice, Obnoxiously
11:30 am, January 3rd | by Colette McIntyre
It is very easy to hate Elizabeth Gilbert (which is probably why so many people do): the book that launched her to fame, Eat Pray Love, is a memoir about her “finding herself”, which has to be the most irritating, eye-roll inducing phrase in the English language; in order to “find herself,” Gilbert took a trip around the world, wearing her white middle class privilege like a pashmina; friggin’ Julia Roberts played Gilbert in the Eat Pray Love film. Gilbert’s recent article in the Daily Mail detailing her struggle against over-giving may make people hate the author even more, but before you start penning a new post for EatPrayYou’reTheWorst.tumblr.com, may I intervene on Gilbert’s behalf?
While the article does include an unfortunate and cringe-worthy use of the word “‘hood,” I have to agree with Gilbert’s assertion that there is a fine line between beneficial generosity and harmful over-giving. Even before Eat Pray Love made Gilbert very wealthy, she admits that she has always over-given “with [her] money, possessions, opinions, time, body, [and] emotions,” and the problem only got worse following her success. According to Gilbert, the difference between over-giving and generosity is that, post-giving, “the over-giver…expects to be petted and fêted and praised and loved unconditionally.” The problem with over-giving is that not only does it leave you depleted, financially and emotionally, but it also affects the relationships in which you give heedlessly. As Gilbert explains, “Sometimes, by interrupting their life so jarringly, I denied a friend the opportunity to learn their own vital lessons at their own pace.”
So, just to clarify, Gilbert is not condemning generosity or charity, nor is she praising herself for being too selfless, but rather giving in order to “earn” people’s love, to the point of self-effacement. I believe this lesson is vital for women. Women are taught that we will be loved and valued for our maternal instincts, our ability to nurture. We are socialized to be kind, generous, and deferential, groomed to believe that we must care for everyone, and so we become the Mother Theresas of our own worlds, giving until we are exhausted (and not getting much satisfaction in return). Self-sacrifice shouldn’t be essential to being liked. While we all can’t travel to Belize to embark on a spiritual journey, we can learn how to drawn a boundary between giving and over-giving — and that’s a problem many women not even close to Gilbert’s income bracket can relate to.