There is no greater risk than matrimony. But there is nothing happier than a happy marriage.
BENJAMIN DISRAELI, 1870, IN A LETTER TO QUEEN VICTORIA’S DAUGHTER LOUISE, CONGRATULATING HER ON HER ENGAGEMENT
A Note to the Reader
A few years ago, I wrote a book called Eat, Pray, Love, which told the story of a journey I had taken around the world, alone, after a bad divorce. I was in my midthirties when I wrote that book, and everything about it represented a huge departure for me as a writer. Before Eat, Pray, Love, I had been known in literary circles (if I was known at all) as a woman who wrote predominantly for, and about, men. I’d been working for years as a journalist for such male-focused magazines as GQ and Spin, and I had used those pages to explore masculinity from every possible angle. Similarly, the subjects of my first three books (both fiction and nonfiction) were all supermacho characters: cowboys, lobster fishermen, hunters, truckers, Teamsters,
woodsmen. . .
Back then, I was often told that I wrote like a man. Now, I’m not entirely sure what writing “like a man” even means, but I do believe it is generally intended as a compliment. I certainly took it as a compliment at the time. For one GQ article, I even went so far as to impersonate a man for a week. I cropped my hair, flattened my breasts, stuffed a birdseed-filled condom down my pants, and affixed a soul patch beneath my lower lip – all in an effort to somehow inhabit and comprehend the alluring mysteries of manhood.
I should add here that my fixation with men also extended into my private life. Often this brought complications.
No – always this brought complications.
Between my romantic entanglements and my professional obsessions, I was so absorbed by the subject of maleness that I never spent any time whatsoever contemplating the subject of femaleness. I certainly never spent any time contemplating my own femaleness. For that reason, as well as a general indifference toward my own well-being, I never became very familiar to myself. So when a massive wave of depression finally struck me down around the age of thirty, I had no way of understanding or articulating what was happening to me. My body fell apart first, then my marriage, and then – for a terrible and frightening interval – my mind. Masculine flint offered no solace in this situation; the only way out of the emotional tangle was to feel my way through it. Divorced, heartbroken, and lonely, I left everything behind and took off for a year of travel and introspection, intent on scrutinizing myself as closely as I’d once studied the elusive American cowboy.
Then, because I am a writer, I wrote a book about it.
Then, because life is really strange sometimes, that book became a megajumbo international best seller, and I suddenly found myself – after a decade spent writing exclusively about men and maleness – being referred to as a chick-lit author. Again, I’m not entirely sure what “chick-lit” even means, but I’m pretty certain it’s never intended as a compliment.
In any case, people ask me all the time now whether I saw any of this coming. They want to know if, as I was writing Eat, Pray, Love, I had somehow anticipated how big it would become. No. There was no way in the world I could possibly have predicted or planned for such an overwhelming response. If anything, I’d been hoping as I wrote the book that I’d be forgiven for writing a memoir at all.