Why Eat, Pray, Love Can Be Harmful to Your (Emotional) Health

Why Eat, Pray, Love Can Be Harmful to Your (Emotional) Health
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, felt trapped.

She left her husband, sold a book, and took her book advance to find herself (and transcendent love) in Italy, India and Indonesia.

You know the rest.

Oprah, 3 years on New York Times Best Seller list, and a few years ago, a movie starring Julia Roberts.

So it should be no surprise that Eat, Pray, Love has been on my mind recently. Not just because all of my clients feel inspired by it, but because of its billboard campaign for the movie, which reads:

“You Don’t Need a Man. You Need a Champion.”

You hold out for your hero. We’ll hold out for our Supermodel/Top Chef/Rhodes Scholar. And all of us will end up alone.

That’s what you’re holding out for in a man.

Fair enough.

So, for a moment, I’d like you to imagine a movie designed specifically for men.

Not an action movie, not a horror movie.

A movie about one man’s perfect love.

After years of being trapped in a sexless, emotionless marriage to a woman who didn’t want to have a baby, Alex leaves his wife to go find himself. Distraught, he decides to have an adventure.

He drives to Vegas.

He flies to Ibiza.

He journeys to Thailand.

Until finally, he discovers the woman who gives him everything he needs.

He writes a book: Drink, Play, F@#%.

Howard Stern and Maxim magazine promote the hell out of it, and Alex sells the movie rights. Soon, it’s in a theater near you.

You won’t see it, of course, but you can’t miss the ubiquitous billboards:

“You don’t need a woman. You need a pornstar who cooks.”

I said this to a private client the other day and she couldn’t suppress her cackle.

Because she knew it was true.

You hold out for your hero.

We’ll hold out for our Supermodel/Top Chef/Rhodes Scholar.

And all of us will end up alone because there’s nobody that fits the bill. The end!

Not a very happy ending, is it?

Yes, I’m teasing about the billboard, but although my example may be a bit hyperbolic, it’s not that far from the truth.

Men really DO want the Supermodel/Top Chef/Rhodes Scholar.

Women really DO want a hero and a champion.

And yet, in order to find happiness, we both must relax our fantasies a little bit.

Not because they don’t feel great. They do.

The reason to relax your fantasies is because they’re unrealistic, and they almost invariably lead to disappointment.

Take Bill, for example. Bill’s not a bad guy. He just wants his unrealistic male fantasy.

If Bill really expects you to have the same body at 50 as you did at 20, he’s going to be really disappointed.

If Bill really expects you to allow him an “open relationship,” he’s going to be really disappointed.

If Bill really expects you to feed him, while he doesn’t even have to listen to you talk about your day, he’s going to be really disappointed.

For Bill to be happy, we can all agree, he has to adjust to reality.

The message of this blog post isn’t about settling. It’s not about being with a man you can barely tolerate. It’s about the expectation of what a man is capable of delivering.

If you’re coaching Bill, you tell him that he should be thrilled that he has an active, healthy, sexual woman who knows her way around the kitchen at all.

You don’t encourage him to hold out for Angelina Jolie meets Rachael Ray.

Do you?

Yet you still feel entitled to hold out for your fantasy. The hero. The champion.

Listen, as a dating coach, my job is to help you find happiness in your love life.

Because of this role, I have a unique access to your inner world. You might even say that I often understand you better than your own boyfriend.

Which is why it’s very easy for me to observe that your expectations of men are RARELY met.

Sometimes, you’re 100% correct in your assessment.

If he doesn’t call you regularly…
If he doesn’t want to be your boyfriend…
If he doesn’t ever hint at a future…

Dump his ass NOW.

But these aren’t the only expectations that aren’t being met by men. I usually hear something like this:

“I don’t know, Evan. I just don’t feel INSPIRED by him.”

Come again?

“I want to feel that thing in the pit of my stomach. To get nervous when he calls. To admire him and think about him all the time when we’re not together.”

You realize that every time you’ve had that feeling, it’s never worked out, right?

“Yes, but I can’t help how I feel.”

Fair enough.

Just know that, percentage-wise, the number of men who are cute, smart, kind, tall, funny, generous, ambitious, successful, and family-oriented is miniscule.

Now you want to add in “inspirational?”

You know how many men are left?

That’s okay. Neither do I.

The message of this blog post isn’t about settling. It’s not about being with a man you can barely tolerate.

It’s about the expectation of what a man is capable of delivering.

There are millions upon millions of decent looking, thoughtful, bright, solid men who want to marry you, cherish you, build a family, and create a life together.

If only you would love them and accept them.

Believe me, nobody wants you to achieve your dreams more than I do.

But if you’re holding out for a hero, yet no guy ever fits the bill (and also sticks around!), it may be time to act like Bill, who finally gave up on his Angelina Jolie fantasy and is thrilled to have found YOU.

This is how a man finds love. By accepting all that you are, imperfections included.

You need to do the same with him.

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Comments:

  1. 2
    Helen

    Evan, I agree with you about the idiocy of that billboard campaign.  It seems to imply that men are NOT champions, and overall is insulting.  But don’t worry that women would be misled too much by it.  That billboard message doesn’t appeal to women either, because what does it really mean?  At the end of the day, we heterosexual women do want men, period.  And we can give them the chance to be our champions.  It’s not as though it’s one or the other.

  2. 3
    my honest answer

    Hilarious take on all this Evan! I haven’t read the book yet… I was kinda worried it would be all self-righteous and sanctimonious. I’ve decided I’m probably not missing out on anything, so I’ll just keep reading your stuff instead.

  3. 4
    Lance

    Well written. I had a good reading experience when I read the Gilbert book and I touted it for awhile. In retrospect, I don’t like the message it spreads. Not because of the breakup and unrealistic expectations, which are kind of crappy, but the Gilbert of the book doesn’t seem like a person of high character. There’s enough material out there about people of mediocre character and we need less of it, not more. 

  4. 5
    lfl

    Amazing post Evan. You hit it right on the head.

    Every women i speak to says something to the effect of “he’s just not ___ enough” but they never look at themselves, and what any guy would have to give up to date/marry them. I’m a women and it blows my mind! Guys are always the bad guys and the one’s who are deficient in some area. Last week a gf of mine called a guy an “a##h###” cause he didn’t call her after two dates, meanwhile she’s blown off dozens of men in the last few months without any care whatsoever..

  5. 6
    justme

    I have not seen the movie nor read the book – and I’m a reader! To me,  the message was find yourself and someone wonderful will find you.  I think you should find yourself – that is a journey everyone should take – but it doesn’t mean someone will find you.  I’m tired of the fairy tale and so I purposefully avoid them.

    I had the same issue though with The Invention of Lying where the average guy falls for the supermodel and gets her due to his winning personality (although he is lying).  I wanted the average guy to end  up with the average woman!  And find they are truly happy.  To me this is the happy ending. 

    Between these two movies (and countless other media bombardment) no wonder we have so many people who are holding out for hotter/younger/richer/etc.

  6. 8
    Lily2

    It’s a cultural sickness…the constant bombardment directed at men and women alike. The message is simple…”image, looks,sex appeal, toys, trips are whats missing, and you are terribly inadequate just as you are” It’s a lie! I have not been able to get through that book, myself. i found it exhausting and self absorbed. I am on a spiritual path though (which she does champion), and find great relief in it. Thanks again Evan, for always dishing it up straight. You are the real deal :)

  7. 9
    DMC

    Evan, I agree with just about everything you said.  I don’t envy your job of trying to get through to women who have had their feeling catered to most of their lives or who cling on to the princess mentality and I thank you for you efforts in this post in, quite frankly, helping women get their heads out of their asses. 

    I applaud the women who were honest about this (#5) as well

  8. 10
    Ruby

    I think there’s a difference between wanting a pornstar/supermodel/Rhodes Scholar/Top Chef (and I thought men didn’t care about our accomplishments), and “holding out for a hero”, whatever that means. I see most of my friends – and me – just trying to find a guy who more or less has his act together; doesn’t have a drinking problem or emotional problems, is over his marriage or last relationship, can hold up his end of the conversation, takes decent care of himself, does work he more or less enjoys, has integrity, and is actually interested in a serious relationship with someone in his own age range. Some of us are having trouble finding even that, let alone a “champion”. 

    1. 10.1
      Jeff

      As a middle aged divorcee with baggage myself, I too am trying to find a gal who more or less has her act together; doesn’t have a drinking problem or emotional problems, is over her marriage or last relationship, can hold up her end of the conversation, takes decent care of herself, … So it goes both ways and isn’t limited to one sex or the other. I find that as people get older, they become more unrealistic – at least the still-single ones.

  9. 11
    david

    I come across a lot of profiles where the women is looking to “feel butterflies” and “feel his charisma when he walks into a room” and “can’t wait until they see each other again” — sometimes they go on and on how THEY WANT TO FEEL, which, is something I have no control over and reading that doesn’t help me any….I actually get scared off because the expectation is SO great and they seem to have a Prince Charming/Brad Pitt/Clooney fantasy thing going that a normal man won’t measure up….

    (I once got scolded by Evan about being afraid to reach out to these women, but I don’t mean a line or two in this “realm” but entire paragraphs / the whole profile is about this fantasy man….

    And like Evan has said — what happened to all the other guys you had earth shattering chemistry with? 

  10. 13
    Steve

    @Ruby post #10
    Could the problem be ( the point that Evan was making ) that after your “just” you have more than 2 – 3 commas?

  11. 14
    Steve

    I’m still amazed that a book called “He Is Just Not That Into You” was a smash hit and prompted the creation of a movie.   It shows just how stupid many people have made themselves, in regard to dating, with their wishful thinking.

  12. 15
    Ruby

    Steve #13

    I don’t know about EMK’s personal clients, but my friends and I are not asking for handsome, wealthy, tall, exciting, successful, alpha types who will take care of us. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who has major issues, though, and we’ve all run into this a lot. I’m not saying there aren’t great guys out there, but the old adage about kissing a lot of frogs holds true.

  13. 16
    Jane

    Ruby @10, you’ve hit the nail on the head! I was going to say exactly what you said but you beat me to it.  My grandmother used to refer to my grandfather as her “hero”, not because he possessed enviable good looks, made millions, or was particularly charismatic. What he was, was kind and giving, sweet and funny, and he always took great care of her and their children. He had work that he enjoyed and that paid the bills, but their life was modest. He provided a safe and comfortable life for his family, was loyal and had great integrity, and that is how she defined “hero”  What’s wrong with holding out for some version of that?  Not everyone’s definition of “hero” and “champion”  means perfect adonis fantasy man. This is a subjective call. In my book, a guy who basically has his act together and accepts me for who I am is truly heroic.

    1. 16.1
      JENNIFER

      @Jane…  I couldn’t agree more!  Our definition of ‘hero’ is personal… and I don’t think our expectations should be lowered.  I think Evan’s comparison of the Eat Pray Love character going on a journey to find herself, and that of a man in search of a supermodel/pornstar/chef is not a fair comparison.  It doesn’t say anything in the book or movie that her idea of a ‘champion’ required him being incredibly rich, handsome, and extremely well equipped… in fact, it doesn’t describe his features and looks whatsoever.  I think it’s the insecurities in a man to believe everything falls on looks and income; so he can place blame and hide behind that idea… it must be women and those damn unrealistic expectations, right!?! 

  14. 17
    Cristy

    Although I commented on your previous blog about “depression,” and looking back on it, I can see what you mean although I still think depressed people ARE capable to love, only to a certain extent.
    I still enjoy reading your blog nonetheless : ). It definitely puts us back to the realistic part and being Asian, we have these unnecessary yet unrealistic ideas of how our partners should be (has to be semi good looking, Asian, taller than us, older than us, stable career etc.).
    But if you are living in an area like in the United States you will get to meets different kinds of people. So, I really applaud to your blog, it really speaks out to people who are WILLING to be more open.
    I don’t want to be a person like Bill or like my supervisor who lashes out on people just because she’s never been married and not willing to date (she’s in her 60s) but very, very picky and doesn’t even like to eat at restaurants. That’s beside the point… But applaud to your success; and I hope that you continue with giving us real but good advice! (sound, too)!
     

  15. 18
    Missouri Beauty

    Forget Prince Charming, piss on Clooney and Pitt, I’d happy settle for a nice, decent, honorable man.  I had the whole charismatic thing with a psychopath.  After one of those monsters that can pass himself off as Prince Charming, a Clooney or Pitt, you know you don’t need those guys!  Just a nice, decent, honorable man, an average Joe, would be just fine with me!

  16. 19
    Zann

    @Ruby #10 and Jane #16 – You said it all. I think what Evan is referring to is more like a SuperHero. Fantastical, all-powerful, not real. There are quiet, humble heroes everywhere. Many of them are not buff are not rich, either. Shocking, I know.  But the traits you describe are indicators of good character, ethics, happiness with self.

    I’m trying to be my own hero now, trying to foster the same traits of character in myself that I want to attract in a man. This doesn’t require self-indulgent memoirs or trips to all corners of the Earth. I skimmed the book & knew it was not for me. Just more Spirituality Lite. All the fluff and none of the Stuff. 

  17. 20
    Goldie

    Has anyone here read the actual book? Now that I’ve read comments #10, 16, and 19, I’m curious as to what she meant by saying “you need a champion”. Because I’m naive and assume the best of people, when I first saw this statement, I thought champion means a man who is always on your side, as in a champion for a cause. I see nothing wrong with that! If she means champion like a prize-winning racehorse, then that is of course another story.

  18. 21
    starthrower68

    Evan, would the Alex in your scenario really be that upset about a woman who doesn’t want a baby?  I mean, would he even want to marry the porn star/top chef/rhodes scholar?  I would think if she were really living up to a fantasy, doesn’t she just pretty much show up at the right times, naked with beer and food and not talk?  (Yes, I am being flip)

  19. 22
    Androgynous

    Haha. An example of female porn/fantasy if ever there was one. Nothing different from the fluffy sweet saccharine romance novels young women and teenage girls devour, except that this one is tailored made for the older mature readership.
    Seriously men don’t need a book called “Drink, Play, F^%k”. Men don’t read about love, romance or sex when they can be out experiencing it !! If they want their little fantasies, they’ve got their Penthouse, Maxim etc where you look, not read. And where you have to get through pages and pages before you get to the fun parts.
    I think women of a certain vintage are mature and old enough to understand not to pattern their lives on a book. But then again, it there are old foolish men out there, there surely must be old foolish women out there too !
     

  20. 23
    Hmmmmm

    When I saw the tagline for the movie, I was disgusted too but for a different reason.  I did read the book.  The man that she met in the “Love” part of the book wasn’t anyone she initially wanted to date.  He was older then she wanted and not her type.  He pursued her but she wasn’t all that interested in him.  After awhile, he grew on her.  So he wasn’t the stereotypical “knight-in-shining-armor” who was everything she dreamed of.  Quite the contrary.  In fact, I was surprised when I found out that they ended up still together years later.  So in some ways she was an example of what Evan has been pushing over the last couple months.  She had ideas of what she wanted in a man but ended up with someone who was very different from those pre-conceived ideas. 
    By the way, that was my LEAST favorite part of the book.  As someone alluded to in an earlier post, one of the main ideas of the book was that she needed to “find herself” before being able to really live a full and happy life – with or without a man. 

  21. 24
    Jess

    Evan I totally agree with everything you said. I would like to know if you actually read the book because although everything you said is correct, I think the message of the book was not ment to create false expectation about men to women. I read the book and I’m a very strong woman that would not get easily impressed by these kind of books. The book is not about a woman going around the world looking for love. The message of the book is about self discovery, about a woman that never had the chance to be alone and know what she wants. So the movie is about making yourself happy and then love will come your way

  22. 25
    Jess

    What I mean “Love will come your way” is that love will come when you know yourself and learn how to balance your life. To actually be aware that when you’re balanced you know exactly what to do to get a man: no games, respect, honesty. “eat, pray, love” is about awareness, a woman that recognizes what she did wrong and corrects it, and finds love by accepting a non perfect human being.

  23. 26
    Sahaja

    I haven’t actually seen that tag line, but I did read the book and saw the movie much much later than all the hooplah about it – or maybe, because of it. But besides that, I interpret  that tagline much differently. 

    “You don’t need a man, You need a champion”

    Exactly. I don’t need a man, I want one.  I don’t need him to need me, but simply want me.  I want us to not NEED each other, but want to be there, every day. And maybe there are some days where we  don’t want to, but we come back anyway, and rekindle and solve and work to make it so we are back in a good place. 

    The second line was the one I saw very differently from you. I saw these two sentences together.

    “You don’t need a man. You need a champion” I do NEED a champion. But the real champion in the book, is the author  herself.

    The real champion, I need,  is me. I should always believe in myself and support myself, and give myself the best chance at success. I have to allow new experiences and believe that I can be successful, in career, in love. It makes me try new things, and do things that years ago, I thought was impossible for me. Being the best me, and knowing myself and what I need, lets me be a calm, relaxed person – especially in a relationship. 

    I don’t need a man to be a champion. But it also wouldn’t hurt if he was a champion. But not in the typical noun sense of the world. Not in the Roman warrior/Hero/Perfect Romantic character sense.

    But I want him to champion, as a verb. I want him to champion himself and us, as a couple. I want us to champion each other in our  endeavors and believe in us and support what we want to do in our own lives and careers, and us as a family. To stand up for us, and put what we need, first.  

     

  24. 27
    AllenB

    @Sahaja 26 
    Bravo.

  25. 28
    Heather

    EMK,
     
    Thank you for posting this!  Talk about timing.  I’m reading Lori Gottlieb’s book, “Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough” and she talks about the same thing, how alot of women get TOO picky and then end up alone.
     
    I do think we women definitely should take some of the advice of “better single, than sorry” as in better to be alone than with someone who cheats on you, lies to you, or abuses you, etc.  I could be the poster girl for that, I left a physically and verbally abusive marriage and I don’t regret walking away from such an asshat.  Not for a second.  However, I also realize I can’t get SO picky that I end up alone.
     
    And men need to do the same thing.  I have met way too many entitled, selfish men who do want it all. I had several guys turn me down because I didn’t want kids, haven’t had kids yet, was divorced, etc.  And I’m like really?  Huh, because you’re kinda short, kinda bald, and kinda not Brad Pitt so I dunno who you think YOU are, pal! 
     
    My boyfriend is not Bradd Pitt or George Clooney.  BUT.  He calls often.  He talks to me every day.  He’s supported me through this tough time as my Mom battles cancer, and my emergency surgery to have a hip replaced.  He’s taken me on errands, helped me do laundry, held my hand and told me I was beautiful, even with a hospital gown, glasses, and dirty hair.  THAT is what I was looking for, and I am hoping he and I will make a lifetime together. :)
     
    Thanks again for such a great article!

  26. 29
    Suzy

    Wow Evan, I think your message is spot on in terms of men and women and their lack of reality when looking for their ideal mate. However for me the message in the book was that a woman needs to find herself first and know who she is before she can figure out the kind of qualities she wants in a partner. Recently I read an article recently reporting that marriages in the United States have dramatically dropped. I guess that further supports that a lot of men and women are living in a fantasy world when it comes to finding true love.

  27. 30
    Betsey

    I read the book, saw the movie. Not my taste. That said, the promo copy doesn’t really sum up the message of the book/movie, which isn’t about finding a man at all. As others have pointed out, it’s about finding one’s true path (the protagonist is a woman, but the book/movie has lots of men who are both seeking their path or are clearly on it, so the message is for everyone). The promo does the book/movie a disservice, the point of that being to manipulate desperate-for-a-man women into buying the book/movie, I suspect. The promo, translated: “Dump the loser narcissist husband, eat a lot of pasta and pizza, do yoga in a spa-like place and wear a beautiful sari, and like magic, Javier Bardem will show up on your doorstep overlooking a South Sea paradise.”

    You can see why a desperate-for-a-man woman would like this message. But that wasn’t what the book/movie was about.

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