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. 31
    K

    I read the book when every girl on my morning commute was reading it.  Saw the movie as friend forced me to.  Not a fan of either.  I think if she had gone on that trip and explored who she was w/o falling in love with the rich exotic man at the end I would have been more of a fan.  Most times when I go on a self journey (try something new, travel alone) I don’t end up falling in love.  However in most of these types of books or movies that seems to happen and I think a lot of women get disappointed when they do something bold or new that love isn’t always just around the corner.  Sometimes you grow just to grow and a man isn’t your reward.

  2. 32
    Hope

     Two things:
    -EMK, it’s not clear whether you realize that your witty idea for a male response to Eat Pray Love has actually already been written- and the movie rights purchased by Warner Brothers.  The author’s name is Andrew Gottlieb, and the book, as you mentioned, is titled “Drink Play F@#k”.  It was published in 2009.  Gotta give credit where credit’s due!
    -It’s also not clear whether you, EMK, have read Eat Pray Love.  Like other posters who have read it, I would interpret that billboard headline differently– as in, “you need someone who champions you”. 
    I also agree with the others that the book, while not the most brilliant piece of literature ever written, was actually a captivating, well-written story by an author whose philosophy actually lives very comfortably alongside your own.  As one review of the book states:

    Eat, Pray, Love is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals.
    Actually sounds a lot like the good advice you give on this blog! : )

    1. 32.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Hope – Let’s just put it this way: if there were a book written by a man who had a perfectly sound marriage but felt restless and needed to leave his wife to find his own happiness, it would not be touted as a bestselling spiritual guide; it would be labeled as a disgusting tome written by a man who couldn’t find contentment with a good woman. Shame on him!

      Do you disagree that if you put a man’s name on the cover that it would have been received differently by women?

  3. 33
    Heather

    @ Suzy #29,
     
    Well, I do agree with you, however I must say that I think it is good for a person to know who they are and what they want, before getting married.  I wish I had, before I married my ex husband.  I had poor self esteem, really didn’t know who I was as a person, and basically defined myself by my relationships.  HUGE mistake.  Ginormous.  And that is how I ended up with a very abusive, scary addict husband.  I didn’t have good boundaries, good sense of self and what I would and would not tolerate.
     
    If you were to introduce me to my now-ex today, because of all the learning and growing I did on my own after leaving the marriage, I’d look at the guy and go are you NUTS?  Of course I’m not dating this twit, get him the hell away from me.
     
    Now I’m not saying we need to do a lifetime search for who we are, but I think it’s a good idea to be OK with ourselves, because if we aren’t, guys can pick up on that and that will send them running, any sense of neediness or no self esteem.  Or, you might get the ones like my ex husband, manipulative, abusive control freaks who will wreak havoc on your psyche.
     
    I’m very grateful now for the five years I’ve been divorced, I finally decided that I needed to figure out who “Heather (last name not needed)” was and is, on her own, without some guy to lean on.  And I’m finding that I’m OK.  I like myself.  I don’t have to “NEED” a guy, as in get needy and clingy and psycho, but I do “WANT” a guy.  And thankfully that search ended late last fall when I met my boyfriend.
     
     

  4. 34
    Ileana

    Am I having a deja-vu, or is this a re-post of an older topic here on the blog? I have a feeling I’ve read this from you before…

    Anyway, i couldn’t agree with you more about the unrealistic expectations of some women nowadays…

  5. 35
    Leesa

    i agree with you evan what you wrote (34).  in the movie, at the divorce table, liz’s husband says something to the effect of “you didn’t communicate to me to give me a chance to address/accomodate your wants and desires, you just quit”.  i agree that she was very emotionally selfish, ungrateful and probably acting like the victim … “poor me, i’m in this unsatisfying relationship”.  i don’t think she had the ability to truely love somebody and was only thinking about herself, as so many people do.  i don’t think she knew herself.  had she communicated her issues to her husband and if he still didn’t want to address and work on them with her, then she would have had a more acceptable excuse to bolt.  which brings me to another movie i watched recently called “serious moonlight” with meg ryan. in it, she is a lawyer and her husband is having an affair and plans to leave meg for this hot, young, blonde chick.  meg gets pis$ed off and straps him down until he decides to give her another chance.  and then a burglar comes along while meg is out and asks the husband what he did to pis$ her off so much.  the burglar tells the husband that he let meg down. he vowed to cherish and look after and support her and now he’s taken the bolt with a young chick.  and that’s the point … these people have little strength of character or ability to truely look at their part in their failing relationships and how they can improve their relationship.  it’s always easier to point the finger at the other person and walk because they’re not getting all their wants met when they want it. but i see that these people cannot be there for themselves emotionally so how can they really be there for somebody else unless their life is mostly easy and they’re getting their wants met by their partner most of the time without asking for it.  few people are mind readers and i think that’s where communication and committment is important if the partner is genuinely a good, loyal, kind person who is not abusive, excessively selfish etc.

  6. 36
    Katarina Phang

    I don’t like the book and couldn’t past page 30.  Saw the movie on the plane and it was so cliched.

    It’s so overrated. 

  7. 37
    helene

    K#31
    “Most times when I go on a self journey (try something new, travel alone) I don’t end up falling in love. However in most of these types of books or movies that seems to happen and I think a lot of women get disappointed when they do something bold or new that love isn’t always just around the corner. Sometimes you grow just to grow and a man isn’t your reward.”

    This is so true, and the hollywood message is very pernicious – whilst its true that if you’re in a mess you’re unlikely to attract a healthy relationship, going on a spiritual journey/changing your life/finding yourself is no guarantee of finding a relationship. Becoming your own person is so worthwhile in itself, yet this constant bombardment of the idea that it will lead to love can actually detract from the sense of wellbeing and achievement we should feel as we grow, as we are constantly left feeling cheated or that we didn’t “do it right” if love is not the “reward”. And I don’t think this is just a message that comes from books and movies – friends and family can be guilty of encouraging you to believe that if you just do “this” or just do “that” then love will follow.  “Go out more!” “Have a makeover!” “Love will appear when you least expect it” “join a tennis club!” “try harder!/stop trying so hard!” “Stop acting so independent!” “Stop acting so needy!” 
      No, this film definately didn’t work for me… and nor has “doing yoga in a spa-like environment” . Actually, I think I’m going to have a go at “Drink, Play, F##K” – it sounds more fun!

  8. 38
    Hope

    @EMK #34,
    I think the root of most people’s problem with this book is they are expecting instruction from it.  I read it as a memoir- as one person’s sincere story, not meant to be a guide or an example to anyone else- and as a memoir I found it to be a good read.
    I think that if a man wrote this book, it would have been marketed differently– and it still would have been well received as a work of writing, but it would have been viewed for what it was meant to be by the author- a contemporary memoir- and obviously not as a chick-lit bible or an Oprah favorite or whatever.  There have been plenty of highly-acclaimed, badly behaved male authors, anyway. In many cases, it has only added to their mystique : )
    I think that just because one feels trapped in a secure relationship, and chooses to leave, doesn’t necessarily mean one’s expectations are unrealistic. I certainly can’t imagine you coaching your divorced clients to that effect!   If it’s the wrong spouse, and the wrong life, it doesn’t matter that it’s a good spouse and a good life you’re leaving.  If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. If  you’re miserable, you’re miserable.  Staying with someone despite your deep discontent doesn’t do him or her any favors.  Discovering you need something different from what you thought you needed doesn’t mean you’re looking for something (a life, a spouse) superior to that which you’re leaving.  Just different.
    Anyway, all I was trying to say is: love the book or hate it, its message is actually not too different at all from the good, much-appreciated and healthy-debate-inspiring advice given on this blog : )

  9. 39
    Trenia

    It seems like very few people actually read the book Eat, Pray, Love and I think the phrase was taken out of context.Gilbert was simply describing someone who is really in her corner and on board with the way she really wanted to live her life. In terms of a movie for men, pretty much the entire Hollywood industry is built on men’s fantasies of their version of the perfect woman. This is one book. One. If you know anything about the book or her real life, she actually ended up marrying a man who was not perfect but perfect for her. He was much older than her, had grown children, not a US citizen and not as conventionally good looking as her first husband.

    I really enjoyed the book and her story. But like I said, it was one story, one perspective in a sea of movies, magazines and other media saturated with what men, straight and gay, think a woman ought to be. 

  10. 40
    Hope

    …PS, and I agree with Helene #38 and K #31 that if there is one thing I’d expect a dating coach to be opposed to in this book, it’s the subtext (whether intended by Ms. Gilbert or not) that you can stop looking for love altogether- you can even shun love- but if you do enough work on yourself, “love will find you.”  It happened that way for the author, sp she has every right to include that in her memoir, BUT again this creates a problem when people look to this book as some sort of template for self-actualization. 

  11. 41
    Heather

    @ Hope #41,
     
    That’s a good point and I never realized how true that was, until you verbalized it.  Hollywood seems to make it sound like just as soon as you start finding yourself, Mr. Right will just show up.  That sure as hell is NOT how it works.  I used to feed into that nonsense and was getting so frustrated.  “I’ve done my homework, paid my dues, I’m finding myself, so where is MY Mr. Right???”
     
    Just one more reason why I can’t stand most romantic comedies or chick flicks in the first place.  Just a bunch of silly stuff fed to us that is unreal and even unhealthy for us to expect.

  12. 42
    NB

    Everyone, don’t forget that Eat, Pray, Love was an actual account of Liz’s experience (more or less), and not a fictional story. The movie made much more of the ‘love’ part and made the man she ends up with at the end more of a hollywood cliche than he was in the book (thank the marketers for that, they’re trying to sell a movie). 

    1. 42.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      All the people defending Eat, Pray, Love are missing the point of the post: you don’t need some transcendent ubermensch who inspires you and gives you butterflies every second of every day for the rest of your life. You need a good guy who treats you well. Read today’s blog post to learn what love, marriage and commitment are REALLY about.

  13. 43
    jbv

    @hope #39, I can’t say I agree with you on your last point.  If you marry someone I think you should try harder to find a solution to the issue before breaking up.  If you are dating someone and decide it is not worth the effort than so be it.  But, I would like to think that if I ever marry someone that she will fight for the relationship/try to solve issues instead of just deciding she needs a different lifestyle.  Now I haven’t read the book or seen the movie but I am basing my comments on what others have said above.  If there was no communication to the husband at the time she got up and left and no attempt to work things our while continuing to be married….. I feel bad for the husband.

     

  14. 44
    E.L.

    I did have a boyfriend that was inspirational.  He was my hero in a way.  Despite the harsh childhood he had, he made something of himself.  He was brilliant, funny, athletic, resilient, and has one heck of a personality.  He has swag and can mingle with street people from rough neighborhoods, but also quote scientific papers on clinical trials of some disease.  But he was also very vulnerable, and constantly stressed out of his mind about professional school and his family.
    But guess what, at the end, he never loved me and wouldn’t try to empathize with me.  So there ya go.  I’m now looking for someone who would be my partner.  I don’t need a hero to be my boyfriend because I’m no damned damsel.  I’m a successful modern woman.  However, we still do need heroes, but they belong in biographies and TV, or podiums, not necessarily next to us. 

  15. 45
    K

    @JBV 45, I read the book and I really felt bad for the husband too.  She didn’t fight for her marriage at all or even really let him know what was wrong (I guess her point was she didn’t know exactly at that time).  I read it a long time ago, but I did remember thinking I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be inspired by her and not feel bad for her husband, but I did anyhow.  I wish he would write his account.

  16. 46
    Katarina Phang

    K, he did and almost got published late 2010 but the publisher wanted him to perhaps do things he was uncomfortable with (seems that he has integrity).  He wanted it to be a book about his work, not a tit-for-tat to his ex’s bestseller.  So he decided not to go through with it.  He could have made millions.

    And I’d rather read his account on what happened than what she wrote. 

  17. 47
    Betsey

    EMK@44: But what those of us who have read the book/seen the flick are saying is that the book/film does not say you need a transcendant  ubermensch that is going to give you butterflies at every moment. It doesn’t talk about what you need in a man at all. That’s what the marketing sort of implies, but marketing is always shallow in this way.

  18. 48
    K

    @48 thanks was wondering about that!

  19. 49
    MH

    I actually thought this guy’s book was a joke/pun book; didn’t know it’s a memoir. Now i want to read it.
     
     

  20. 50
    Pineapple

    I read this book … I took away the impression that the author wasn’t making other people miserable by using them to prop up her own sense of self.  She was a flawed PERSON moreso than she was escaping a husband who wasn’t “whatever” enough.  She made the mistake of marrying him, not the mistake of divorcing him.  She was a shitty wife and she realized it. I don’t feel like that book had anything to do with chasing butterflies or this or that.  She had to face her own selfishness and chronic sense of emptiness on her own, not fill it through a man.

  21. 51
    Dating Blog

    I have read the book and it continues to be the foundation of my advice.
     
    Keep it up, evan!

  22. 52
    Ellen

    My Dad was my hero, and but for him I probably wouldn’t like men very much these days. Thanks to Chuck I am drawn to alpha men, though they are often so full of sh*t it’s not funny.

    My ex, an alpha said once “I like to win”. In everything apparently, including relationships. He was perhaps the most controlling man I’ve ever met.

    Feeling FUNKY today, sorry! ( though REALLY in a good mood. Have already moved onto two great guys, one new, and both of whom want to be my boyfriend. That’s how I roll/win!

  23. 53
    AnnieC

    @44 You don’t get the point of the book. And you won’t, while you continually convince yourself you are correct.

  24. 54
    EBA

    Perhaps because I read the book, I’m reading into the tag line of the billboard, but by Champion I think they meant it in the definition of “advocate, support” 
    From reading the book, I felt Elizabeth set out to find a way to be the champion (best version of her self, and advocate) of her own life and on her way found people to champion her journey. Along the way she unexpectedly —and reluctantly at first— ended up falling in love with a man.  

  25. 55
    lfl

    As i stated earlier i think the whole point of evan’s article is that we hold men acccountable and to the high standards that we might not bring to the table.

     I’m single and friends with 2 girls. One of my friends is gorgeous, a 9 by most guy standards, sweet and lots of fun to be around, always smiling(men love that).

    She has fair requirements, a decent job, in good shape and above 5-11(she’s 5-7). Needless to say, she has NO problems finding men to date, she’s in a serious relationship with a tall (6-3)40 year old guy(she’s 32), who is buff, but bald and not uber attractive. My other friend is a teacher, short, chubby, average looking ,nice but sheltered and kind of dull, and always single. Her requirements, height, high income, full head of hair and within a couple of years of her age(she’s 32 and won’t date over 35). She’s always been single. And she always complains to me me about men…what can i tell her?  She told me to dump a guy i’m dating because he’s not ambitious enough, he has a good enough job, pays his way and mine for many dates and helps his family out, she thinks i could do better….
    She doesn’t know about my other friend but in her world(pampered gal with high expectations) the guy needs to be major provider and still be tall, attractive, with a full head of hair. Her friends are also the same so they don’t help. Some have actually snagged guys like that on jdate so it fuels her fire…

    Basically some gals need to be realistic and no one in real life is going to tell you that, so please read Evan’s blog and Lauri Gottlieb’s book for help!

  26. 56
    Jennifer

    Just because most women are not supermodel/top chef/rhodes scholars does not stop many of us (dare I say “most”) from trying. What has been more than frustrating for me in the dating world -especially the online dating world – is that many men are simply fine with their complete lack of interest in continuous self-improvement, while expecting women to be/look 10 years younger with fabulous bodies and have high baby-making potential. Women over 38 feel overwhelming pressure to compete with the 20-something set or else have to “settle” for the dudes who can’t get a response from the younguns and are now “settling” for women more their age. Let me tell you, I have much more luck finding quality, responsive men in bars than online where my attractive picture and frisky profile sit right next to my age.

    So, while I hear the message of not having unrealistic expectations that men can’t possibly live up to, it shouldn’t give men an “out” to stop working on themselves to become more desirable to women. Women are faced with men’s unrealistic expectations all the time, yet we still universally attempt to meet the Angelina Jolie-meets-Rachel Ray standard the best we individually can. Men shouldn’t get a pass.

  27. 57
    Paragon

    @ Jennifer

    “Just because most women are not supermodel/top chef/rhodes scholars does not stop many of us (dare I say “most”) from trying. What has been more than frustrating for me in the dating world -especially the online dating world – is that many men are simply fine with their complete lack of interest in continuous self-improvement, while expecting women to be/look 10 years younger with fabulous bodies and have high baby-making potential.”

    And which men harbor such unrealistic expectations?

    The men *you* don’t want, or just the men *you* can’t get?

    “Women over 38 feel overwhelming pressure to compete with the 20-something set or else have to “settle” for the dudes who can’t get a response from the younguns and are now “settling” for women more their age.”

    In other words, they are feeling an overwhelming pressure towards discontentment given realistic options that clash with a nurtured sense of entitlement.

    “Let me tell you, I have much more luck finding quality, responsive men in bars”

    Quality men huh?

    And how’s that been working out for you?

    But I hear the same observation from men, discouraged with their online dating experience.

    “So, while I hear the message of not having unrealistic expectations that men can’t possibly live up to, it shouldn’t give men an “out” to stop working on themselves to become more desirable to women. ”

    It doesn’t, but how do you distinguish between this assumption and the soundness of your own expectations?

    How are men justifying this assumption from your perspective?

    “Women are faced with men’s unrealistic expectations all the time, yet we still universally attempt to meet the Angelina Jolie-meets-Rachel Ray standard the best we individually can.”

    I don’t believe that for a second – it is well established that men are more forgiving in their assessments of female attractiveness(than the other way around).

    And this has the predictable effect of relaxing pressures on female attractiveness – this is evident in any gym or health club I attend – where the differences in expended/invested effort between males and females is palpable(ie. men are working much harder to attract women than the reverse – which is a non-controversial assumption given any non trivial understanding of mating system dynamics).

    “Men shouldn’t get a pass.”

    They don’t – your sentiments are evidence of that.

  28. 58
    Karl R

    Jennifer said: (#58)
    “Just because most women are not supermodel/top chef/rhodes scholars does not stop many of us (dare I say “most”) from trying. What has been more than frustrating for me in the dating world -especially the online dating world – is that many men are simply fine with their complete lack of interest in continuous self-improvement,”

    I’ve frequently heard women on this blog claim that women keep themselves in better shape than men.

    The data, however, indicates the opposite. If you look at BMI statistics for women and men, the men (on average) have better BMI’s than women at every age over 20. (I didn’t look at the data for teenagers.)

    For example:
    32% of men aged 40-49 have an average BMI
    28% of women aged 40-49 have an average BMI

    This data doesn’t tell me whether women are trying harder than men to improve their physiques. It does tell me that men are succeeding more than the women.

  29. 59
    Helen

    Karl R 60: I don’t understand these statistics. What is meant by “average BMI”? If it really were a statistical average for each sex, plus-minus some factor of a s.d., then it would work out to be the same percentage for men and women.

    Do you mean “normal BMI”? And if so, is the range the same for men and women: e.g., 18.5-24.9?

  30. 60
    Ruby

    Karl #60

    Do your statistics take into account that there is a slight gap in body mass between men and women, or that women carry more body fat than men?

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