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, [email protected]#%.

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.

Join our conversation (105 Comments).
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  1. 21

    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)

  2. 22

    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 !

  3. 23

    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.  

  4. 24

    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

  5. 25

    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.

  6. 26

    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.    


  7. 27

    @Sahaja 26  

  8. 28

    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!

  9. 29

    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.

  10. 30

    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.

  11. 31

    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.

  12. 32

      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 [email protected]#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?

  13. 33

    @ 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.

  14. 34

    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…

  15. 35

    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.

  16. 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.  

  17. 37

    “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!

  18. 38

    @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 : )

  19. 39

    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.  

  20. 40

    …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.  

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