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 (102 Comments).
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  1. 91

    EPL ruined my life. I was inspired by it and thought I’d leave my abusive job. Now I’m practically homeless and have negative cash flow. Screw Elizabeth and her new-agey nonsense.

  2. 92

    This reflects a current trend of seeking the external to fix the internal. Bridges of Madison County, Shirley valentine, eat pray love all reflect the same idea of deserving more , and breaking free from middle aged conformity. Women have midlife crises as well as men. Ours are just not romanticised by books and movies. When men break free from unhappy lives they are seen as nasty – women’s continual victim paradigm makes them empowered. In reality men and women are not that different – we are looking at the same thing – just from opposing sides.

  3. 93

    Umm, my take was that she needs someone who supports her emotionally and believes in her.  I didn’t realize that was an unrealistic expectation…

  4. 94
    Rebecca Donaldson

    I was the only one in a book club of about 15 women who did not like this book or this author from the beginning. I thought Gilbert was flaunting what a dissatisfied wife who had money could do while the rest of the unhappy female population just had to suck it up and cope. She also made some very poor arguments for why she was so unhappy with her husband at the time. I found her perspective often arrogant and definitely self-centered. When she found her soul mate, the guy from whom she is now separating, I did not rejoice as others did. I thought, “Geez. It’s only a matter of time.” Who knew it would take 12 years?

  5. 95

    Did anyone else *actually read the book*? She and her husband split up because he wanted children, and she didn’t. Which is a perfectly good reason for a couple to split up.

    The trip came *after* the divorce and after a brief transitional relationship with a younger man. She didn’t leave her husband to go gallavanting around the world.

  6. 96

    As a woman who was divorced after 25 years at 43 with two small kids and faced with starting from scratch in every way, my goal was not to find a man, but to heal and become healthy and whole on my own. I didn’t want a rescue, I wanted to rescue myself. I knew the anybody attracted to me in my brokenness, would be broken himself. I also didn’t want to put myself in the position of ever having the rug pulled out from under me again. I wanted to build something solid myself that could not be taken away. Besides, I really was not interested in a man…

    So, I set about creating a life I loved, wanted to figure out how I would live and what I would do with myself on my own. I started a business during the recession, because I wanted more control over my income and life and did not want to get laid off again. And, if it sounds as if I walked out of the marriage with a nest egg in which to do all of this, I did not. I had no money. I started out taking any and every job I could find. I was laid off 3 times during those first years. I ended up losing my home and was homeless with my two boys for a short while before putting on my warrior armor and turning it around.

    My business thrived. We landed in a beautiful home. Life was good. I was working really hard. I was also making art again, running, skiing….all the things I love. One of my customers had a stroke, so I went to the hospital. In her hospital room I met a man who was also there to see her. Every time I went to visit her, he was there. We talked. He told me about his family, his connection to my customer, etc…(just a business relationship) I noticed how he paid attention to her needs without making a big deal about it. If she needed something, he just took care of it. Quietly. He told me how, when his parents were in their 90’s and needed help, he and his brothers would take turns moving in with them for a month at a time to help them stay in their home and stay together. Character. I kept thinking, “I need to pay attention to this guy”.

    Once we were dating I told him those things that impressed me about him. He told me that he was impressed that I was noticing those things rather than sitting there wondering where he would take me to dinner. Ha!

    We’re still together, 5 years later. He’s been amazing to my boys; teaches them about cars, fixing things, how to take care of a home and yard, etc…all that dad-type stuff their own dad doesn’t do with them. We’re starting a joint business venture together now too.  We know we both have a great work ethic. My own business is still thriving, something I know he admires about me.

    I have a girlfriend who has a single friend. She has no interests, no hobbies and a job as a receptionist. She wants to meet a great guy who will let her just stay home and keep his house nice. The woman is in her 50’s. It’s not like they will be raising kids together. She meets great guys who have wonderful talents and interests and wonders why they don’t call her back. I asked my friend, “Is she the type of woman that kind of guy would want?” Why on earth with a guy with a great career and interesting hobbies want someone who has no interests and no interest in sharing her man’s interests. I don’t get it. What does she think she’s bringing to the table? Why would a guy want a woman like that? It just looks to me she wants someone to pay the bills so she can sit around. It’s weird to me. Create something for yourself. Create a nice life. Get healthy emotionally and physically. See what happens.

  7. 97

    You obviously didn’t read the book and are taking the word “champion” completely out of context!  If anyone cares to comment, please read the book before doing so.

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