Last month, the night after I saw the play Ruined, about the effects of civil war on Congolese women, I joined 400 or so Seattle-area women at a preview of the film Eat, Pray, Love.
The gathering was put on by Rochelle Alhadeff and Pam Gray, hosts of the local "Chat with Women" radio program. On their show, Alhadeff and Gray, women of a certain age who are proud that they’ve “been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt,” provide advice to callers, interview expert guests on such subjects as relationships, women’s health, caretaking and finances and promote local female entrepreneurs. They’ve hosted Big Names, such as Whoopi Goldberg and Suzanne Somers and tirelessly co-sponsor a variety of networking events, such as the premiere I attended.
The irony of spending one night witnessing the harrowing account of what happens to women with limited choices and the next night watching the frothy story of an unhappy woman with unlimited choices was not lost on me. Yet I enjoyed both experiences.
After much resistance, I read Eat, Pray Love while on vacation in Mexico, where every other vacationing gringa seemed to be reading it too. Though author Elizabeth Gilbert’s self-pitying tone was grating after a while, she was also very funny. But what got me was the self-recognition I found in that book. For six years in my late twenties and early thirties I lived and traveled in Asia, where I suffered my share of heartbreak and probably bored people to tears with my tales of failed relationships. Reading the book in my mid-forties while trying to cajole a restless, jet-lagged six year-old to sleep made the torment and uncertainty of my younger years seem almost halcyon.
Watching the movie a month before my 49th birthday, I was struck by a number of insights that have come with age: 1) I never looked as good in “fat lady pants” as Julia Roberts; 2) seasoned travelers in Asia know that men always lose weight on a diet of rice and beer but women get fat, even if they eschew the beer; 3) nobody ever ends up with a guy as cute as Javier Bardem unless he comes with serious baggage (full disclosure: I met my husband in Asia and am happy to report that he came baggage-free and is almost as cute as Javier Bardem. All he needs is the accent.); 4) you can’t fit cute sweaters and a leather jacket into a duffle bag and have room for anything else.
The question that lingered after I watched the movie was what comes next. Everyone knows that marriage skeptic Elizabeth Gilbert has written a book in support of the institution and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that she is able to maintain her newfound wedded bliss. Too often people who write books about marriage don’t manage to stay married. Not too long ago I was disillusioned, but not surprised, to learn that Vicki Iovine, author of the Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy and several subsequent girlfriend’s guides (the bibles du jour when my kids were babies)