Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More On Marriage

It is kind of ironic that we had a guest speaker discussing marriage and relationships at the same time as I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book Committed. In the book, Gilbert details her hesitancy about marriage and all the research she does into the social and cultural history of marriage.
 Of the many studies she quoted, one really struck me. Gilbert speaks of the Marriage Benefit Imbalance, which basically says that marriage is great for men, but not nearly as good for women. Married men live longer, accumulate more wealth, excel at their careers and report themselves to be happier than single men. In contrast married women do not live longer or accumulate as much wealth as single women. They are significantly less healthy and more likely to suffer from depression than single women. Hm...not a very rosy picture at all.
When I first read this part of Gilbert's book, I was a bit taken aback. Is marriage really a losing proposition for women? But then I realized that Gilbert was approaching the whole topic of marriage from a perspective of "what is in it for me?" In fact, most people today just think about themselves and their own self-actualization when making plans about their life.
As a religious Jew, though, I believe that there is a higher authority involved, and that life is not all about us; it is also about the service of G'd. And while G'd wants us to be happy and self-actualized, He also wants us to move beyond ourselves and give to others- our spouses, our children, our community. And while this may take time and energy away that I could have used to further my own individual goals, I believe that this is a worthwhile and necessary endeavor, that will make me a happier and more complete person in the long run.
Gilbert alludes to the difference in perspective in a later chapter, when she speaks of the Greek versus the Hebrew worldview. The Greek perspective is about humanism- personal liberty, intellectual freedom, doubt and debate. The Hebrew view is one of faith, respect, morals and rituals. There is a right and wrong, without gray areas.
According to Gilbert, our society today is a mixture of both Greek and Hebrew beliefs, especially in our beliefs about marriage. She confesses to being mostly of the "Greek" persuasion. I, on the other hand, am definitely in the camp of the "Hebrews", although she notes that being Hebrew does not necessarily coincide with being Jewish. It follows then we are approaching marriage from very different perspectives and with very different goals in mind. Yes, I want to be happy in my marriage and in my life as a whole, but I recognized that living involves giving of myself, and while it may be difficult at times, it is this which will ultimarely make me a happier person.
Have any of you read her book? Care to share your thoughts?


  1. Hm, interesting! I haven't read that book of Gilbert's, though I read her other one. I wonder if it isn't marriage that is somehow the cause of higher depression rates: but something else? Having children? Social pressures to be "all" to "everyone?" Being out of the workforce/less fulfilled in career plans than anticipated? Or inherent sexism in society or relationships rather than the marriage relationship itself? I have a hard time accepting that it's marriage that's at fault.
    Very interesting though, because I had heard that married ppl live longer and are happier but maybe that's just married MEN? I know I'm happier =)
    And we all know that accumulating wealth doesn't make you happier or more self actualized! Plus, my husband's income IS my income. You can separate them on paper, but legally it's half mine and emotionally/mentally, it's 100% both of ours.

  2. I agree with you...there are many factors at play here. its also hard to know how the researchers can measure and quantify things such as "happiness" or "self actualization" Food for thought