Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, just wrote a piece in the New York Times admitting that she’s been a serial cheater. Only instead of “serial cheater” she calls it “Confessions of a Seduction Addict.”
She kind of glossed over that “cheated on my husband” bit in Eat, Pray, Love. I admit I read the book. From what I recall she had this perfect life with a perfect job and a husband who wanted children (the horror) and she bolted. Actually, she had a couple boyfriends.
In my mid-20s, I married, but not even matrimony slowed me down. Predictably, I grew restless and lonely. Soon enough I seduced someone new; the marriage collapsed. But it was worse than just that. Before my divorce agreement was even signed, I was already breaking up with the guy I had broken up my marriage for. You know you’ve got intimacy issues when, in the space of a few short months, you find yourself visiting two completely different couples’ counselors, with two completely different men on your arm, in order to talk about two completely different emotional firestorms. Trying to keep all my various story lines straight (Whom am I angry at, again? Who is angry at me now? Whose office is this?) made my hands shake and my mind splinter.
“Intimacy issues” is kind. How about fraud issues? Really, you dragged multiple men to couple’s therapy? The “two completely different emotional firestorms” had just one arsonist, Elizabeth — you.
But hey, reading public, she’s sorry.
For the first time, I forced myself to admit that I had a problem — indeed, that I was a problem. Tinkering with other people’s most vulnerable emotions didn’t make me a romantic; it just made me a swindler. Lying and cheating didn’t make me brazen; it just made me a needy coward. Stealing other women’s boyfriends didn’t make me a revolutionary feminist; it just made me a menace. I hated that it took me almost 20 years to realize this. There are 16-year-old kids who know better than to behave this way. It felt shameful. But once I got it, I really got it: There is no way to stop a destructive behavior, except to stop.
Okay, well she never says she was sorry. But I do appreciate that she disavows cheating as a revolutionary feminist act.
Elizabeth, I give you points for calling yourself a swindling, needy, coward. It takes some guts to admit something ugly about yourself in a New York Times op-ed piece. However, I am a bit queasy about your sincerity. I read hundreds of pages such self-deprecation in Eat, Pray, Love — your chubby thighs, your inability to meditate, your romantic troubles. It made you accessible, sympathetic, and funny.
But isn’t it a form of what the kids call the “humblebrag”? You got your chubby thighs eating artisan pasta in Naples, Italy. You can’t meditate in a remote ashram in India. Your romantic troubles culminate with a relationship to a sexy, older gem merchant. You’re Everywoman, if Everywoman was an indulged child with a publisher’s fat travel budget.
Similarly, in this mea culpa, I get the distinct whiff of narcissism. Men want me! They can’t stop thinking about me! Everyone I meet is utterly enchanted by me!
I can’t say that I was always looking for a better man. I often traded good men for bad ones; character didn’t much matter to me. I wasn’t exactly seeking love, either, regardless of what I might have claimed. I can’t even say it was the sex. Sex was just the gateway drug for me, a portal to the much higher high I was really after, which was seduction.
Seduction is the art of coercing somebody to desire you, of orchestrating somebody else’s longings to suit your own hungry agenda. Seduction was never a casual sport for me; it was more like a heist, adrenalizing and urgent. I would plan the heist for months, scouting out the target, looking for unguarded entries. Then I would break into his deepest vault, steal all his emotional currency and spend it on myself.
If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different. (The novel doesn’t always win out over the familiar, mind you, but it often does.) The trick was to study the other woman and to become her opposite, thereby positioning myself to this man as a sparkling alternative to his regular life.
Soon enough, and sure enough, I might begin to see that man’s gaze toward me change from indifference, to friendship, to open desire. That’s what I was after: the telekinesis-like sensation of steadily dragging somebody’s fullest attention toward me and only me. My guilt about the other woman was no match for the intoxicating knowledge that — somewhere on the other side of town — somebody couldn’t sleep that night because he was thinking about me. If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call, better still. That was power, but it was also affirmation. I was someone’s irresistible treasure. I loved that sensation, and I needed it, not sometimes, not even often, but always.
Yeah, you’re not a “seduction addict,” you’re a kibble addict.
It’s all still about you. How do I know? Well, for starters you feel zero guilt for the chump (“other woman” hah). She’s an obstacle to kibbles. You say your seduction addiction is “destructive” but for whom? You? Did you ever think about the pain you inflicted on innocents?
I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.
Relationships overlapped! Passive voice. Owning it would be writing “I cheated.”
Exhausting “theatricality”? It wasn’t theater to the people you hurt. The sobbing, broken hearted weren’t parts delivered by two-bit actors in your personal soap opera. They were real.
Until you can tell the difference between props and people, I doubt you’re sorry. Sorry.