As I’ve documented before, I am semi-obsessed with Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic author Elizabeth Gilbert’s social media presence, full of gorgeous sunrises, affirmations of love and creativity and in particular, castigations against the standards of perfection that women hold ourselves to. She accomplishes the latter while seeming perfect, and then dropping occasional truth bombs about her own flaws that make me shake my head, like I’ve been underwater.
Gilbert is an accomplished novelist and obviously brilliant person, but it’s her slightly hippie-ish confessional-with-a-touch-of-mysticism writing that goes viral in the age of Oprah. And she seems to have come to terms with that aspect of her life; today, she wrote a post detailing the end of the marriage that marks the conclusion of Eat, Pray, Love and the subject of her sequel to that memoir, Committed. The marriage ended when the author’s best friend, fellow memoirist, Rayya Elias, was diagnosed with incurable cancer, and Gilbert realized a truth:
But something happened to my heart and mind in the days and weeks following Rayya’s diagnosis. Death — or the prospect of death — has a way of clearing away everything that is not real, and in that space of stark and utter realness, I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya. And I have no more time for denying that truth. The thought of someday sitting in a hospital room with her, holding her hand and watching her slide away, without ever having let her (or myself!) know the extent of my true feelings for her…well, that thought was unthinkable.
After a quiet summer, Gilbert writes, she and Rayya decided to come out about their relationship: “Here is where we stand now: Rayya and I are together. I love her, and she loves me. I’m walking through this cancer journey with her, not only as her friend, but as her partner.”
I have no doubt this news will inspire mockery and speculation about how Gilbert can profit from this turn of events (I’ve already seen tweets about her forthcoming cancer and lesbian memoirs) and it seems reasonable to react that way, but the situation Gilbert has found herself in feels both wrenching and real. There’s something touching about the kind of honesty and transparency Gilbert offers to the world, a chance perhaps for the rest of us to see that the bestselling author has tragedy and upheaval in her life too, and lets us look at that upheaval as she experiences it.
If I can’t be my true self (whether at home in privacy, or out there in the world in public) then things will very quickly get messy and weird and stupid in my life. Sure, I could pretend that Rayya is still just my best friend, but that would be…you know… pretending. Pretending is demeaning, and it makes you weak and confused, and it’s also a lot of work.
In the comments of the Facebook post, the author of a Sydney Morning Herald piece about their friendship shows up to say she always guessed at the truth. “I know it sounds like a love story and it totally is,” Elias said in the profile.
Personally, I find it refreshing to know that someone as radically open as Gilbert was hiding from her own truth for years; it is a reminder of her credo about life’s inherent messiness — painful and gorgeous.