By Nicolle

And you shouldn’t either. At least not in the most traditional sense, the sense that defines marriage as a cultural institution that needs protection from outside influences.

The most traditional sense of marriage appears to have been around for centuries – it’s a sacrament of the Catholic Church, which makes it as highly regarded as priesthood or baptism.

A sacrament is an act or deed that helps ensure one’s entrance to heaven. So, if I get married, I’m more likely to receive eternal salvation.

That sounds scary even to me, and I grew up in church.

If that intensity gives me reason to tread with trepidation, the weight that marriage carries would seem to be even more intense to those with less traditional values, ideas or thoughts.

That concept is exactly what author Elizabeth Gilbert attempts to understand in her new book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage.

You may recognize her name from 2006’s Eat, Pray, Love fame. In her first memoir, Gilbert began a journey to find herself after a messy divorce, and instead of merely discovering who she is, she also discovered a Brazilian man almost 20 years her senior with whom she wanted to spend her life.

But her past experiences and her free spirit caused Gilbert to rebel against traditional marital vows – until her Brazilian mate was forbidden to enter the United States without a marriage license.

She had a decision to make: Would she let the U.S. government force her to get married so she could live happily ever after in her home country or would she stand by her principles and abandon either her home or her newfound love? And so began her year-long physical (Gilbert and her man traveled around Southeast Asia) and emotional (she spent the whole year researching the history of marriage) journey toward reconciliation with the cultural institution that is marriage.

Gilbert’s emotional journey is one every engaged individual should embark on before they walk down the aisle. She spent countless hours examining Western culture’s idea of matrimony, and analyzing how her own experiences with relationships (including her first failed marriage) would impact her pending nuptials.

What she discovered is surprising and enlightening, and her balance of historical data and personal experience gives an engaging and insightful commentary on marriage, relationships, love and “happily ever after.”

One of Gilbert’s most penetrating insights relates to divorce rates. As soon as any society moves from a culture of arranged marriages to a culture of marriages based on people choosing their own partners, divorce rates skyrocket. This, Gilbert argues, is partially caused by the fact that with the ability to choose to marry for happiness and fulfillment also comes the desire to choose divorce once the honeymoon period of a marriage is over.

Gilbert also provides the most accurate, piercing description I’ve ever encountered of the suffering love can cause:

“Desiring another person is perhaps the most risky endeavor of all. As soon as you want somebody – really want somebody – it is as though you have taken a surgical needle and sutured your happiness to the skin of that person, so that any separation will now cause you a lacerating injury” (p. 96).

It sounds grotesque when put so blatantly, but anyone who has ever loved and lost can attest to the sudden feeling of amputation from his or her beloved. It impacts every aspect of life, and seizes thoughts, memories and emotions with a ruthless intensity.

Insights and conclusions like these are abundant in Committed. As Gilbert draws from her own experience and others’ research, her conclusions reflect a profound understanding of what we want when we say, “I do,” and how those desires are failed by our expectations and our societal norms.

Much like Unhooked Generation, Committed should be required reading for everyone over the age of 16 – single, dating, engaged or married. I’m pretty sure it could help reduce our divorce rates because it’s already reduced my fear of the “institution” that is holy matrimony.