The Wall Street Journal had an interesting interview with author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, which you can read here. The book has been turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts. The one statement that jumped out at me from the entire interview which was done by Elizabeth’s friend Ann Patchett is this one by Elizabeth:
“As somebody who, in my second marriage, insisted on a prenuptial agreement, I can also testify that sometimes it is an act of love to chart the exit strategy before you enter the union, in order to make sure that not only you, but your partner as well, knows that there will be no World War III should hearts and minds, for any sad reason, change.” Emphasis added.
This remarkable statement comes right after Ms. Gilbert pretty much waxes poetic about marriage in general and her marriage in particular. She says (of marriage), “it is like cockroaches and alligators. Marriage will be here long after humans are gone.” But she also describes marriage with a certain reverence, speaks of it as an institution, the only institution, that gives one instant “power” and “social respectability.” That’s a pretty intense viewpoint she expressed. Yet, she speaks of charting an “exit strategy” from this institution of power and respectability as being an “act of love.”
Here’s another excerpt, a question asked and answered during the interview:
Interviewer: Now that you’re married do you feel you’ve been the recipient of all this gravity?
EG: Yes. You don’t feel it or understand it until you have it. I moved to a small town in rural New Jersey with my husband and the very fact that I could introduce him as my “husband”—rather than my boyfriend, or sweetheart or, God forbid, life partner—meant that we were instantly trusted, instantly welcomed, instantly legitimized. Our marriage was a huge shortcut to social respectability, and there are countless tangible and intangible benefits of that. He and I are rebellious and stubborn enough that we would have foregone those benefits, but now that we have them, they lend us undeniable power.
I wonder whether this “act of love” Elizabeth talks about, i.e., the prenup, is an act love for her partner or whether it is really self-love? I think obviously the prenup is an act of self-love more than it is an act of love for the partner no matter how poetically its proponents push its merits. And don’t get me wrong, I think it is smart and financially prudent to get a prenup. But to suggest it is an act of love for one’s partner is to be disingenuous. Let’s admit what this thing, this prenup, is: It is an act of self-preservation, an act of self love. Period. It is a way of manipulating those “tangible benefits” of marriage in such a way that you keep more that is yours and your spouse keeps what is theirs and those benefits don’t get too stirred up and redistributed to a spouse who may not have “earned it.”
Further, for all her cavils, I think that in “plotting her exit strategy” before she cloaks herself in all that “power” and “respectability” of marriage, Elizabeth is, in a strange way, really saying that real “power” comes from self-determination; but self-determination is taken away when one gets married. So in order to preserve that self-determination, it is necessary to utilize an apparatus like a prenuptial agreement. Essentially, what she says in the subtext is that the prenup legitimizes the right of the individual to remain self-determined, independent (emotionally and financially), and to have their self respect and dignity hold fast, after a marriage ends. (Without a prenup, many divorces become protracted battles that end in shame, humiliation and a sense of powerlessness for the less affluent spouse – usually the wife – who has to fight to get more of the money which she or he has not physically earned.)
To me, Elizabeth accidentally implies that when an individual recognizes that he or she has the power to preserve themselves and their individuality and self-determination by entering into a prenuptial agreement prior to entering a marriage, that it is the greatest testament to love–self-love–that there is. And that, this love and respect for self, is the ultimate most powerful type of love and respectability that there is, as opposed to marriage.