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We shouldn’t be disillusioned that Elizabeth Gilbert split from ‘Felipe’

If you’ve read Eat Pray Love (and if you haven’t, do it now), you’ll have finished the memoir rooting for the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, and “Felipe,” the Brazilian man she fell in love with in Bali toward the end of her soul-searching trip around the world.

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Undoubtedly Gilbert’s journey inspired many other women in her position (miserable, unfulfilled, feeling trapped in an unhappy marriage) to make changes. Perhaps not on the same scale, but you don’t need to visit every continent to find true love.

So how are these women dealing with the “disillusioning news” (in the words of one reporter) that Gilbert has now separated from her “Felipe” (real name José Nunes, to whom she’s been married for 12 years)?

The writer revealed the news in a Facebook post, posting a picture of two pelicans going their separate ways in the sunset together, with a lengthy statement in which she described Nunes as “my dear companion for over 12 years” and said the split was “very amicable” and their reasons were “very personal.”
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For readers of Eat Pray Love, the end of Gilbert and Nunes’ relationship is saddening, for sure. Gilbert herself says that it’s a “sensitive moment” and asks fans for their understanding. One sentence sums it up perfectly: “I trust that you understand how this is a story that I am living — not a story that I am telling.”

That is a crucial distinction. Her real-life relationship with Nunes is not her relationship with Felipe. Since the memoir was written, several years have passed, and things have changed. To suggest that readers are (or should be) somehow “disillusioned” with the news of their separation is to hold Gilbert to a ridiculous standard — one nobody can uphold. It’s also patronizing to Gilbert’s millions of readers, who are intelligent enough to know that you can be inspired by another person’s story without going to Bali to find a Brazilian lover of your own.

Marriage does not need to last forever to be a success. A marriage that lasts only a few years but produces a child and many happy memories is a success. A marriage that lasts only a few months but has a life-changing, positive impact on both people is a success. It sounds as if Gilbert and Nunes’ marriage was a huge success, because during its course they both grew and loved and, ultimately, leave it with an incredibly close friendship.

The end of a marriage is a sad time, but it can also be a time of growth and learning and discovering new, wonderful parts of oneself. And a sad ending doesn’t negate all the happiness that went before or make it any less significant.

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