Eat Pray Love: David Offers New Chances, Old Feelings

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who is Eat Pray Love‘s David? What was his relationship like with Elizabeth Gilbert?

Eat Pray Love‘s David was Elizabeth’s first love after her divorce. David became a safe harbor and later, and unhealthy obsession.

Read more about Eat Pray Love, David, and Elizabeth’s relationship with him.

Eat Pray Love: David

David was an actor in New York City. Gilbert met him after he was cast in a play based on her short stories. In hindsight, Gilbert realized the folly of conflating the real person with the character she created. But at the time, she didn’t see it. She fell hard and fast for David that summer and jumped straight from her marriage bed into David’s. 

More than just a lover, in Eat Pray Love, David became a safe harbor during Gilbert’s struggles with her divorce. She clung to him as one might a life preserver in choppy waters. She moved into his apartment quickly and lived a blissful, romantic-comedy existence for several months. They traveled, hiked, developed pet names, read together, cooked together, and loved like their lives depended on it. Unfortunately, only one of their lives depended on it. And when Gilbert took an emotional turn downward, David started to retreat. 

Her emotional landslide happened for two reasons. First, Gilbert finally met up with her husband again after the long summer. The date was September 9, 2001. They were supposed to hammer out the details of their separation. Instead, her husband focused on Gilbert’s low character and how much he now hated her. 

Then, 9/11 happened. Gilbert and her husband talked briefly to make sure the other was safe. But when the whole country was coming together for strength, neither she nor her husband reached out to each other for the same. It was a monumental statement that their marriage was officially over. 

The destruction of Gilbert’s life and her city, as well as the loss of the illusion of safety in her country, was too much for her. The happy, assured woman David fell in love with became needy and unhinged. The more she floundered, the more David pulled away. A great divide opened between them, and he became unreachable. 

Gilbert felt the only good thing in her life slipping away, so she held on tighter. She started to need David like an addict needs a fix. She experienced withdrawal symptoms, made worse by David’s apparent repulsion of her. All of the losses stacked up to an insurmountable wall of defeat, and Gilbert became suicidal. 

The Beginning of Something New

There were several saving graces during the period following her break-up in Eat Pray Love with David. In early 2002, Gilbert moved into a one-bedroom apartment, her first single apartment of her life. The rent was a struggle because most of her money was tied up in the house and legal fees. But she found a way to make it work. She saw the apartment as vital to her recovery and made it her sanctuary. 

Living on her own opened Gilbert up to an independence she’d never known. She grew stronger, more intuitive to her own needs, and more confident. These qualities made David come running back. They discussed how to move forward again with more knowledge about each other and the relationship. They shared days, sometimes weeks, of joy together again. But inevitably, Gilbert would cling too hard, and David would retreat. This cycle went round and round for months, and each ending took Gilbert back to the bottom of her despair. In Eat Pray Love, David was turning into an unhealthy relationship, not the safe harbor she knew.

The Final Act

Later in Eat Pray Love, David comes back into Elizabeth’s mind. On her way back to Rome from Naples, Gilbert was hit with the realization that she had to officially end things with David. She knew they loved each other, but they made each other miserable. And it wasn’t realistic to hope that one of them would change and they’d find a way to live harmoniously. 

Her happiness in Naples showed Gilbert that she might be able to live without David. Other happiness waited for her somewhere else. And even if it didn’t, she needed to cut the string tying them together before she could know for sure. 

That night, she wrote David an email, the first communication they’d had since she left. She told him it was time to accept that their love was special but not sustainable. It was time for them to go their own ways. She also gave her blessing for him to find a new love. She hit send, knowing it was the right thing to do. But it still hurt. 

Eat Pray Love: David Offers New Chances, Old Feelings

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Eat Pray Love summary:

  • Why Elizabeth Gilbert needed to divorce her husband
  • How she was able to find joy again in Italy
  • How Gilbert was able to find balance with Felipe

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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