Elizabeth Gilbert: Divorce Leads to a New Path

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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What happened during Elizabeth Gilbert’s divorce? Why did she get a divorce, and how did it start her journey in Eat Pray Love?

Elizabeth Gilbert’s divorce quickly turned unpleasant. She still loved her husband, but realized she was in a life she didn’t want. By the end of the divorce, she was broke and unhappy.

Read more about Elizabeth Gilbert, divorce, and how she got started on her journey in Eat Pray Love.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Divorce and a New Future

Elizabeth Gilbert found herself on the bathroom floor of the home she shared with her husband four years before starting her spiritual journey. It was three o’clock in the morning. This was the 47th night in a row that she’d slipped out of bed and hid in the bathroom. What thrust her out of bed was the realization that she didn’t want to be married anymore. 

Gilbert and her husband had dated for two years and been married for six. They lived along the Hudson Valley in Upstate New York and were working toward a Norman Rockwell existence. They wanted children, dinners around the table, and vegetable gardens in the yard. Gilbert had a wandering spirit, but she and her husband assumed that by 30 years old, she would be ready to settle into real life. She wasn’t. 

Year after year, Gilbert waited for the proverbial “ticking clock” to kick in. She believed she should want a baby. That’s what people did—they got married, had kids, and lived happily ever after. But as time stretched on, she realized her idea of happily-ever-after looked very different. 

Each time a pregnancy test came back negative, she was relieved. She had friends with new babies and saw the joy they felt. The last time she felt that kind of joy was when she was sent to New Zealand on a writing assignment. She decided she couldn’t have a baby until she felt more joy about it than a free trip to New Zealand. 

But she wasn’t unhappy in her marriage simply because of an obligation to have a baby. There were several issues (none of which Gilbert discusses) that made her feel trapped. She and her husband had both noticed something changing in her over the past months. Their relationship had become emotionally volatile and exhausting. Still, she loved him and feared hurting him. 

Each night, Gilbert hid in the bathroom because of her confusion, shame, and guilt about wanting to escape her marriage. But on this particular night, something happened that hadn’t before. Down on her knees, sobbing, Gilbert started to pray. 

From Lovers to Enemies

Gilbert ended her marriage seven months after that night on the floor. She thought the worst part would be telling her husband the marriage was over, but that was shortsighted. Elizabeth Gilbert’s divorce proceedings and dissolving relationship were far worse. She and her husband became different people after the separation, and each was equally shocked by the cruelty of the other. 

Elizabeth Gilbert wanted the divorce to be amicable and swift. She wanted to sell their house and split everything down the middle. When her husband refused this offer, she suggested he keep all the assets and she keep the blame. Still, he said no. He didn’t provide an alternative scenario. He simply moved to their Manhattan apartment and told her she was a horrible person. 

Gilbert felt horrible. She felt so guilty that she didn’t think she deserved anything, not even her salary. She was experiencing an awakening and wanted things to be easy. She didn’t want to be engrossed in a contentious battle. For these reasons, Gilbert didn’t hire a lawyer right away. She put her life on hold that summer while she waited for her husband’s terms. But her life moved forward anyway. She found a new love. 

A Plan for the Future

Gilbert had decided on a plan for her future by the time she returned home. She couldn’t ignore the premonition of the Balinese medicine man and needed to find a way to get to Indonesia again. The trouble was she also wanted to visit Italy and India. The other trouble was she wasn’t yet free to travel.

Gilbert decided to spend four months in each location. She would write about her experiences succumbing to rapture in Italy, to spiritual devotion in India, and to the confluence of both in Indonesia. The fact that each country started with “I” was mere coincidence, albeit an auspicious one. 

The second problem was beyond the scope of her decision-making abilities. Her husband held the power in their divorce, and a year and a half later, he was still holding her hostage in their marriage. Gilbert finally hired a lawyer and applied legal pressure. They accused her husband of mental cruelty. Gilbert had already agreed to turn over all their joint assets, but her husband wanted more. 

In spring 2003, Gilbert’s husband requested royalties from her book sales and future earnings, as well as part of her retirement fund. All of this was added to a cash settlement and ownership of both properties. Gilbert saw the line in the sand. She could lose everything and be contractually attached to this man for the rest of her life or stand up for herself and fight. She chose the latter. 

Month after month passed with no agreement. If her husband didn’t agree to a reduced settlement, they’d fight it out in court. This would cost both dearly financially and emotionally. It would also mean Gilbert would be stuck in New York for another year. 

Gilbert grew depressed and anxious. Around this time, she was sent on a tour for the release of a paperback edition of one of her books. A friend joined her on the cross-country road trip. It was exactly the escape she needed. Still, for Elizabeth Gilbert, divorce hung heavy over her head. On one of their long drives, her friend told her she should petition God for help. 

Gilbert wrote a petition asking God to help end her marriage and finalize the divorce. She said it was a matter of health for the universe to allow two souls to finally be free from this dark battle. She and her friend imagined hundreds of people, including family, friends, the Clintons, and other celebrities, signing the petition. When she couldn’t think of any more names, she went to sleep. Hours later, she woke up to her phone ringing. Her husband had signed the papers. Elizabeth Gilbert’s divorce was over, and she was free.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Divorce Leads to a New Path

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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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