Thursday, January 28, 2010

Marriage and the Tribe

I recently read an excerpt of Committed, the new book by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) on how a laughing Hmong grandmother made her question her expectation of marriage and its ability to single-handedly fulfil you and offer you everything you need in life.

I liked it very much, but I’m not going to quote her verbatim (because now I can’t find the damn thing!!). Basically, whilst contemplating her second marriage, she asked other women about their marriages. She just happened to be in a Hmong village in northern Vietnam, where life is lived in pretty much the same tribal fashion as thousands of years ago. You know, the way our brains are still programmed to think.

So she began questioning a group of women, particularly a lovely grandmother, on their marriages, and when they knew that their husbands were the love of their life. As they were laughing their heads off at her, Elizabeth had an epiphany. Perhaps, whilst their marriages were an important part of their lives, these women relied on more than just one relationship for happiness. Marriages in this part of the world are far more practical than romantic. Maybe they had their need for connection, fulfilment, support, commiseration, empathy, and child-rearing assistance met in other ways... by each other perhaps. By their tribe.

I am a big believer in this. Whilst I love my husband, and he is a great partner, father, provider etc., I don’t rely on him to fulfil every facet of my life. My happiness is not solely his burden. Apart from the responsibility we must take for ourselves to be happy, I do think human connections are essential for happiness, at least for me. But how can we possibly rely on one person, no matter how wonderful (and usually of a different gender no less), to single-handedly raise us up? So I have a wide circle of family and friends who all offer their gifts. Don't get me wrong, my marriage is very important to me, but it's not the sole source of my happiness.

Then I read Thea’s latest post at Do I Really Wanna Blog about friendships and the different styles of friendship different people have to offer. This too resonated with me. The individuals in my group of friends, not to mention my family, differ wildly. There are introverts, extroverts, religious, spiritual, atheist, drinkers, teetotallers, parents, smug married, singles, real, imaginary, 2-D , old, young, in-between, country, city, gay, straight, bubbly, melancholy, optimist, pessimist and everything else you could think of.

Each have something different to offer to me and their other friends. Different styles of friendship as Thea puts it. The thoughtful, always-calls type, the do-anything-you-need type, the fun-to-go-get-loaded-with type, the wise one you take your problems to, the ones who inspire you, hell, even the ones who kick your butt and get you back on track. All different, all just as valuable as the others.

I think it’s like this – people need a tribe; a big group of people around you, partner if you have one, family, friends and especially girlfriends to give you all the aspects you need – you don’t expect your husband to spend hours trawling the shops and drooling over the men of Desperate Housewives do you??



  1. 'Tis the mark of a mature beautiful woman who will go very far in life and always be fullfilled...

    Wonderfuly written and brilliantly insightful.

    How narrow and lopsided we are at risk of being...I find the cacophony of friendships really balances me out

  2. Yes! I think you're right!! Thanks so much for the link to my blog, I loved your comment on my post.
    I really enjoyed Eat Love Pray & haven't read her new book. Is it good?

  3. I totally agree. Funny, I spent a month in the North of Vietnam around the HMong Women- was where I was when I found out "monte' was with us.
    I totally think we do not rely on a man to be everything for us. It is way too much pressure on them and completely unrealistic! This is where blogging has been of enormous help to me. I am used to having lots of tangible (3d) friends, but since living in the country , hmmm no-one here I really click with or bother with. Blogosphere? Found loads of them - lots of different women that I cant talk with about the myriad of things that interest me and make me whole that I would not expect Cowboy to be able to fulfil in me!! It makes oure relationship so much richer to have these tribes!
    great post!!

  4. You are so right. I often feel like saying to the women shopping with bored, grumbling husbands in tow "leave him at home and take your girlfriend (or daughter, or mother) shopping with you." Never could understand women (or men) who can't do anything or go anywhere without their partners. You need your tribe - your friends to coffee with, go to girlie movies with etc.

  5. Couldn't agree more! I read an excerpt of the book in Marie Claire this month and found myself nodding along in agreement. It makes perfect sense to have a network (or tribe) to fulfil your various needs. I'm afraid though, that as our lives have become busier and filled up with (dare I say it) irrelevant things (how much time do we spend on the internet, for example?), friendships can fall by the wayside and we can become more dependent on less people.

  6. Totally agree, I don't want to be responsible for anyone's absolute happiness. Dear god the pressure.

    I'm like you with regard to friends, we're all incredibly different. I think it forces people to open their minds when surrounded by friends who don't necessarily think and feel the same way you yourself do.

  7. Yeah, i so agree. I need and rely on my friends heaps for different things. I just came back from a night at a friend's house. So refreshing

  8. I agree. I'm often confounded by women whose husbands are their entire world. Live a little, ladies.

  9. Very good. I am married to my best friend, 34 years this June. We always told our kids, you will never be happy with someone until you are happy all by yourself.

  10. Love, Eat, Pray was very good and inspirational. And I agree that there is SO much more to a life than a relationship with a partner.

  11. What a great post - totally 100% agree with everything you wrote. My hubs and I have been together for nearly 13 years and while I love him to pieces, he is NOT my be all end all. And ditto for me to him. We have a very independent relationship where we support and encourage one another to be true to ourselves (and each other, too, of course). Some of my family and friends were shocked when my hubs "let me" go backpacking in Europe for 2 weeks with my best girl friend during our 5th year of marriage. It's all about respect and trust. I just don't get relationships that work any other way.


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