Elizabeth Gilbert, sociopath

There’s a piece in the Times magazine by Elizabeth Gilbert, she of Eat, Pray, Love. The title of the piece is “Confessions of a Seduction Addict.” Close readers of this blog may remember that EPL had a pretty profound effect on me, that it helped me kick-start my meditation practice. I didn’t love EPL – I found her voice (and I didn’t read EPL, I listened to her read it to me) cloying, her smug self-satisfaction annoying. I almost resented the powerful effect her book had on me precisely because I found her so difficult.

Anyway, L suggested I read the Times piece, calling it “good.” It is good, after a fashion. It’s well written, and compelling, telling the story of how its author used the desire of others to medicate the emptiness at the bottom of her heart. Less convincingly, it tells the story of how its author stopped using the desire of others to fill that emptiness.

As I read it, I found myself having a somewhat different set of reactions, one I couldn’t put my finger on. First, I thought, “Wow, she really does write well. I envy that.” Then, I thought, “She’s not very likeable.” That, I remember thinking about her from EPL. But more than anything, what I didn’t like about the piece is, in the end, the same thing that rubbed me most wrong about EPL – and that, I confess, rubs me more wrong about it with each passing day. The piece is redolent of a certain quality of… triumph? Completeness?

Gilbert wants us to believe that, with the help of time, and therapy, all her problems were solved, that now, she’s a good person who doesn’t seduce married men. That message just doesn’t resonate for me. It’s not how I understand the workings of either of those two medicaments. For me, time and therapy work very similarly (incidentally, not unlike meditation): rather than solve problems, they help situate them properly in my understanding of myself.

I didn’t stop being the CPOS I used to be. I inhabited his essence more comprehensively, accepting and understanding the impulses that led me down that road, internalizing the costs of my behavior on others, and, over time, striving (really, really fucking hard) to push my self from the center of my motivational structure in favor of those whom I (always) loved. There’s no missing, as you read Gilbert’s article, just who sits at the center of her motivational structure. (Hint: it’s not her family.)

This, for me, wasn’t a road that had an end. I didn’t get – I don’t get – to declare victory and write a triumphal celebration of my overcoming my weakness. This blog sure as hell doesn’t read as triumphal.

No, it’s a road – a really, really hard road – that I’m still on, every fucking day. The amends that my road called for are comprehensive, never-ending, challenging. Maybe impossible ever to achieve. This isn’t flagellation, or grandiosity. I don’t fancy myself a monster, any more or less than anyone else. But I do see that my actions had consequences, and that they weren’t limited to my unhappiness.

The comments that follow Gilbert’s piece are fascinating. They’re brutal, hostile, hateful, and, for the most part, thoughtful, and true. There are fewer than you might expect who simply call her out on her home-wrecking, and more than you might imagine who call her out on her narcissism. And this, of course, is what she and I have in common. She used men – and, for her, the value of the men she used was a direct function of the extent to which others were betrayed in her favor – to fill the hole in her soul. I did this with women. I didn’t need the women to be betraying anyone, but I needed them to make me come, and that was the primary way in which they existed for me. I still, to a certain degree, use women in this way.

There are a few differences, though, between Gilbert and me. First, foremost, the men she used appear as two-dimensional objects, existing only insofar as they (briefly) enabled her to feel less bad. Once they stopped making her feel less bad, they stopped existing for her. Maybe they never really existed for her. For all of my faults, this was never one of mine. The women I’ve had sex with have always, always, been humans to me. Three-dimensional people with whom I was involved. I’m still friendly with a shockingly large number of them. (Notwithstanding the imperfection of the friendship I have to offer those with whom I have a sexual history, or with whom I might hope to have a sexual future.)

I never imagined that my actions didn’t have an impact, either on those women or on my family. And, once I came to see myself as the problem (and not some other person, or situation), it became unavoidably apparent to me that it was incumbent on me to do right by them. By the women with whom I’d interacted commercially, and with those who my actions had hurt.

Second, Gilbert seems to recognize, intellectually, that as a “seduction addict,” she may not only have been the vehicle used by those men to betray their wives and girlfriends, but something actually more active – perhaps the agent of that betrayal. We men are responsible for our actions and I’m not, generally, sympathetic to the turn of mind that blames “homewreckers” for “wrecking homes.” But Gilbert describes herself as a predator, a sociopathic temptress, overtly seeking not simply to “bag” men, but, affirmatively, to entice them to betray their wives. This, it seems to me, is an order of magnitude different than a woman who simply is attracted to married men. In a confession of the sort this article pretends to be, some remorse seems to be called for. But there’s none here. She’s not sorry for the harm her actions caused. (I suspect that the bulk of that harm was suffered by the men she bagged, not their wives, but still….) Where’s her regret?

And third, there’s the vantage point. She writes from atop her perch, lucrative book contract in hand, seeking to promote her next book. She’s a brand. And this article is an introduction to her brand’s newest product.

Because she writes so well, I don’t doubt that I’ll read her new book when it comes out. But I don’t expect it to leave a good taste in my mouth.


  1. I won’t be reading another novel or piece by her after EPL (and it’s set-up), and the article you reference, which I read when it first came out. Why? I don’t care for her smugness among other things, but mostly that.

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