My friend Colleen and I went to see the movie Eat, Pray, Love last week. Neither of us had read the book, so we were both eager to see what all the fuss was about. From what little I knew of it, I thought it was right up my alley: Elizabeth Gilbert takes a year off from her life to travel solo. During the first half of the movie, I was totally on board with Elizabeth’s journey. I inwardly cheered for her when she had the guts to tell her husband she didn’t want to be married to him any more because she wasn’t happy. (I groaned when she immediately followed this up with a rebound relationship that seemed obviously doomed.) I was proud of her when she disregarded her friend’s advice and decided to travel for a year on her own. I adored her stay in Italy. The friendships she cultivated there were a perfect example of what can happen when you travel solo.
Somewhere during her stay in India, I fell out of like with her and remained that way through much of the rest of the movie as I realized that despite all her time alone on the road, she still hadn’t changed. Elizabeth was completely focused on her relationships with men throughout her solo travels, instead of on the joy of being alone and free to do whatever she wanted to do for the first time in her life. She was whiny and self-absorbed and spent little to no time focusing on the cultures of the countries she visited (after Italy). Then, of course, the movie had to go with the stock Hollywood “happy ending” with her new love.
I’m not against finding happiness or love. On the contrary. Hell, I’d be ecstatic to find my own Felipe. But I felt like she hadn’t really embraced her inner solo traveler before she fell right back into her old pattern of behavior, spending all her time with Felipe instead of pursuing her purpose for being in Bali. Later, as we discussed the movie, Colleen and I agreed that the movie had an opportunity to make a statement about the importance of being alone sometimes, and it just failed to deliver.
I travel solo all the time, and I live alone, so I have plenty of time to myself. But so many women don’t. Colleen is a perfect example. She keeps very busy raising her second family, running a home-based business, serving as a Girl Scout troop leader, and waitressing on the side. She doesn’t get a lot of “me” time.
Recently, Colleen took a solo trip to northern California to attend her high school reunion. When I asked her how her trip had gone, there was a sense of relief in her voice as she gushed about how great it was to see old friends again, but also how much she loved the quiet time she had alone in the car during the ten hour round trip drive between San Francisco and Eureka. She did, however, note the differences in how she and her husband approach their trips away from each other.
When her husband goes away for a “boys’ weekend” with his friends, he just walks out the door and doesn’t give it another thought. But if Colleen goes away, she has to make sure there’s someone to drop the girls off at school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon; that there is plenty of food in the house for meals; that the house is clean and the laundry done. She has to remind her husband about dentist appointments and Girl Scouts and all the millions of other little details that wives tend to take care of that husbands are generally blissfully oblivious about.
I sat there listening to her, nodding, and understanding that this was the premise that Eat, Pray, Love set up and yet failed to deliver on: The importance of women taking a break from their lives to just be themselves and nurture themselves for a change. And as Brian Searl pointed out in his recent guest post here, going on a vacation with the family doesn’t count. If the family is with you, you’re not really getting away from it all, are you?
While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your life with the right person (and really, who doesn’t want that?), there’s also nothing wrong with taking time apart once in awhile to pursue your own interests or just have some “alone time”. Eat, Pray, Love wasted its opportunity to make a point about the transformative power of solo travel–of taking the time to nurture one’s soul, and of forging a stronger self-identity. I’m not really sure what point it was trying to make. But I thought Colleen did a much better job making her point with one simple statement:
“I really needed those five days to just be Colleen. Not Mrs. Palmer, not Mom. Just me.”
Photo credit: Francois Duhamel.