Here’s a suggested title for Elizabeth Gilbert’s next book: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.
Of course, you know about Elizabeth Gilbert. Chances are you know too much about her.
Gilbert perfected the art of the pseudo-therapeutic memoir in her book: Eat, Pray, Love. It sold, by her estimation “a bajillion” copies and made her rich. (via Kiri Blakeley)
It didn’t make her rich like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but it made her rich enough to feel uncomfortable around her less moneyed friends.
Since her spiritual meanderings had not prepared her to deal with the guilt that came with the wealth, so she decided to redistribute it.
She gave her money away, first to charities, but then to her friends, to those near and dear to her, to people who, she felt, merited more money than the world had been giving them.
I paid off my friends' credit card bills, caught them up on their mortgages, financed their dream projects, bought them plane tickets, tuition, therapy, gym memberships, vehicles.
Sometimes (well, twice), I even bought them houses.
In her mind, she was correcting a karmic imbalance. But, she was also getting off on what she calls overgiving:
Finally, it was joyful and empowering: I was a dream facilitator, an obstacle-banisher, a life-transformer. In short: Giving away money to my friends was so much fun!
Apparently, it wasn’t so much fun for her friends. They found, as Gilbert later realized, that it was embarrassing, even humiliating.
Gilbert wasn’t just giving; she was taking away their dignity.
When you throw money at people, you are lording it over them, defining yourself by your wealth and making your friends feel like charity cases.
Gilbert does not say whether any of her friends turned down her largesse.
If they did not, they were, after all, her enablers.
For all of her spiritual gymnastics Gilbert never seems to have learned a primary rule about gift giving and social exchanges:
Never give anyone a gift that the recipient will not be able to reciprocate.
When someone has received a gift he cannot possibly reciprocate he will be thinking, every time he sees you, that he owes you far more than he can ever give you. He will feel inadequate in your presence, but he will also feel that he has failed a basic social obligation: to reciprocate a gift.
Gilbert did not understand this. She was merely trying to buy her friends’ eternal love:
She had expected:
… to be petted and feted and praised and loved unconditionally for the rest of time.
Where did she ever get this idea?
Perhaps, she got it from writing a phenomenally successful memoir.
Memoirs are about oversharing. Oversharing is like overgiving. Gilbert been feted, praised, loved and enriched for giving too much of herself to people who could never return the favor.
When you write a memoir all of your friends know much more about you than you know about them. And yet, you did not share the intimate details of your life with them; you shared it with the world entire.
If friendship is based on a reciprocal exchange of personal information, how can you, as the friend of someone who has written a memoir, ever right the balance?
And should you want to? If your friend is a memoirist you will be asking yourself whether you want to risk having your own personal information divulged in her next memoir.