A Cautionary Tale from Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert gave a lot of money to her friends, and it ruined her friendships. “When I lost my friends, it was because I had used the power of giving recklessly on them. I swept into their lives with my big fat cheque book, and I erased years of obstacles overnight – but sometimes, in the process, I also accidentally erased years of dignity.” There’s a lot of of hate-reading and hate-linking to this essay, but I think it’s worth reading and thinking about!!!


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DickensianCat (#971)

Obligatory “ga-roan: Elizabeth Gilbert”s aside, I would find this article a little strange regardless of the author. It seems like Elizabeth Gilbert either has really shitty friends or that we’re not getting the full story. So she went all Oprah for a little bit, over-over gave, and now the people she’s helped are so uncomfortable with her generosity not panning out the way they had anticipated that they actually cross the other side of the street to avoid her? What?
I’m just trying to picture myself as a recipient in this scenario and how I could justify being a jerk or avoiding my friend who helped to bankroll my dream, regardless of being a little embarrassed by its outcome. So it didn’t end up working out-how is that anyone’s fault but mine? Shouldn’t I always be grateful I at least had the opportunity and gave it a shot?
It makes you wonder if EG was actually passive-aggressively asking these “friends” for updates about how the money is being used as a way to maintain power over them.

ThatJenn (#916)

@DickensianCat I think the problem is that the Daily Mail’s editors got their hands on it. Articles there tend to get distilled down into saying the exact same mildly shocking things over and over again rather than being at all nuanced or reflective of reality. It’d be interesting to see what a real essay actually written by Elizabeth Gilbert and edited for a different outlet would look like, though, as it seems like she had some points she wanted to make somewhere in there.

I do think there’s something key in the way she distinguishes generosity from over-giving. Over-giving isn’t about the amount you give – it’s about your attitude and your desire for the recipient’s gratitude, love, and attention (in the sense of buying people’s love). It’s something I used to be very guilty of (see: my entire first marriage), and something I’ve worked around a lot, but I hadn’t ever really conceptualized of that as the problem. It’s like doing anything else at all to get love/attention to fill an emotional hole in yourself. That doesn’t make anyone comfortable in the long run.

lil sebastian (#2,900)

@DickensianCat Not sure if you read Eat, Pray, Love, but the part where she rallies all her friends to buy a house for someone she met on her travels indicates that she does exactly what you suspect in your last paragraph. I also find the general tone of the piece to fit the general tone of parts of her book (or maybe something else I read by her) where she discusses how she is just too sweet and likeable as compared to her sister.

DickensianCat (#971)

@ThatJenn I agree, it’s too bad that such an interesting, nuanced topic went through the Sludge-o-Tron that generates the Daily Mail.

I do think over-giving is a symptom of insecurity in relationships that goes hand-in-hand with neediness and expectation, something a lot of us struggle with, and it can be really, really hard to get off that dime.

DickensianCat (#971)

@lil sebastian Yup, you definitely picture some of these people she’s helped reading this and doing a whole lot of head shaking.

newglasses (#2,928)

But some people do give freely and generously and it benefits everyone concerned. I know a person who is lucky enough to have money to offer friends when there is a need. S/he helped me out in a situation that could not be foreseen or prepared for and it is very doubtful that I will ever be able to re-pay the money. I know that they have done the same for others, but it’s never trumpeted from the housetops. The money is offered, used or declined, and we all go on. It has not, to my knowledge, affected our friendship except, maybe, made it stronger in unexpected ways.

So I think it all depends on the givers and receivers and what they intend and expect and what their relationships are with money to begin with.

I think all my friend would expect and be happy about is if those of us who received the financial help will help others in whatever ways we can, when we can.

@newglasses “So I think it all depends on the givers and receivers and what they intend and expect and what their relationships are with money to begin with.”

Yes, I understand this was the point of the Gilbert piece.

readyornot (#816)

Logan this piece totally made me think of you. The part I found myself still pondering much later was the temptation to the really really grand gesture. There are gifts on an appropriate scale, but Gilbert seemed to find them unacceptable. Maybe the giver wants to shock a little, maybe it only feels meaningful if it’s totally outlandish and not at all scrimping. But I just have this sneaking suspicion that the recipients could more gratefully receive something more reasonable.

cmcm (#267)

I can’t think of any acceptable situation in which I would comfortably receive a gift like a car or a house or paid off debt from a friend. I just couldn’t do it, even though I certainly am in no position to do it myself. Call it pride. Maybe from my siblings or parents if they found themselves in the same position as her, but not from a friend.

And it’s not as though I’m too proud to receive any financial help from a friend– one of my best friends is a lawyer and has occasionally bought me flights to see her because she knows I could never afford it myself and she admits it’s partly selfish because she wants to spend time with me. That level of gift I am totally comfortable receiving.

So yeah, I guess I can imagine how this could fuck up a friendship. I think there’s the feeling that if someone gives you THAT MUCH money, you have to feel forever grateful to them (which it sounds like she admits is part of the reason she does it), and that’s just uncomfortable and unfair.

Slutface (#53)

I think the point is that if you’re going to give something, don’t expect anything in return. Do it and let it go. Don’t expect people to fall at your feet every time they see you because you bought them a car two years ago. That’s basically just paying people to feed your narcissism.

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