LI: I read the article about you in the Tulsa World. You did a phone interview with the person from there and I found myself wondering what kind of reaction you get from male readers.
EG: Well, I used to only get reactions from male readers because I used to only write for male readers.
LI: Exactly, you started out talking about masculinity.
EG: And some of them have come with me and more men have read Eat, Pray, Love and Committed than you might think. Either because they have it read to them by their spouses or partners when they’re in bed or they picked it up. And I’m always really touched – I made that joke tonight about there’s a man in the audience — but they do come and I think they know that I love them. A lot of my work is about loving men, you know, either directly or indirectly in some sort of way so I hope they always feel welcome.
LI: Do you feel like your relationship with your father caused you to write your earlier books talking about masculinity?
EG: I don’t know why. Well, I probably could identify why. I’ve always been very comfortable with men. I didn’t have brothers. I had uncles who were really close to me and my dad was really close to me. I grew up with really gentle men, so I don’t think I ever had that sort of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” prejudice. I grew up in a household with – like Garrison Keiler says — strong women and kind men and so I think that just made me ok with them and interested in them.
LI: Do you think the phenomenon of “wifeless marriages” is as prevalent overseas as it is in the U.S.?
EG: It depends on where you’re talking about. It’s more prevalent in Scandinavia than it is here. I was just in Sweden in September and I saw something I have never seen before and that is groups of young men – I’m around New York and Brooklyn all the time and so I see guys with their kids all the time. That’s obvious, and so there is a new evolution in the way men interact with their families and their kids. Here’s what I have never seen, and I saw it all over Stockholm on a beautiful autumn day – groups of five guys in their 20’s or 30’s with their babies out together with no sign of a woman. They have such incredible – you know we call ourselves a family values country, but those are countries (Scandinavia) where they really do create legislation that supports and helps families. One of those things pieces of legislation is that both the husband and the wife get some enormous amount of maternity or paternity leave, so what generally happens is the wife stays home with the baby for the first six months or so and then the husband does. And a lot of those guys, it just changes and alters their entire relationship with the family, with their children, because they were there – right there—at home for a lot of the very beginnings of it. Every time I saw that, you know, like five handsome young men with snugglies and babies and I’d be like this is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life. (laughter) I think that’s hard to do in a culture where there is no external support for the family, where not only do you not have generous childcare and education and health care, you don’t have, not even the woman gets that much, much less the woman and the man. You’re not going to see that happening in Saudi Arabia anytime soon. (laughter) So it does matter what kind of a culture you’re talking about but I do think they do it best in Scandinavia.
LI: Do you think going to another country helps clarify your personal identity?
EG: I always have thought that, but that’s because I’m a traveler. I don’t think that everyone has to do that or everyone wants to do that. I remember one of my favorite questions to ask people when I’m getting to know them is if you could have five homes anywhere in the world, where would they be? Because my answer changes every month (laughter) and I’m always curious to hear what people would answer. I remember I have a friend who is a poet who lives in Wyoming and she said she thought and thought and thought. And she just said I just want to live in the town that I live in and I want to live my life there in the house I live in and watch the world go through its’ seasons from one vantage point. And watch myself and my neighbors age and be part of this community and be rooted, you know. It’s just a different — I don’t think she has any less a perspective on the world than I do. It’s just that her chosen means of perspective is one vantage point and mine is more like a hummingbird. (laughs) I want to cross-pollinate as much as possible.
LI: Yes, I can understand that. Do you think Felipe’s Brazilianness makes him more attractive to you than if he were American?
EG: Oh yeah. Definitely. I just love it. I don’t know if he’s a typical Brazilian but the foreignness, I think, is exciting and interesting. He’s definitely not a WASP. I grew up in a very WASP-y part of the world with Yankee repression and this is somebody, who – for better or worse, you know, his face is an open hand. You know what that guy is thinking. He’s passionate and emotional and emotive and temperamental and loving and all sorts of things that I just find a wonderful counterpoint to my button-downed self. It’s been good.
LI: Did you ever think the age difference is too much — I’m afraid of being a widow someday?
EG: Well, if I’m lucky I’ll be a widow someday. That’s something that he and I talk about all the time. Nothing is promised. We both agree that the tragedy would be if he were a widower someday because that would be breaking the contract that we have with each other. You know what I mean. That’s not the deal.
EG: But as we all know, you don’t get to enact those deals and that can go in any direction that it wishes for the moment, and for the almost eight years that I’ve known him, it’s been only to my advantage. I will suspect that challenges will come later and I only hope that we both have the dignity and grace to move through those as well as possible. But I don’t think that – who was it I was telling – she’s got a sister who will only date young men because she doesn’t want to be a widow someday. Well, first of all, women live longer than men anyway so the statistical odds are basically always that you’re going to be a widow. I’m not afraid of being a widow. I would prefer not to be too young of one. I have a friend whose mother is Italian and her husband is exactly the same age difference – 17 years older – and she’s now in her 70’s and they are still very much in love. And she said to me if you take care of him, you can keep him for a long time. And he always reminds me of that, he’s like “you get to keep me for a long time if you take care of me.”
For more information, see the general article about Gilbert speaking in Tulsa that also appears in this column.