Elizabeth Gilbert, she of “Eat, Pray, Love” and Oprah-sanctioned fame, is back hawking two things: Her new novel, “City of Girls,” and her insufferable persona as a master of self-help.
For 13 years now, Gilbert has been peddling herself as transparent, in her life and her art, sharing what she’s learned through traveling the world, getting married and divorced twice, leaving her last husband for her female best friend who was also dying of cancer, making millions of dollars along the way.
But as with so many people who claim to have all the answers — ahem, Tony Robbins — things may not be as they appear.
In a lengthy profile for The New York Times, Gilbert — who, in 2014, produced and starred in a 20-minute YouTube video to sell her nearly $1 million New Jersey estate, touring viewers through a “giant, walk-in steam bath” with Tunisian tiles, a 1,400 square foot attic redone as her “skybrary,” her Bertazzoni stove, her marble fireplace, her fancy Japanese bidet and elaborate herb garden — declined the reporter’s request to meet at her new apartment.
“It seemed a curiously impersonal choice,” said The Times, “for a woman who has made a career out of sharing the details — the quotidian, the intimate, the truly harrowing — of her personal life, in memoirs, essays and speaking tours, and all manner of social media.”
Perhaps that’s because, as Gilbert recently told The Cut, she now lives in “a really small apartment, like 600 square feet,” in downtown Manhattan.
Could Elizabeth Gilbert, who once told Wealthsimple “there is no amount of money so huge that a person can’t blow through it if they aren’t thinking straight,” have blown through her money?
If that question seems churlish, please note that this is a woman who recently posted this, to her 746,000 followers on Instagram: “I will always share anything personal about my life, if it could help someone else feel more normal about their life.”
Gilbert’s entire career, which post-“EPL” had earned her a reported $10 million, is based on this transaction: There’s nothing I won’t share with you, my readers and followers, as long as you pay me for my infinite wisdom and grace.
But it’s a long con, an epic hustle, one as infuriating as that smug, beatific, “I’ve-been-to-India-why-haven’t-you?” expression she wears in every photo she takes. It’s evident in the emotionally cheap way she turns epic, devastating losses — divorcing two husbands, the death of her girlfriend Rayya — into narrative arcs of personal triumph and enlightenment, the hero always Gilbert herself.
“What got me through the grief [of losing Rayya],” Gilbert recently told the Sydney Morning Herald, “and continues to do so, is a tremendous pride in knowing what I did, what I sacrificed, what I gave up.”
By the way, that she left her second husband — who was a major character in “East, Pray, Love” and a key part of that recovery arc — for Rayya is a topic off-limits, “out of loyalty to [him],” she said.
And, likely, a hefty divorce settlement.
What’s so enraging, this time around, is that Elizabeth Gilbert has already shown us who she is. In a 2015 essay called “Confessions of a Seduction Addict,” she wrote of the premeditated, methodical, heartless ways she broke couples up, wrecked people’s families and lives, all because she simply felt like it.
“If the man was already in a committed relationship,” Gilbert wrote, “I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different . . . The trick was to study the other woman and to become her opposite, thereby positioning myself to this man as a sparkling alternative to his regular life.”
And once she got the guy, she wrote, she’d “break into his deepest vault, steal all his emotional currency and spend it on myself” before getting bored and moving on to her next target.
This is a love guru? She sounds more like a sociopath.
Finally, those die-hard fans Gilbert unbearably addresses as “Dear Ones” on social media may want to take note of yet another hypocrisy — the deep and abiding relationship she claims to have with her millions of readers and followers. To prove it, she even played agony aunt to a divorcing “NPR” caller on Monday morning, sounding sincere and sisterly as can be.
Yet years ago, Gilbert said that she just couldn’t hear about other people’s problems anymore. “They want to know what they should do about their drug addictions and tragic marriages and bladder infections and which city to visit in Italy, and I was becoming everything from travel agent to psychiatrist and, with respect, I am not capable of being all that.”
But hey, Dear Ones — buy her book!