This is a sad story and also a happy story. Elizabeth Gilbert has ended her relationship with the man she met in the final chapters of her best selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, because she realized she’s actually in love with Rayya Elias, her best friend of 15 years. That’s the happy part. The sad part is that Elias has been diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer.
Gilbert wrote a post about it on Facebook this morning, detailing their journey and why they decided to come out now.
But something happened to my heart and mind in the days and weeks following Rayya’s diagnosis. Death — or the prospect of death — has a way of clearing away everything that is not real, and in that space of stark and utter realness, I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya. And I have no more time for denying that truth. The thought of someday sitting in a hospital room with her, holding her hand and watching her slide away, without ever having let her (or myself!) know the extent of my true feelings for her…well, that thought was unthinkable.
On Facebook, Gilbert candidly spoke about her breakup from her husband, who appeared in the final chapters of her first memoir and was the subject of her follow-up book, Committed: A Love Story. The relationship ended because she realized she was in love with Elias and after a summer of settling on a strategy to fight her cancer and coming out to their friends and family, Gilbert said she wanted to come out publicly because she wants her partner to be on her arm at every writing event she attends, and she wants people to understand what they mean to each other.
Elias is also a writer (and musician). In fact, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the foreword to her memoir, Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side, in 2013.
The Los Angeles Times points to a profile the two women shared in the Sydney Morning Herald last year:
[The Herald] described them as”clasping hands, finishing each other’s sentences, Elias absentmindedly fixing Gilbert’s hair” and displaying “a kind of intimacy only found in female friendships and, even then, not always.” Elias told the newspaper that her friends would often refer to Gilbert as her wife. “I know it sounds like a love story and it totally is,”she said.
Below you can watch Gilbert and Elias in an hour-long conversation called Sex, Drugs & Hair: Women in 2015, which was recorded last year as part of the Sydney Opera House Talks & Ideas series and the reason the Sydney Herald profiled them.
Gilbert closed out her Facebook post by asking her friends and fans to withhold advice and judgment and to send love instead.
Whatever extra love you might be carrying around in your hearts right now, could you direct some this way? I would appreciate it so much, and — trust me — it will be felt. And it will help. We will resonate with it, and we will thank you for it. Because truth is the force that guides us to where we need to be in life, but love is the power that heals us once we arrive there.
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Everyone is gay
Thank you, Kurt Cobain! ????
Ah, I was thinking of that exact Talks & Ideas session with the two of them when I read the post! It was like ‘yeah, duh’. But seriously, fuck cancer. Now what – am I happy or am I sad?
oh my goodness this is giving me so many feels.
From that Sydney Herald article, written a year and a half ago and I guess about a year before she figured it out:
“Theirs is a kind of intimacy only found in female friendships and, even then, not always. “It’s not your sister, it’s not your lover, it’s not your BFF,” says Gilbert. “There isn’t really an identifier for it.”
Elias says some of her friends refer to Gilbert as her wife. “Well, I’d rather go to the laundromat with you than go to, like, Prague with almost anybody else,” Gilbert says to Elias. “It’s just better. And that’s the great thing when you’re getting something so lovely out of being with somebody – it’s like, ‘Let’s hang out in the parking lot!’ ”
I feel like I hear this sometimes about female friendships – “I feel so strongly about her, there’s no word for it!” and really there is a word: you’re in love. If you’re this happy when you’re with someone, you’re probably in love with them. I think my wife was confused this same way before we admitted we were in love. That whole section really resonated.
So, so sad about the cancer, but happy they found each other.
Yes! I mean obviously it’s possible to have very intimate 100% platonic relationships but sometimes when friends act like they’re in love it’s because they are actually in love. It just sucks that we live in a society that makes that so hard to see sometimes.
This whole comment is spot on.
Sending love to them both. <3
<3 Sitting at my work desk, pretending my allergies are flaring up but really I'm crying.
Maybe I missed this part of the article–is her best friend also queer and in love with her or did this just prompt her to realize she can love a woman?
According to Gilbert’s description they are now partners.
Yep, just listen to the first couple of minutes of the video.
OH MY GOD. I’m blown away. When I saw the title I just stared at it with incomprehension; came out about what, I thought. She couldn’t be – could she? I guess I still make the mistake of assuming not everyone is gay.
Her coming out post on Facebook amazes me. And it pisses me off that we live in a society where the heteronormative conditioning runs so deep that it takes a real, palpable crisis for our eyes to open to the truth of who we are and how we feel. But then again, isn’t it amazing how crises will find us to wake us up?
SO MANY FEELS+THOUGHTS!
Okay, I gotta go process.
As someone who has never read Eat, Pray, Love but is completely enthralled with any and all of Elizabeth Gilbert’s thoughts on writing, I am so glad to hear they found each other. Also, fuck cancer.
If I were her I’d have conflicted feelings about being so famous for a pretty vacuous book. I love listening to her talk about writing far more than I liked that book. FAR more.
She’s talked about this a lot! Although obviously she doesn’t think her book is vacuous, she’s written/talked about how she wrote mostly about masculine-leaning topics and enjoyed modest success and how now she’s now thought of as just a chick lit author and the difficulties of breaking out of that. I think she has a lot of good things to say about why people assume that writing about feelings and love isn’t considered literary, and I have to say that I didn’t find Eat, Pray, Love all that vacuous.
It for sure had eye-rolling moments—a little too many moments of mystic for my taste—but Gilbert is a sublime writer and ultimately the book is about grief, which I don’t find to be insipid even surrounded by talk of yoga and pasta. A friend lent me her copy to help distract me while my dad was dying of cancer, so maybe it’s why it means so much to me. I’ve reread it several times since (mostly recently after a brutal breakup) and found so many parts of it relatable and useful.
Okay apparently I had a lot to get off of my chest, turns out I really love that fucking book.
I also read it whenever I’m going through a rough time. People laugh at me for it, but as you said, parts of it are relatable. Nice to hear I’m not alone in this.
I’ve loved everything I have ever read by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I am happy she has found new love and joy. And totally…fuck cancer. Cancer is a bastard. I wish them much love and more time.
I listened to both of these women interviewed when they were in Oz for this event, and I love listening to Elizabeth Gilbert on podcast but I REALLY loved the interview with Rayya. Reminds me I really must get the book, which sounds amazing, and am bookmarking this video for later!
So Rayya is basically real life Shane, but cooler? I love
this video, the love that they have for one another is abundant, appreciated, and obvious. Goals. My heart goes out to rapid healing for Rayya.
If I was still a parochial high schooler I’m pretty sure I’d hear, “Well, now we know why the pray portion wasn’t in Rome.”
<_< The internal Catholic school teacher commentary never leaves with the rest of it.
But uh yeah fuck cancer, yay finding self and coming to terms with it.
P.S. Could one call "coming out" "coming to terms"? Because when one comes out there's usually some terms or a term used…
“Elias says some of her friends refer to Gilbert as her wife. “Well, I’d rather go to the laundromat with you than go to, like, Prague with almost anybody else,” Gilbert says to Elias. “It’s just better. And that’s the great thing when you’re getting something so lovely out of being with somebody – it’s like, ‘Let’s hang out in the parking lot!’ ”
“I know it sounds like a love story and it totally is,” says Elias.”
Nah, they’re just gal pals, you guys.
Nooooo this is so beautiful and tragic! It sounds bad, but I hope Elias can beat her cancer and they can have the many years together that they deserve. Also, good on Gilbert for having the courage to face the truth and act on it before it was too late.
BOSOM FRIENDS ?
Okay, the Android version of that emoji looks much cuter and more like two bosoms that are friends.
I can’t help but think of the Golden Girl’s theme song right now. Thank you for a being a friend.
If she hasn’t labelled her sexuality, she could also be bi? A default gay assumption when a celeb starts dating a same gender partner can feel really isolating sometimes for bi folks :( (this is directed to the comments, not the article)
Of course, that’s true. I actually love when celebrities come out with a love for someone of the same sex but never label themselves either way. I enjoy the possibilities when people are just loving who they love when they love them. <3
I second this!
Oh!!!! I’m so glad.
This is so bittersweet. I am so happy for Elizabeth recognizing and embracing her love for Rayya. It’s so exciting to have a woman I admire so much be part of the community. When I was struggling in my early adulthood, I devoured Eat, Pray, Love. The book was a huge influence in me taking some time off and using my savings to travel. That trip is still one of the best periods of my life and it was the first time I learned how to just *be* gay.
I hope their time together is happy, beautiful and long despite the grim diagnosis.
Wow! How beautiful and heartbreaking. Her life is full of amazing stories.
Being in love with someone for 15 years and not wanting sexual contacts? I don’t believe that.
You do know asexuality(and demisexuality) is totally a thing, very valid.
Then why is she all of a sudden turned sexual now?
Women have been subconsciously repressing and distorting their sexual natures for centuries (probably millennia) in order to conform safely to societal expectations. You may not understand it from your own experiences, but for those of us who were so stifled by heteronormativity that we didn’t even consciously realize our own queerness until adulthood, a woman keeping her true sexual desires buried for 15 years is totally unsurprising.
Sounds like you never knew the depths of denial many of us experience before we come out to ourselves. Good for you.
Also what Al said.
I guess if one happened to be a straight man in a world that encourages straight men to express and freely act upon their sexual desire, without necessarily even bothering to check for consent, I can see how one would think that, yes.
When confronted with disagreement, you call people straight man rapist.
I think she’s not in love with Rayya; she’s in love with the Rayya with cancer. And she has borderline personality disorder.
Cry me a river. You come here disrespecting a woman who just came out, dismissing her feelings, diagnosing her with a personality disorder (!?), yet you expect to be respected and valued in return? Nah, brah; you get what you give.
I don’t know if this person actually has borderline personality disorder, but people with BPD are as capable of falling in love as people without it. We have different issues – we’re more prone to circumstantial changes in feelings and we’re generally more easily affected by new relationship energy than most people. But it feels silly to say that because of these things (that affect non-borderlines too!), it doesn’t count as “love”. Once we get things under control, we’re just as capable of loving, stable relationships as anyone.
Mental illnesses are not insults. Go fuck yourself.
That video is great too. I was lucky enough to be at All About Women this year and I got to see Carrie Brownstein, Mallory Ortberg, Masha Gessen and others and it was so great.
Also nice shoutout to Women of Letters, I live in Melbourne where this began and is going strong.
I loved All About Women this year, although waking up early enough the day after the Mardi Gras Parade was a struggle.
I also love Women of Letters, I went to the session they had at the Opera House and loved it. I wish I lived in Melbourne so I could go to more of their events.
In Eat, Pray, Love, she mentioned ‘Attraversiamo’meaning ‘Let’s cross over’. Glad she has crossed over to what will ultimately make her happy.
This news warmed my heart this morning. I love love.
I did part of the data entry for a massive survey of attendees for a huge pride festival in my country, Singapore, 5 years back. You’d be surprised at how many bisexual women reported they were not out to any friends, and rarely attended lgbt gatherings. Huge numbers. A lot of bisexual men said the same. Most of the lesbian women said they were out to friends, and were in the community.
Thus I’ve never had any doubt that a lot of women and men have hidden, repressed, or rationalized their genuine attraction to people of the same sex.
Also so many parallels with Maria Bello – long-term best friend, revelations prompted by illness, long beautiful personal essay, everyone surprised and delighted…