In her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert met Felipe, a Brazilian gemstone trader, in Indonesia. As she finished her travels (and the book), their magical affair evolved into a deeper love, and the two resolved to settle together back in the United States. Both had been through bad divorces, and though they pledged fidelity to one another, they were content to live in domestic bliss unrecognized by official ceremony or legal title. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security, noting Felipe’s record of border crossing for business, had other plans for them. When an airport guard held Felipe and threatened deportation, Gilbert asked what legal recourse they would have. The guard suggested a simple solution: marriage.
The idea came as a shock to the couple, but recognizing that their options were limited, they agreed to set the process in motion and apply for a visa that would enable Felipe to return to the U.S. In the meantime, they set off on a peripatetic year in Asia, traveling with limited resources and waiting for word from their immigration lawyer as their case languished in bureaucratic uncertainty. Gilbert used this time to research the concept of marriage in Western culture, as seen through the lens of historians, psychologists, sociologists, and poets, looking closely at how the institution has evolved to reflect our social needs and how it is so often intertwined with religion, politics, class, and money. In an attempt to overcome her anxieties about returning to the altar, Gilbert also interviewed natives of Laos and Vietnam, as well as her own family and friends, about their attitudes toward matrimony. All the while she and Felipe deepened their commitment to one another, putting their beachside romance to a stronger test—living out of bags in foreign countries, under the emotional duress of indeterminate exile, for months at a time.