It was a shock when famed Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert announced that her marriage to Brazilian businessman José Nunes was over. He is the man she named Felipe in the hit 2006 book, who she had found love with at the end of the ugly divorce which kicks off her memoir.
But even more shocking was when she revealed the reason for the divorce—the author had fallen romantically in love with Rayya Elias, her best friend, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer.
"I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya,” Liz revealed in a long Facebook post, going public with the relationship. "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.
“For those of you who are doing the math here, and who are wondering if this situation is why my marriage came to an end this spring, the simple answer is yes. Here is where we stand now: Rayya and I are together. I love her, and she loves me. I'm walking through this cancer journey with her, not only as her friend, but as her partner.
"I need to live my life in truth and transparency, even more than I need privacy, or good publicity, or prudence, or other people's approval or understanding, or just about anything else. So that is why Rayya and I have decided together to speak up publicly now — both about her cancer and about our love for each other. It's for the sake of our own integrity, but it's also intended to make our lives simpler. Whatever extra love you might be carrying around in your hearts right now, could you direct some this way? 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."
The duo have been friends for over 15 years, and seemed to share a special intimacy that came through during a profile in early 2015 with the Sydney Morning Herald, which described them as"clasping hands, finishing each other's sentences.”
“The friendship between Elizabeth Gilbert and Rayya Elias is one of these cosmic follies: the bestselling author of the soul-searching Eat, Pray, Love and a Syrian, lesbian, post-punk rocker, ex-con, ex-junkie hairdresser,” reads the profile.
Liz even wrote the introduction to Rayya’s 2013 memoir "Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side.” Rya is a Syrian-born American musician and filmmaker, who for a stint was homeless, and a drug addict, who is recovered.
Of Liz, who sold over 10 million copies of her book, and is a pal of Oprah’s, Rayya says, "She's like a steel trap. I'm a sieve. I can't remember what I read yesterday and it just boggles me how much of her brain she uses."
The two met when Rayya was cutting hair and Liz went in for a hair intervention, and since they have become so close, friends began referring to them as wives.
“Well, I'd rather go to the laundromat with you than go to, like, Prague with almost anybody else," Liz told Rayya in the interview.
While Liz had been married to men, in 2008, Rayya was was divorcing her wife of eight years and working on what would become her book with the help of Liz.
"I know it sounds like a love story and it totally is," Rayya said even then of the duo’s relationship.
It proved to be true.
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