A couple on a bench

Oh no. News just in. The tooth fairy is on strike, pixie dust is in short supply and, across the world, it is becoming impossible to find true love — or even believe it can happen to others.

For author Elizabeth Gilbert, who made a fortune by chronicling her holiday romance and marriage to Jose Nunes, has just announced they have separated after 12 years together.

Welcome to Eat Pray Love Split — a sad, surprising development for the many millions inspired by her tale of passion and redemption.

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Ten years ago, in prose enriched with pistachio gelato and the rattle of prayer beads, Eat Pray Love became the romance of the decade.

It told the real-life story of Gilbert who, broken by divorce from her first husband, embarked on a journey of self-discovery to Italy, India and Indonesia.

In Bali, she found love when she met Jose — called Felipe in the book — a Brazilian gem importer with gentle hands and a soft smile. Their love story hit a nerve with more than 12 million devotees around the world.

Eat Pray Love was translated into more than 30 languages and turned into a hit film, with Julia Roberts as Gilbert and Javier Bardem her husband.

‘Man, we were seriously upgraded,’ Gilbert told me this year, when Inspire sent me to interview her in New York.

It was exactly ten years after Eat Pray Love was published. Special editions were being printed, talks and seminars planned, television appearances lined up to celebrate this milestone on the road to happiness.

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All of this had made Gilbert a very wealthy woman — and a very happy one. That was the impression she was eager to impart.

‘My marriage has been pretty f****** nice. Pretty steady,’ she said only three months ago. ‘I always think about how, at the very beginning, he said: “Can you please be gentle with me?”, and I remember thinking: “You, sir, have come to the right place.” We are gentle with each other and it is an oasis.’

An oasis where the hot sirocco of sorrow has now crashed through the palm trees. For at the start of July, Gilbert announced the embarrassing news to the world via her Facebook page.

‘Dear Ones,’ she wrote. ‘I am separating from the man whom many of you know as “Felipe” — the man whom I fell in love with at the end of the Eat Pray Love journey. He has been my dear companion for over 12 years, and they have been wonderful years. Our split is very amicable. Our reasons are very personal.’

The note, which explained nothing, was rather a slammed door for the Dear Ones — especially for those who feel they know Elizabeth so well. After all, so richly did she map her every emotion in Eat Pray Love — from sobbing on the bathroom floor because her husband number one was so beastly, to the first time she slept with Felipe in Bali.

Yet, in hindsight, the clues were all there. Elizabeth and Jose married in 2007 and moved to Frenchtown in New Jersey. They bought an Italianate house, plus business premises, where Nunes opened an Asian imports emporium called Two Buttons.

Last summer, the couple put both properties and the business up for sale — a clear indication that all was not well. They had even, she admitted, decided to permanently foster out their pets; a dog and a cat.

But with books old and new to promote and an excruciating anniversary to celebrate, Gilbert stuck to the script. What else could she do? Divorce is a personal failure to many husbands and wives, but hers was also a professional catastrophe.

For Eat Pray Love had struck a chord with an entire generation of women who, Gilbert feels, didn’t ‘get the memo that they are in charge of their own lives’.

It became the favourite love story of the 2000s, staying at or near the top of the bestseller lists for more than four years. Championed by Oprah, it became a bible for middle-aged women trapped in dull marriages.

Thousands emulated Gilbert’s geographical quest, leaving behind husbands and soul-sapping jobs to travel the world. In the book, Gilbert lived in Ubud in the Balinese uplands, a town that’s still a mecca for women hoping to find Javier Bardem at the end of a rainbow.

Indeed, Eat Pray Love touched so many that it generated another book this year — Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It, featuring 47 women who embarked upon their own adventures of escape and discovery.

So one can see why Gilbert had to remain tight-lipped for as long as possible. Don’t let daylight in on the dream!

When we met, Jose and Elizabeth had, she told me, just come back from Australia and New Zealand, where Jose, who was married before, has children and grandchildren. He was to accompany Gilbert on a U.S. speaking tour in April. What would she be doing in the summer? ‘Writing.’ I’ll bet.

For millions of readers, this unexpected unhappy-ever-after ending will be a terrible disappointment. The impact she has had is not to be underestimated; in 2008, she was voted one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

No wonder, for her central premise was such a seductive one, with the most important message of Eat Pray Love being that women are in charge of their own happiness and destiny.

In an ideal world, yes, hurrah — but most of us have too many responsibilities to put ourselves first. There are bills to pay and families or partners who depend upon us. Few women are selfish enough — or have the financial means — to shrug all that off in a search for inner fulfilment and the perfect cup of green tea.

After leading everyone down the frangipane-scented garden path, if a powerful, spiritually-cleansed, yogatastic millionairess such as Gilbert can’t find a happy ending after all, what hope is there for the rest of us? No doubt we will find out in her next book.