Nick is a romance hero. He’s never – no, never! – going to get married. You can see why, of course; you need conflict to drive a plot forward, and if Nick sees Elizabeth, falls in love with Elizabeth, proposes to Elizabeth, and marries Elizabeth without a hitch you’ve got one short (and probably not all that interesting) book. A hero (or somewhat less frequently, heroine) who is never – no, never! – going to get married can provide that hitch in the relationship that makes for a good conflict and interesting reading. Well, except when it’s totally lame. If there is one knee jerk conflict that authors like to turn to, this is it. I see it more often in contemporary novels, likely because birth control is widely available and modern sexual mores more permissive. But if pops up fairly often in historicals too, usually for different reasons. I can hardly open a book without running into Nick or one of his ilk. Since the my most recent read with a marriage phobic hero got on my last nerve, I decided to provide this helpful list of acceptable and unacceptable reasons to never – no, never! get married.
1. You can’t be tied down. You’re a ranch hand! You’re free as a bird, going wherever the wind takes you. You can’t get tied down to any woman-folk, because that would cramp your style. Or, you’re a hedonistic Regency duke who runs an infamous pleasure club with some Greek or Latin name that makes you sound edgy and intellectual. You don’t need an heir because you have seven brothers who all have sons and you’d just as soon bed some opera dancer. Either way, you need to get over yourself, because you sound like a self-absorbed ass.
2. You promised all your friends you wouldn’t. Back when you were seven, you joined the Forever Spinsters Club. You all got matching bracelets, and promised you were going to be pirates, journalists, and…whatever. Or, you and the boys at Eton decided that marriage was for squares, probably because you hadn’t discovered girls yet. Newsflash: You are no longer seven, and this premise is always dumb.
3. You’re last girlfriend/fiancee was a total bitch, and you are soured on relationships forevermore The lasting lesson you learned from this is that all women are the same, and they are all awful. They will all lie to you, abandon you at the altar, make a fool of you, and sleep with other men. You’re so right! Elizabeth is a faithless whore, exactly like your last girlfriend Ashley. Stick with this point of view, because stereotyping every person of the opposite sex is a great way to meet other narrow-minded people who are equally bigoted.
4. Daddy issues Maybe dad walked out on the family and left mom to raise you alone. Maybe he was just a jerk who hit you and your mom. Maybe he’s a little from column A and a little from column B. The point is, you are just like him and cannot escape your destiny, which is to be a total asshole. You must never – no, never! get married. This reason is currently enjoying a wave of popularity I would like to see end. I look like my mom. I spent my entire childhood hearing, “You must be Judy’s daughter!” every time someone who knew my mother met me. I sound like my mom too, especially when I am exasperated. While it’s creepy to hear her voice coming out of my mouth, I’ve never accidentally thought I was my mother (who was a perfectly good mother, by the way, and did not beat me or anyone else). Characters who are dead set on believing that they must be like their loser dads are boring, pessimistic, and tiresome. Look around at all the married people out there! Half of them make it. Maybe more, depending on your demographics and determination to make it work. Why not decide you can be one of them? Man up, buddy.
5. Your mom died. And it practically destroyed your dad, because he loved her and he just couldn’t handle it. Love is death. Love is pain. Everyone who loves anyone is eventually going to lose them. Better get a head start and begin crying about that now. It’s a great reason to never try to be happy in the first place.
1. You are horribly wounded No, not because your daddy left you or your girlfriend was a bitch. I mean literally, horribly wounded. Like you were disfigured in the Civil War like Lorraine Heath’s Houston in Texas Destiny, or Sydnam in Mary Balogh’s Simply Love (tortured by the French, but same idea). Or, you have PTSD. Worse, maybe you have it before anyone has coined the term and you don’t know why sudden loud noises send you to a completely different place and time. Either way, you’ve got some stuff to work out, Nick. And we’ll let you do that while you find the woman who understands and loves you.
2. It’s worse than that. You were a prisoner of war, left in a pit with decaying bodies. Because of this, you can’t bear to touch anyone and people think you’re crazy. Free pass to you, Lord Ian Mackenzie. Although I might note that he proposed fairly early on anyway, brave man.
3. Whoops! You’re already married. What is that sound in the attic? Oh, your crazy wife Bertha. Probably better not get married then, since you already are. Cheer up. Eventually she’ll light the house on fire, putting you in the same category as the heroes of reason one. Life is sweet.
4. Whoops! Your dead spouse is only mostly dead. And that’s very different from being all dead. Looking at you, couple in Mary Balogh’s One Night for Love. You also get something of a free pass if you know your spouse is likely alive, but living in another century, totally out of your reach. Still, Jamie Fraser…did you have to pick Laoghaire? Well, wait a decade and several more long books, and Claire will make a similar assumption.
5. You’re gay – and not only is gay marriage not legal yet, you could die if anyone found out, because it’s 1750 or something. You want to live in your bachelor pad with your “roommate”? I’ve certainly heard worse ideas. Just don’t pretend to be gay if you’re not, and turn this into a Three’s Company episode.
6. You’ve got serious class differences – And unfortunately for you, we haven’t even hit the Downton Abbey era when you can kind of get away with marrying your dad’s chauffeur. So you’ll have to figure this stuff out. Fortunately for you, the odds are good that the chauffeur or groom is actually an earl in disguise.
Keep in mind, this is just my silly list. Maybe you can’t get enough daddy issues! Maybe there’s nothing like a drifter! The good news for you is that I stumble on these types all of the time (whether I want to or not), and you can be sure I will mention them in my reviews whenever they pop up. If you share my taste, you’re warned away. If not, well, happy reading.
– Blythe Barnhill