I’m Never – No, Never! Getting Married

no-weddingNick 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.

Unacceptable Reasons

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.

Acceptable Reasons:

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

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38 Responses to I’m Never – No, Never! Getting Married

  1. Mary says:

    Great blog! The angst characters (I cannot marry because my father was a monster and the line must end with me) drive me crazy.

    • PatAAR says:

      There are so, so many of them that you get the feeling that if you drove out in the English countryside, all you’d see would be old men beating on children. No wonder Mr. Bennett was hiding in his library. He was restraining himself from beating on Lydia.

  2. Lynda X says:

    Too, too funny. Maybe you can’t get marry because you have no sense of humor and nobody will have you?

  3. LeeF says:

    I particularly enjoyed the Outlander references :-)

  4. PatAAR says:

    Wonderful list, Blythe!

    I’ll go with #5, the “I’m gay” excuse up until about the turn of this century, at which time, I’d say if you’ve been living with your roommate for a decade or so, you really should man up and get with the times and get married. Even that excuse is going the way of the dodo.

  5. Joane says:

    Well, I should add two more reasons:

    First (health reason), I’ve got a terrible family disease and I don’t want to pass it to my heirs and I know nothing about birth control. I think I’ve read something like this recently. I’m not sure. was it “Any Duchess Will Do” by Tessa Dare?

    Second (ideologican reason), I’m against marriage as it is a very old-fashioned institution, but I’m very pro-family and pro-compromise, anyway. Could yo not-marry me… and so on (movie Four weddings & a funeral). I -personally- find this reason very romantic and I’d love to see more couples not marrying but just promising everlasting love.

    • Blackjack1 says:

      I’m so glad someone wrote this. I’m in a committed relationship and have been for years, but I’m not pro-marriage and not married and do not ever want to be married. Marriage is an institution that is almost blindly accepted by our society and really needs some interrogation. Romance novels all conform to the marriage ideal, which is unfortunate. is that the only way to people in love can express commitment to each other? Quite outdated, in my opinion! At the very least, contemporary romances should take some risks.

      • Eggletina says:

        I read a lot of historicals and it makes sense for a lot of those, but I don’t need marriage or baby epilogues in contemporaries. It is refeshing when authors make the HEA a firm commitment rather than marriage. My husband and I lived together for four years before marriage. Much to my dismay, I discovered that there are a lot of people in this world who think if you aren’t married there’s something inherently wrong with your relationship. I hate that.

        • Blackjack1 says:

          Yes! Along these lines, I wonder too why so many if not the majority of romances have to end with babies? I see many more couples rejecting the idea of having children on personal grounds. Parenthood is not for everyone and should be more of an option in romance writing, I think!

          • JMM says:

            Oh, hell yes. I really get tired of babies in romances – I think that most of the contemporary series titles nowadays have babies in the novel – apparently there’s no such thing as birth control in romance land.

            Actually, my big problem is that babies are actually treated as a MORAL issue in romances. Good Women want babies. The heroine must prove her worth to hero by agreeing to have HIS children.

    • Blythe says:

      Joane, I agree that both these reasons are valid ones. I actually thought of the health one too after the fact. And I woud have no problem with the “Let’s be together but not married”…as long as the commitment to each other was there.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, this. There are people who are opposed to marriage because they perceive the institution to be oppressive or who simply don’t consider marriage relevant and who still manage to live in longterm committed relationships. Not everyone has to get married, especially in contemporary times where living together without marriage is normal in most of the western world.

      As for historicals, I can understand women being unwilling to marry, because of the potential for abuse, because all their property would now belong to their husband or because of the very real danger of dying in childbirth. For poor women, marriage was often the best and only chance of being supported, but I can see why women with independent income would be unwilling to marry. Yet we see very little of these genuine concerns in historicals.

      • CD says:

        More historicals should feature women of independent means and/or otherwise unconventional not wanting to marry because of property laws and custody of potential children. The only books I can think of where this was explored was in Brockway’s MY DEAREST ENEMY and Kinsale’s THE DREAM HUNTER – and they both ended up marrying anyway.

        The only historical I can think of where the h/h make a commitment without marriage is in Steven Brust/Emma Bull’s FREEDOM AND NECESSITY. If I remember, the hero asks the heroine for permission to propose to her once a year for the rest of their lives – something that I found incredibly romantic.

  6. Lindlee says:

    I’m a little more forgiving of daddy issues depending on the story and how the author handles it. If the hero was abused, I am okay with him being against marriage if he is wrestling with overcoming that abuse. Maybe he has anger issues he hasn’t overcome. At that point, he probably SHOULDN’T get married. If the author shows me that the hero is working on these issues before he considers marriage, then I’m okay with the wait. The heros that drive me crazy are the ones that are obviously NOTHING like their fathers but still refuse to consider marriage.

    • MD says:

      I agree that “daddy issues” can be over-done. But this is a real fear. I am not like my father (I am female, for one thing), and I don’t have anger issues. Still I needed therapy to truly believe that I won’t abuse others as he did.

      In a contemporary, I would say, go get therapy. In a historical, I think this premise can be done well, if the experience of love helps the hero see himself in a new light.

      • Blythe says:

        MD, I think it’s one thing if authors are actually doing the work and showing why a character’s daddy issues are a problem – and then showing them working through the issues. My problem is when it’s all so much shorthand.

  7. CarolineAAR says:

    I agree with every single one of these.

    One I’m still on the fence about is heritable or perceived-as-heritable genetic illness (nearly always mental illness) prior to reliable birth control. On one hand, I can see a hero having legitimate concerns in historical time periods, especially if the child would be the heir to something or if the illness is particularly unpleasant for the sufferer. On the other hand, authors never seem to be able to pull an HEA out of it without a cheap save. How many times has the hero’s old family retainer revealed that the “insane” mother just had postpartum depression, or suffered from abuse by the hero’s father? Then huzzah, suddenly in the last 30 pages it’s fine to marry and boink! Ugh. It’s like the mental illness version of the magical infertility cure.

    • Mary says:

      Or the disease/mental illness was on the paternal side and it is revealed hero was not really his “father’s son” because Mom had an affair.

      • pwnn says:

        “I’m not a Brewster, I’m a son of a sea cook!” — Arsenic & Old Lace

        Now, he really had cause to rejoice. His entire family was bonkers, with the sanest member thinking he was Teddy Roosevelt. The others were murderers, even the cute little aunts.

  8. pwnn says:

    >>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. <<

    Wait, this happened in more than one book? This is also happens to the hero in an Anna Campbell book. And he was left in that pit for a YEAR – I gather they just threw food in for him every week or so. For some odd reason he didn't want to be touched and was only guilted into it be a very needy heroine who's back-story while abusive and very bad did not measure up to the hero's Dante Inferno like horrors. Query – why do tortured heroes have to be sooooo tortured.

    I actually think #1 is a great reason not to get married. If I was a rich, gorgeous, powerful Duke who could take my pleasure where I wanted I wouldn't get married either! Unless I was one of those unfortunate bastards who had nothing but horrific nephews and cousins who if they became Duke would rape and pillage the land and the peasantry I was responsible for. *sniff – too much pressure*. There's no law outside Romancelandia that says some dreary opinionated governess needs to become a Duchess. :p

  9. Jonie says:

    I think you left out the one REAL reason a man doesn’t get married. Mommy won’t let him. His mommy is his life and if she says no. Then it mean no. And unfortunately I have even met a few mommy’s boys. I haven’t seen any in several years but, I turned on Dr. Phil yesterday and got a shock. His mommy still powders his butt and brushes his teeth. Tells him when to shower and he’s 28 year old. But, I’m from the south I think there are more mommy’s boys down here then just about anywhere else. And I have seen this in a few books, but not many.

  10. Jonie says:

    I wrote a very long question asking you why you feel marriage was a old-fashioned institution, but realized that It was too long winded. Without prying can you tell me why you feel this way? I was wondering. (I have been married for over 20 years) I figure I am a lot older than you. I was just wondering what the mindset was against marriage. And why love without commitment is more romantic. I know listening to your hubby fart is less than glamorous. But if you’re not married do you not smell it? LOL sorry. My husband had pizza last night and I got a snoot full. It was the least lovely thing I could think of. But I think marriage is a vow to honor each other. I just can’t wrap my mind around why it might be old-fashioned. Just wondering…. Thanks

    • mari says:

      In a contemporary romance what I would like to see is more of a perfectly reasonable wariness of marriage. Half of all singles are products of single parent /divorced households and a suspicion of marriage would only be natural, when one was raised in an environment where marriage simply didn’t work out.

  11. RosieH says:

    I can think of one good reason for not getting married in historical times. The woman loses ownership of her property/fortune to her husband.

    • Blackjack1 says:

      Yes, and I think historical romance writers like Cecilia Grant do explore the idea that women searched for choices and options outside of marriage for this very reason.

    • JMM says:

      Yes! I was going to say this. I hate it when this issue is glossed over in historical novels – “If you loved him – you’d give over EVERYTHING to him, every penny you have, all your power, any rights to your body or your children.” Bull-hockey.

  12. Minnis says:

    I have seen (usually oblique) references in space opera to the powerful heroine who decides never to marry because all the men she meets are in her chain of command, but I have rarely seen this dilemma in romance novels.

    More broadly, dedication to a vocation was/ is a reasonable justification for a decision never to marry (e.g. Florence Nightingale). I would love to read more books where the hero becomes the strong support behind a powerful heroine.

  13. bungluna says:

    Great list. I would like to add to the “Bad” list:

    My father turned into a devoted slave when he fell in love with my mother, who’s a wonderful woman who loves me. Since the men in my family all turn into slaves when they fall in love, and all their wives are wonderful, of course I’m never getting married!

  14. teresacurl says:

    Great list, Blythe!

    I would add as acceptable (7) You’re a priest. This is the slightly more reasonable version of the unacceptable “You promised all your friends you wouldn’t”. I guess you could call it the “Thornbirds” exception. Of course, that story didn’t exactly end happily for them. But one might suggest converting to Episcopalian…

    You also left out all supernatural reasons, such as (8) You’re a vampire who will turn evil if you ever get married (or just have sex). That would be the Angel/Buffy connundrum. Another one that didn’t end so happily, though!

  15. Tee says:

    So humorously well done, Blythe.

  16. Blythe says:

    Thanks, everyone, for you kind comments. As I tweeted a couple of days ago, it was humor born from frustration. ;)

  17. Tahyun says:

    Well, this was a great way to start my morning! Very funny and I completely agree; I get SO tired of people who stand in their own way and drag on a book that really doesn’t need it. I often find myself (usually, but not always, mentally) yelling at the book, “GET OVER YOURSELF!” I’ve gotten so sick of it, it’s started skewing my reviews a bit more than necessary perhaps… >.> “Stubborn for the sake of being stubborn” as it were, and therefore, a bloody waste of time!

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