To Have AND to Hold: Bad Marriage Turned Very Good
By Alexa Day
I can still remember the time I discovered my first book boyfriend was married.
His name was Edward Rochester. I was in seventh grade.
Jane Eyre‘s Edward was not perfect. He had a mean streak a mile wide. He flirted with other women where he knew I — Jane, I mean Jane — would see it. His child was kind of obnoxious. But I was willing to live with that. He wasn’t any worse than my movie boyfriend — Max Zorin from A View To A Kill. Max wasn’t married, but he was really bad news.
I was willing to overlook Edward’s faults until I found out he was married. I couldn’t decide which was worse. The timing of this particular revelation or the fact that he was willing to marry me — Jane, I mean Jane — without mentioning that he was already married.
By the time Edward and Jane found their way back to each other, I guess I thought he’d been sufficiently punished for his behavior. I found I was happy for Jane. Still, the whole episode made me wonder.
A few years later, my confusion was compounded by two more books. Wifey by Judy Blume and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence teamed up to convince me that a woman could either be happy or be married. To read the back cover blurb from my late 1970s edition of Wifey, a girl might think that the story’s heroine, Sandy, is about to make a grand escape from her tedious marriage. “Mysterious motorcycle flasher”! “Her wildest fantasies taking flight”! That sounds like a lovely idea, right?
But that’s not how it goes. And Lady Chatterley, whose ideas about class, intellect, and sex are turned upside down by an affair with her groundskeeper? Yeah, that doesn’t end so well for her, either.
Marriage started to look like an obstacle, designed to keep people from being happy.
Thankfully, modern hot fiction is a little more generous with marriage. It’s just as complicated, but today’s fictional marrieds often face two different but familiar problems: disclosure and consent. With disclosure and consent, the unsatisfying marriage need not be a trap. It can be a gateway.
You’ve heard me talking about Satisfaction, the now cancelled (sob) TV series in which a man discovers that his wife is seeing a male escort and responds by becoming an escort himself. By discovering more about himself, learning more about women and their desires, and picking up the ins and outs (ha ha, heyo!) of the escort business, Neil reunites with his wife, Grace, and together, they start their own escort service. This was such a beautiful story, wonderfully complicated and unabashedly sexual. Its loss makes me fear for television’s future, but thank the stars, you can get it on DVD.
Consider Tempted by Megan Hart. In fairness, these two are not really in an unsatisfying marriage. James’s friend, Alex, comes to stay with the happy couple for a while, and something about him intrigues her. That way lies dissatisfaction. James, for his part, encourages his wife’s flirtation with Alex. He opens his marriage enough to make room for Alex, but he does so in a way that’s … well … not altogether open.
Sound complicated? That’s pure Megan Hart gold.
Consent and disclosure transform adultery into cuckolding, a marital kink we’ve discussed a few times on Lady Smut. Isabelle Drake talks about her Cuckold Beach series here, and we go super deep with Cara McKenna’s Crosstown Crush. If you want to know about what makes a man want to see his wife with another man, and just how hot that can get, you’ll want to investigate all that.
But sometimes the solution for a woman living with a horrendous marriage is just the refusal to let it define her, even after it’s over.
This is what happens to Catherine Sheffield, the heroine formerly known as Lucy Underhill. In Elizabeth Shore’s Desire Rising, Catherine hits the 18th century equivalent of the reset button when her horrendous marriage ends, and she transforms herself into a completely different woman, one determined to seek pleasure and avoid attachment. Then she meets Miles, who seems to be on the same wavelength. When her past catches up, will it push them together or apart?
And how hot will things get before they make a decision? That’s where the carriage wheels meet the road, right?
Go score your copy right now, and then follow Lady Smut. We know how to make you happy.