You Never Know
Since PROSPER IN LOVE, my first novel, came out, people have been asking whether it’s based on my own marriage. It’s true that my characters, Lynn and Jamie Prosper, are a version of myself and my husband in the early years of our marriage—a version with which I proceeded to take dramatic liberties. But what PROSPER IN LOVE was really inspired by were all my ideas about what marriage looks and feels like. I once shocked a friend by saying, “As good as I think my marriage is, for all I know it could end tomorrow.” I could tell she was worried for me. She probably thought my saying something like that meant there must be deep, hidden fissures in my marriage.
In fact, I meant something else altogether. To me, marriage is defined by the tension between two seemingly conflicting emotions: “I just knew” and “You never know.” When I met my husband it was love at first sight—which I absolutely did not believe in at the time, but that’s another story. Our eyes met and my mind filled with the thought, “This is it.” How did I know? I didn’t. We’d barely met. I didn’t know all sorts of potentially important things about him, like what religion he was or how many siblings he had. I just knew.
I was also aware, however, that you can “just know” and it ends up leading nowhere. Or nowhere good. Or somewhere good, but your time there is fleeting. What lesson are we supposed to take when any one of these possibilities happens? I’d heard the story of a family friend, happily married for dozens of years, who one day told his astonished wife, “I love you, but I’m ending this marriage to go join a monastery. Life’s too short for me not to pursue this.” Does that mean he was secretly unsatisfied all those years? Or that he simply changed?
A version of this story turns up in PROSPER IN LOVE. I have to admit, writing this novel provided a delightfully self-indulgent opportunity to spend more time than I care to admit thinking about the subjects that have always fascinated me: love, marriage, how we choose. There are lots of marriages in the book, lots of choices—some surprising, I hope—and lots of relationship outcomes, good and bad.
My own marriage is still going strong twenty years in. I feel lucky. I think I’ve worked hard at it. I worry about feeling cocky, that perhaps I’ll draw the wrath, or merely the attention, of the marriage gods. Time has also taught me to think twice before giving any marital advice—for all sorts of reasons.
An old college friend once called when he was thinking about proposing to his girlfriend. It was clear she was expecting a proposal, and it sounded like he felt he “owed” her one, and that anyway it was “time” for him to get married. Being young and foolish—and exceedingly content in my own marriage—I leaped into the fray. Be sure it’s the person herself you want, I said, not just the idea of being married. Marriage is hard, I went on; ongoing work no matter how much you love someone. “Gee,” he said, to my utter and lasting frustration, “I’m so sorry your marriage isn’t working out.”