I’ve heard of marriage proposals that involved a crossword puzzle printed in a newspaper, a homemade movie trailer that the local theater showed, and the less original but still romantic horse-drawn carriages, orchestras, and fancy dinners. Legend has it that Seal proposed to Heidi Klum in an igloo. But that’s a bad example in light of their recent breakup. Men are more romantic than women, right? Stop laughing because they are . . . well, depending on the stage of the relationship for (I’m making up a theoretical couple) Celeste and André.
So why does the André go from Romeo to “Oh no! Today’s your birthday? Are you sure?” The answer is one word: possession. André is the most romantic when he wants to acquire something. He dates and courts and impresses Celeste because he wants a wife. Once he has Celeste, he may not be as concerned about maintaining the quality of their relationship. Need proof? If you’re married, what does your husband weigh now compared to when you got married? He went from hunk to chunk because he doesn’t need to maintain what he already possesses.
How does that relate to storytelling? I’ve seen Celestes fall for not-up-to-snuff Andrés who come across as stereotypes by a jilted author with an ax to grind. When an author makes André a dolt, Celeste appears desperate and lacking self-respect. I’d ask, “Why is Celeste dating this loser? Why do I care about Celeste? Why don’t I start reading that other book?”
If you want to write conflict into a marriage, André’s failure to maintain the quality of his relationship is a genuine conflict exacerbated by his pursuit of his next possession: another woman, a job/career, a hobby, a feat to battle midlife crisis. Celeste gets jealous; he once pursued her, but now he pursues his next goal. Would Celeste stick an M-80 in André’s bowling ball? Would she pour honey into the engine block of the sports car he just purchased? Would she track down the other woman? On the other hand, what would she change about herself so André would find her a new, mysterious woman that he must possess?
Celeste and André don’t have to be a Billy Joel loving-you-just-the-way-you-are couple. Where’s the drama in that? Probe the conflict in André taking Celeste for granted because he sees her as a possession and morph him into a man who cherishes her personhood . . . and that would be very believable.
Matthew Sheehy writes from Northwest Indiana. He despises bowling, plans to purchase a sports car with his next six-figure advance, and weighs 25 pounds more than when he got married.