Not the Girl You Marry
There’s an old saying that “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince/princess.” That has certainly been true for Hannah Mayfield and Jack Nolan from Not the Girl You Marry. For them, love is a battlefield, and they are battle scarred and combat fatigued and neither of them wants to date again. Ever. But when they meet, they suddenly wonder if maybe love deserves one last chance.
Hannah’s never had trouble attracting men. She’s beautiful, has a bawdy sense of humor, and is a considerate and adventurous lover. She’s every man’s dream hookup. But the latest loser she was with told her she’s simply “not the girl you marry”. She takes his words deeply to heart, accepting that there is something so broken about her raunchy personality and “ethnically ambiguous looks” that she simply isn’t “keeper” material. She puts up walls, and gives any guy who tries to breach them her best full on bitch treatment.
Jack is the perfect boyfriend, who rearranges his life to accommodate the woman in it. He’s had three long term relationships which have all resulted in him being dumped for a far less nice guy. So he’s taking a break from dating. Naturally, his friends think this is a problem and drag him to a bar to help him get back in the game. When he sees Hannah, he figures his pals might just be right. He charms his way past her defenses and gets her number. Now he just has to move himself from friend to boyfriend by proving what a great guy he is.
Hannah doesn’t care how great a guy Jack is, she’s not trusting any man again. She has bigger things to worry about than her love life anyway. Her job as an event planner has stalled. She plans bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, and sports themed events but her boss keeps her far from the most prestigious celebrations they do, weddings. Her supervisor fears romance deriding Hannah lacks the proper attitude to plan the kind of charming, sentimental nuptials their clients are looking for. When it looks like a newcomer to the firm will be promoted to a plum matrimonial assignment over Hannah because of this imagined deficit, Hannah knows it’s time to act. She needs to prove she can make a relationship last, and she has a ready-made opportunity to do just that with Jack. She decides to give him a chance.
Jack just needs a chance. His popular how-to videos for the online magazine he’s working for are a hit but he wants to do political reporting. When he finds a juicy lead, he asks his editor for the chance to investigate it and write it up. His boss is reluctant to pull Jack off his current fluff pieces but agrees – if Jack will do a vlog on how modern men are doing all the wrong things while playing the dating game. The catch? He has to show himself behaving badly with a girl he actually likes to prove that even true love can be derailed by stupid behavior. He hates to do this to Hannah – but he really wants to write political columns. I think we all know what he decides.
I had all kinds of problems with the set up for this tale. A boss who treats you the way Hannah and Jack’s bosses treated them is probably sending a message about your prospects at that firm. There was no sense of either supervisor helping the hero or heroine succeed and it was clear the two were not being seriously considered for the promotions they were angling for. Since this is a novel, this simply meant the premise for the story was handled a bit clumsily. Fortunately, once we were past that hurdle the plot ran more smoothly and we settled into a delightful contemporary romance in which two people fall in love with some stumbles along the way to the HEA.
I’m not going to detail the antics the two get up to as they try to accomplish their dubious ends because what shone for me was how the author managed to keep them likable, sympathetic people in the midst of their doing and thinking some rather ridiculous things. A lot of that has to do with their backstories. Jack has rearranged his life for women in the past and his career has suffered for it. His vlog is the most popular feature the magazine has but his salary certainly doesn’t reflect that since he’s barely surviving on what he’s making. His chances of getting another, better position elsewhere are slim in the current job market, so he feels (very reluctantly) trapped into doing what his editor requests. His naturally thoughtful, attentive nature makes it almost impossible for him to comfortably take advantage of Hannah and consequently, he turns out to be quite bad at doing it with some hilarious results.
I really felt for Hannah. As a biracial woman, she’s had a hard time finding a place where she feels she truly fits in. She explains it this way:
When asked about her racial identity she always told people that she was biracial. This tended to bother black people because they thought she was trying to deny or downplay her blackness. White people tended to be curious about her race and then ignore the fact that she was half-black until it became inconvenient for them. For the white guys she had dated, it usually became inconvenient around the time it seemed natural to date exclusively or introduce her to their parents.
The problem goes beyond race, though. At work, her ability to blend with the less straight-laced customers and to mingle with clients with working class backgrounds has had her stuffed into the “party girl” category. That, along with her ex-boyfriend’s endless put downs, has her thinking she lacked – not just class and elegance, which was what was said – but that she herself is somehow simply lacking. When he told her that she wasn’t the type of girl one married, the subtle ostracizing that had been the hallmark of her whole life caused her to accept that as fact.
Things start to change as she finds herself able to fit in with diverse friends and family, who come from all different walks of life. She realizes that her ability to mingle across class lines is an asset and begins to see the full value of the spectrum of who she is. Jack sees that his image of himself as “the perfect boyfriend” is part of what makes him not one and begins to relax and enjoy being himself around Hannah. Their love story is sweet, humorous and tender because in spite of trying to use each other for employment gain, they are kind to each other, bring out the best in each other, and are actually perfect together.
Not the Girl You Marry is a delightful modern take on How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days that’s not only for fans of that movie. If you like contemporary romantic comedies at all, give this one a try. You’ll find a lot to enjoy here.
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