Chapter Fifteen & Sixteen: Complications are Complicated
A great deal of romance novel plots could be vastly simplified and conflict overcome if characters would just talk to one another. And while Ryan and Jenna certainly have some things they ought to be talking about, I’m actually impressed that Nick, after the second round of illicit sex, has here decide to simply ask Jenna what she thinks of it all, rather than assuming or, more likely for this particular novel, sitting around moping that he doesn’t know what she’s thinking. That’s the upside. The downside is that she doesn’t have an answer for him.
To be fair, she’s actually quite blindsided by the question and by Nick’s confession that he not only likes her a great deal but that he has for a while.
He clenched his jaw and rolled onto his back again, retracting his arms, crooking his elbows, and placing his hands behind his head as he looked back up at his white ceiling. Nick supposed that Jenna would be feeling confused at a time like this, but the answer was so obvious to him. He knew. (102, emphasis original)
Thanks, Nick, for your understanding and patience. Asshat. Yeah, I think Jenna’s an idiot for not dumping Ryan’s ass years ago, but I’m a cynic and as a reader, have access to information that Nick does not. Nick isn’t even thinking about Jenna-and-Ryan, he’s only thinking about Jenna-and-himself. So his self-righteous indignation at Jenna’s uncertainty is not only unwelcome, it’s selfish.
(Also, is it just me or does the first line of that description, where Nick rolls over, read as if he’s some kind of cyborg, “retracting his arms” and all? Even without that particular word choice, that’s a clunky set of descriptors.)
The conversation continues, and Nick asks Jenna if she loves Ryan and she says that she does, although the perspective-jumping narrative also explains that she doesn’t understand how she can love him, since she’s now cheating on him. It’s as if there is only One Correct Way to Love, and that if anything deviates from that definition, it’s not actually love. Oh wait… this is romance novel conservatism; I forgot. There is only One True Way to Love. (I’m not condoning cheating. I’m simply suggesting that love can be way more complicated and way less on or off than this novel is suggesting. The same thing happened when Jenna pondered if love can’t actually conquer all. Welcome to the real world, Jenna—things are actually complex.)
When Nick asks how he fits into her life, given that she still loves Ryan, Jenna reiterates that she doesn’t know, and that’s where the chapter ends. But I’m going to keep going since the scene simply continues on the next page/next chapter so the break feels particularly arbitrary.
Nick demands to know what she means by “I don’t know,” which… seems pretty self-explanatory to me. Maybe the concussion is still affecting Nicks’ brain powers? Yet Jenna tries to explain, but she cuts herself off when she realizes that Nick makes her feel things that she no longer feels with Ryan.
The words she was thinking would have sounded ridiculous if she had said them out loud. Brand new. Special. Sought after. Cared for. Appreciated. She hadn’t felt that way lately with Ryan. Not since he didn’t care about the wedding. But was that changing now, since he had finished the guest list? (103, emphasis original)
Hoo-boy. Where to start unpacking this?
First, all those feelings? I’m not mocking those. Those are things that you should want, generally, in a relationship. However, it seems to me that those were not feelings that Ryan so much elicited in Jenna ever—I think the idea of Ryan elicited those feelings for her. Because there’s no evidence, frankly, that this is a relationship that has gone sour but rather that it was an unequal and underappreciated relationship (on Ryan’s side) since day one. Not “since he didn’t care about the wedding,” but ever. He only makes an effort in the relationship, as we’ve seen, when he’s either afraid of losing Jenna or feels the need to make a territorial claim on her in public. Finally, the last sentiment is utterly ridiculous. Please excuse my sarcasm for a moment: Yeah, things are changing now because Ryan bothered to spend 30 minutes quickly jotting down a guest list. Surely now Jenna knows she’s special and appreciated. (I won’t say “brand new” because that seems silly.)
Then Nick goes and pulls the douchebag card. “It’s me or him” (104). How about neither? Can I vote for neither? He says crap like this as if this has been a years-long torture for him, and I guess it could have been, but Jenna never knew he had feelings for her until minutes ago. I get that they’re in a crappy situation, and he doesn’t want to do “this” to himself or Ryan, but for heaven’s sake, dude.
He sullenly admits that this choice is a big deal for Jenna but admits (to the reader) that he had expected her to “instantly switch sides” (104). That’s… not how real life works. It just isn’t. Life is so much more messy and complicated and full of repercussions. So my memo to Nick: grow up.
On the other hand, Jenna might be taking the decision a bit too far in the other direction. When Nick recants and tells her to take her time, she thanks him.
So many people’s happiness was hanging in the balance, completely up to her (104).
Well. Hers is up to her. And that’s pretty much the only overall happiness she’s responsible for. You can’t make someone else be happy. But let’s accept that she’s using the term happiness here as more of a statement about her decision will potentially make people unhappy. (And again here I don’t mean overall unhappiness, I mean cause people some pain.) I’m a firm believer in doing what’s right for yourself (and doing your best to mitigate hurting other people!) because you can’t actually be particularly good to other people if you aren’t good to yourself first, but I know not everyone agrees with me on that.
Even so, let’s actually think about who her decision affects beyond herself.
Ryan: If she stays with him, nothing changes regarding his happiness. If she leaves him, he’ll be unhappy. (How unhappy and why precisely are questions for another time.
Nick: The corollary to Ryan. If she stays with Ryan, Nick will be unhappy. If she acts (further) on her feelings for Nick, he’ll be happy.
So, that’s … two people’s happiness beyond her own? Is that really “so many”?
If we broaden the definition to ask whom her decision will affect, not in a grand happiness sense but in some fashion, were she to leave Ryan for Nick, then we can pretty quickly follow the slippery slope into mind-boggling numbers.
Her parents: Would probably be put out at having to explain their daughter’s leaving the man she’s been with for eight years (unmarried!), since they’re already annoyed with her for having to explain to their “socialite friends” the current situation. But if they aren’t happy for their daughter’s happiness, then screw them.
Ryan’s parents: Since it was his mother who finally convinced Ryan to propose to Jenna, one has to assume they’d be a bit angry.
The Chicago Blackhawks: A personal life shake-up like this, particularly between teammates, would make for a super awkward locker room and could seriously affect their game play. This could result in lost games, lost playoff runs, player trades, etc.
Blackhawks fans: If the team plays badly because of Jenna’s decision, then fans would be unhappy, too. And unhappy fans could lead to riots and vandalism and widespread carnage and economic losses and possibly violence!
So, yes, Jenna. THE FATE OF CHICAGO IS IN YOUR HANDS.
Wasn’t there, like, supposed to be hockey in this book somewhere? This lying about in bedrooms pondering relationship stuff makes me long for the simplicity of Body Check’s improbable ice skating scene.
Anyway, Nick decides he’s going to out-love all the other men in her life (ie: Ryan) so she’ll have to choose him. Then they kiss and Jenna wonders if a kiss is “an emotional thing or a physical thing?” (105) which pretty much sums up my point that Jenna sees things in black or white instead of as a functioning adult. A kiss can be either, both, or neither, after all.