Chapter Twenty-One: The Aftermath Part 2
Ryan demands entrance into Nick’s apartment, pounding on the door, “his voice raw from yelling” (141). Maybe I’m a coward. Maybe I’ve never been in love. But I would not answer that door. Not with a giant angry man on the other side. Especially one where Jenna has already had thoughts about fearing what Ryan would do if he found out about her infidelity.
But Jenna does, and Ryan slams into the room and states only “Nicholas Martin.” Remember that Jenna didn’t get Nick’s message, so she’s surprised that Ryan knows.
Apparently this infidelity is even worse than were it someone else because Nick was “the man who Ryan had always trusted Jenna with” (142). It seems to me that relationships are built on trust. And that Ryan should be trusting Jenna, not trusting his friends/teammates to police Jenna’s sexuality. Granted, Jenna broke that trust. But that’s the point, Jenna broke it. The only person who gets to police sexuality is the owner of that sexuality. This goes in, with Ryan pondering “If he hadn’t let them hang out together, would this have been prevented?” (142). Uh, and Brian’s the Chicago Blackhawk they call “Caveman”? I’m sorry, Ryan, you don’t get to “let” or not let your fiancée hang out with anyone. (Also, she’d still have been incredibly unhappy and probably would have had something similar happen if not with Nick then with someone else.)
Still, even though there’s no textual reason for it, when Jenna tries to give the engagement ring back to Ryan, he declares that he’s not sure what he wants and that while he hates Jenna he also still loves her. So he puts the ring on her right hand until he figures out what to do. When Jenna tells him she’s going back to New Hampshire, he tells her not to bother, at least not yet, and that he’s moved out of the house so she can stay there until he’s decided what he wants. (So even thought they're not together at the moment, she can continue relying on him for shelter, food, clothes...)
On one hand, that all of this is up to Ryan bothers me in its unilateralness. On the other hand, Jenna did cheat on him so it is up to Ryan to decide if he can get past that. (On the third hand—and yes, apparently I’m describing something with many hands—while it’s not Ryan’s fault that Jenna cheated on him, he did have many faults that made it a more likely possibility. So if they decide to work things out- and now the novel is pretty clear that they will- it seems like it ought to be more than just Jenna doing the apologizing.)
So Ryan leaves and Jenna packs her things (not that she has many, since she was left at the Art Institute two days before-- not exactly packed for a mini-vay) and Nick returns home and offers her a ride back to her place.
It was one last kind gesture to the woman he had thought he loved, to take her back to the place she called home (145).
Now the text is rewriting Nick’s history as well. Suddenly Jenna has gone from being the woman he loved more than any other in this world less than twenty pages ago to someone he had thought he loved.
…he had really fallen in love with the idea of having a girl, like Jenna, the same way that Ryan had Jenna (145).
No, novel, no. Bad novel! No cookie! You don’t get to have it both ways! This cannot be the love of Nick’s life and just a case of mistaking the idea of love for the actual thing. This is just bad writing. I cannot justify this in any other way.
Jenna called a cab, though, so Nick’s kind gesture is unnecessary.
Jenna had relied on Nick too much during this entire ordeal when she should have been relying on Ryan, and that’s what had set the ball rolling (146).
Oh really? I thought the part where Ryan was unreliable was what set the ball rolling. You don’t get to blame Jenna for this, Nick. Also, know what else got the ball rolling? When you kissed your teammate’s fiancée.
A few days later, Jenna is home, alone, and has been moping for days, much like the rest of this book. She takes a shower, still wearing the wedding ring, and partway through she’s interrupted by Ryan showing up. It’s awfully convenient that he showed up while she was in the shower, since the first thing he has to do is look her up and down for “any tainted markings on her body” (147). Evidently he feared that Nick’s fingers secrete indelible ink?
He thought he’d be able to tell that she was defiled or tarnished. Like there would be fingerprints on her skin in all the places Nick had touched her (148).
I really hope that this is a metaphor and not that Ryan actually thinks that he’d be able to visually tell that she had been with another man. Also, I don’t condone what Jenna did—within the confines of the relationship she had with Ryan, what she did with Nick was wrong. However, this imagery strikes me as the logical continuation of a deeply problematic purity culture and the double standard.
I do not mean to suggest that the author or the character subscribe to Purity Culture (capital letters) with all its attendant balls and courtship and rings (although the gender lines displayed in this novel do fall in line with the kind of teachings usually present along with purity culture). But I do think that the double standard is alive and well and that purity culture has rubbed off on mainstream, abstinence-only, middle America. Obviously, Jenna was not a virgin when she slept with Nick because she’s been sleeping with Ryan, although the book does seem to suggest that he’s the only other man she’d been with. But this idea that Ryan might be able to somehow visually tell that she’s been with another man makes me think of the chewing-gum/dirty tape metaphor that girls get told—and not just in religiously-affiliated home schooling, but in mainstream public school, abstinence-only sex education. (If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the idea that a woman ought to save herself for marriage because no one wants used goods, and it’s taught using various metaphors [chewing gum, wrapping paper, packing tape, cups of spit] that simultaneously objectifies women, reduces them to their bodily selves, and yet places on them the responsibility of keeping not only themselves ‘pure’ but the men around them from thinking lustful thoughts about them.)
To be fair, that’s a digression and I doubt that’s what the author was thinking about when she wrote this, nor, in fact, what Ryan’s thinking about. But his disgust about Jenna’s infidelity isn’t framed in terms of being unable to trust her, it’s completely put in terms of someone else touching her. And that’s a problem.
Ryan hops into the shower with Jenna and proceeds to wash her.
It was a cleansing ritual; Ryan was removing any traces that Nick may have left behind. He was washing her clean so they could start all over. So her skin would be fresh and new and only remember his touch and no one else’s (148 emphasis original).
I guess I should be glad that, unlike chewing gum, Jenna’s body can become clean and new.
So this leads to foreplay and Ryan carries her to the bed and sex ensues.
The only thing Ryan could think about was if this was how Jenna had looked at… He couldn’t even think his name. It made Ryan’s blood boil, and he took it out on Jenna by making sure she would never, ever remember one minute she spent with him (149 emphasis original).
Is this supposed to be sexy? It reads like violence. Given that we’re still in the (damp from the shower) foreplay section of the sex, I guess it’s not, but the narrative is not clear on what precisely Ryan is doing when he “took it out on Jenna,” so I find it problematic.
The rest is just sex. Afterwards, Ryan takes the ring off of her right hand and studies it. Jenna begs him to let her spend the rest of her life making sure he knows how much she loves him. I know she was the one at fault (in actually cheating), but given the inequality of their relationship before the infidelity, I can’t say I approve of this reconciliation scene (he puts the ring back on her left hand) because of how much power Ryan has in the relationship already and how much more this gives him. It just seems so awkward.
But I will also admit that every couple is different and differing dynamics appeal to different people. Maybe this just isn’t my preferred dynamic.Or a healthy-seeming one.