"Oh no, " she breathed, "I couldn't and neither could you."
August 1, 2010 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Plot issue - ethically taking up with the spouse's best friend.

Vanilla romance novel/story. Husband & wife (good relationship), and his best friend. Is there any way, apart from killing the husband off (car accident, murder but not by wife or friend, etc) or putting him an institution (prison, asylum) where I can allow the wife and best friend to be together as a romantic couple without either/both/three of them looking like sleazes? Therefore, no cheating, no ethical slut, no threesomes. Social groups to remain intact. Tension in story to come from idea that they find each other adorable, but don't know it's mutual.

I'm thinking, even if husband and wife break up mutually, the best friend would be required not to pursue his friend's ex-spouse as a matter of honour or their general social groups would ostracise one, two or all three of them in the course of this changeover. Of course, this is a good reason for them to postpone their relationship, creating more tension, but I want a happy ending, in the end.
posted by b33j to Human Relations (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Incapacitating illness? "I love you, but can't satisfy your needds, off you go, dear!" etc.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:19 PM on August 1, 2010

Well, if husband turned out to be gay...
posted by gracedissolved at 8:20 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could he be sent away on work reasons for an extended period of time? Maybe long enough that both of them consider extra-marital relationships.
posted by purephase at 8:20 PM on August 1, 2010

He is sterile. Rather than go the stranger route, why not ask the close friend to help them realize their dream of having a child?
posted by purephase at 8:23 PM on August 1, 2010

The wife and best friend get stuck on a deserted island?
posted by amethysts at 8:24 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Husband can be gay, or have some sort of religious epiphany where he goes off to be a priest or missionary or something. Or he could decide that he wants to go be a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders or something and leave the wife saying it wouldn't be fair to her to have to worry about him while he's off in war-torn lands. Or he gets killed on said excursions.

Basically, the only way to make it not sleazy is if a) husband leaves of his own volition in a not-sleazy way or b) husband dies.
posted by bedhead at 8:24 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

The wife and best friend get stuck on a deserted island?

Or conversely, the husband gets stranded on a deserted island and spends a decade talking to a volleyball with a face painted on it.
posted by XMLicious at 8:29 PM on August 1, 2010 [10 favorites]

Husband is lost at sea (or whatever) for years, wife and husband's best friend grow to love each other. Husband comes back, plot continues.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:33 PM on August 1, 2010

This could work if they're in the United States. Husband and wife amicably separate but don't divorce. Husband has a steady job with health insurance, and wife is an artist without health insurance. She needs to keep her health insurance so that she can keep her chronic, serious health condition under control. Husband still cares about her deeply and couldn't bear to be responsible for her health declining. So they stay legally married while letting everyone know it's a mere legality.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:35 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

The wife and the best friend both get amnesia and are separated from the husband somehow then meet each other later on and romance ensues without them realizing that they already know each other. And the best friend is played by Jim Carrey in an unusual non-comedy role. (Okay, in that one there wasn't a husband before the amnesia but it works.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:37 PM on August 1, 2010

Conversely, the husband gets amnesia, wanders away and comes home to find the wife and best friend are now together, but doesn't realize he was once married to wife.
posted by amethysts at 8:39 PM on August 1, 2010

Don't forget maintaining social groups. One of the issues is the new couple dealing with the fall out from their friends. If everyone has amnesia, then they don't have a problem with pissing their friends off. Also, I don't aim to have the wife staying with the husband while bonking the new bloke - that's a bit tacky - even if she has his permission.

You lot are good, though. These are great!
posted by b33j at 8:42 PM on August 1, 2010

Also, there are tons of standard science fiction gimmicks that could do this. Like either the wife or best friend gets sent back in time against their will to a point where the husband and wife hadn't gotten together yet and romance is unstoppable. And possibly there are robots.
posted by XMLicious at 8:44 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Why not do what they did in You've Got Mail, have husband and wife realize at the same time they're not in love anymore. Since he still cares for her when she realizes that she has a think for his best friend, he will be happy for them.
posted by inturnaround at 8:45 PM on August 1, 2010

Oops, no fall out from the friends with time travel. Okay then, the wife and the best friend get cloned and the clones find out they're just clones and so get together, but the husband and the original wife and best friend disappear somehow so the friends are all like WHAAAAA
posted by XMLicious at 8:52 PM on August 1, 2010

3 solutions:

1) It turns out the husband and wife are actually siblings. They never knew this until some special secret documents are released when a will from a long-lost deceased relative is executed. Mortified because of the social taboo, they can no longer live as husband and wife or ever have sexual contact of any kind, but agree to continue to be friends. However, the same will from the long-lost deceased relative stipulates that the wife MUST produce a heir within an year or both the husband and wife lose MILLIONS in inheritance. They need someone they can trust to sire a heir with said wife. The best friend steps in as a favor, and as a bonus, it turns the wife and best friend really love each other (with the husband's blessing so it is not at all sleazy) plus they all get rich and live in mansions.

2) The husband and his best friend turn out to be identical twin brothers who share a special secret twin mental-emotional psychic link. Everything one of them feels the other one feels too but only if they are in a mystical psychic trance. The husband receives a knock on the head (or elsewhere) one day which means he can no longer feel satisfaction as a man. Except, luckily, unless both the twins are in their trance and using their link while one of them is being satisfied. Because neither one of them wants to be weirded out in any kind of sleazy 3some situation, they agree that the best friend twin will pose as the husband in the wife's bedroom on a regular basis, while the husband twin waits in private in a next door apartment or house across the street. It is totally honorable and non-sleazy though. The wife never finds out... or does she?

3) It's 2028, and it turns out that President Sarah Palin has just won her historic fifth term in office. In the kinda-weird-to-us-but-completely-normal-to-them-in-the-future-America society that she has remade, special secret laws are enacted to boost America's declining population. The husband, who is declared insufficiently fertile under the new law, is forced to transfer his wife and surrender completely his husband's duties to his best friend, who is found to be especially fertile under the new law. No-one minds because of the new law and the new social mores make this all very normal. Very patriotic and definitely not sleazy.
posted by Bwithh at 8:53 PM on August 1, 2010 [11 favorites]

Sudden is better. Rather than an incapacitating illness, the husband suffers incapacitating brain injury (e.g., falls off horse). Maybe they don't divorce for insurance reasons, but this scenario allows friend to express concern for husband and help wife cope with the accident's aftermath, which creates ways for their relationship to evolve. This way friends can also adapt and adjust, or not, resulting in additional drama potential.
posted by carmicha at 8:55 PM on August 1, 2010

The timetravel thing works if husband is accidentally transported in either direction in time. He's not dead, but the marriage is over.

And Bwithh, I love your Palin plot, but the sibling thing bit - ew. Very convoluted though. Virginia Andrews would be proud of you.
posted by b33j at 8:58 PM on August 1, 2010

All the characters are Jewish, the best friend is an orphan and gets adopted by the husband's parents, the husband is a fighter pilot whose plane goes down but he really becomes a POW, he is declared dead, and the brother-best-friend and wife accept a levirate marriage. (There would still be fallout with friends because in modern times it's unusual.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:06 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know we're not voting but I really want to read Bwithh's #1 above.

My lesser suggestion is that the husband falls for someone else. Wife is guiltily realizing her feelings, husband comes and says "we have to have a talk," she thinks "oh shit, he has seen into my heart," and instead he says he's fallen for someone else. Win-win.
posted by salvia at 9:17 PM on August 1, 2010

In a comic-book-type plot, the wife and best friend get caught in a nuclear accident that makes their bodies inherently radioactive so that the husband and everyone else cannot come near them or else will perish of radiation poisoning. But the wife and best friend can tolerate each others' radiation and so they're really each others' only possible company in the entire world. The marriage with the husband now is impractical and ends and the wife and best friend really shouldn't get together but circumstances leave them with no one else.
posted by XMLicious at 9:27 PM on August 1, 2010

Heh, that was an unintentional joke, "fallout with friends".
posted by XMLicious at 9:30 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Or if not radiation, some deadly contagious disease.
posted by b33j at 9:31 PM on August 1, 2010

The husband develops an unusual but devastatingly incurable allergy to his wife's saliva. They care deeply about each other, but cannot be in each other's presence ever again. He runs off to the south of France, where he lives happily ever after with a lovely Frenchwoman. Everyone lives happily ever after.
posted by judith at 9:49 PM on August 1, 2010

All three of them are in a prison camp together, maybe in WWII or in a Soviet gulag. The husband colludes with the warden or guards somehow so all the prisoners think he's an ass (and maybe he really is an ass or maybe he did it to protect the wife or others and nobody knows.) This disrupts the marriage irrevocably. Then the wife is threatened by an abusive guard, the best friend sticks his neck out to protect her and gets beaten and goes to the infirmary or maybe gets thrown in solitary, and when the wife and the best friend are reunited there's lots of breathlessness and dilated pupils.

Meanwhile the husband gets injured somehow so that he has trouble walking. There's an escape plan but the husband sees that they're better off without him so when the wife tells him about the escape attempt he spurns her and tells her "I've got it good here", pretending that his arrangement with the guards is more important, or maybe he just sacrifices himself during the escape attempt. Anyways the rest of them get out and scatter into small groups in the countryside The Great Escape style. The wife, best friend, and other friends are in a group together and the wife and best friend are brought together by the trials of flight while the other friends glare at them.
posted by XMLicious at 10:24 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

It occurs to me that archetypically this is like Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot.
posted by XMLicious at 10:32 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

In Edith Wharton's Glimpses of the Moon, a charming young couple marries in the knowledge that neither of them can support the other in the extravagant lifestyle to which their rich suitors have been treating them, and plan to live richly off their wedding presents — but they agree that either can leave the marriage, with no hard feelings, if they get a better offer.
posted by nicwolff at 10:33 PM on August 1, 2010

The husband is an accidental bigamist. His first wife, thought dead in a ferry wreck while on a trip abroad many years earlier has been found alive (with whatever various complications might be necessary: amnesia? kidnapped and held in strange land? mental illness after physical recovery of injuries?). Husband must go take care of her/sort out his feelings, cannot deliver another shock to her precarious state by immediately telling her he has remarried... and like that.
posted by taz at 2:26 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

It occurs to me that archetypically this is like Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot.

Alas, Lancelot or Arthur (or often all three) usually come off as sleazy jerks to me.

If they have to find each other adorable BUT don't know it's mutual, you have to distract them somehow. If they actually end up together as a romantic couple, the husband has to be out of the way. If there's fallout, the rest of the friends have to stay put and be able to interact with the friend and the wife. If no one is to come across as sleazy, there has to be a way of Really Ending the Marriage.

I say do Apollo 13 (astronaut whose ship dies during a mission,) except Tom Hanks et al are never coming back because they can't turn around, and so in a final transmission Tom asks Gary Sinese to take care of Kathleen Quinlan for him. If you want to be moody you can have Kevin Bacon comfort Tom before they freeze to death; if you want to go with the sci-fi angle they get rescued by aliens.

The important part really seems to me to be that the husband is OK with everything, the friend and wife are oblivious/conflicted, all or some of the friends think it's rude/tacky/disrespectful, but the audience is rooting for the romance to succeed, right?
posted by SMPA at 4:26 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, apparently I'm tacky and/or sleazy, so take this with a grain of salt.

A super secret double twist to any of these scenarios is to have the best friend and the wife THINK that they're related as half-siblings, and feel guilty and weird for thinking that they're super hotties, but then, BAM, turns out that they're not half-siblings after all, because Mom wasn't exactly faithful. If you have mom's infidelity happen during a funeral or after a miscarriage or something it's ideal--to explain why everyone was willing to hush it up and forgive and forget. Oh, and she should be dead.

Well, turns out she was unfaithful with the husband's dad who is a general jerk and disappeared soon after husband's birth, never to be mentioned again. They are estranged until the wedding. The husband's dad makes a surprise appearance because he sees the engagement announcement and they look rich or he feels guilty or whatever. So he comes to the wedding and is SHOCKED to see his son marry his daughter.

So now the husband and the wife are related, and the best friend and the wife NOT related, with the exact same plot point.

The husband and wife can have loved each other but had a sexless marriage or been saving it for the altar or the husband can be gay, whereas the wife and best friend have always wanted to do it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:56 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I vote for gay. I knew two couples where, after the kids graduated high school (I went to HS with the kids), the wives came out as lesbian and eventually pursued divorces. It was wrenching (especially for the kids), but the husbands knew there'd been something wrong in the marriages for years, and had some time to get used to the idea of the divorce before the kids graduated. After the divorces, the two wives actually fell in love (they hadn't really known each other before the divorces) and are now domestic partners, and the husbands have pretty good relationships with their ex-wives, and the ex-wives with the new wives, and the kids have adjusted, and now it's this giant six-grandparent multisexuality extended family and the grandkids are always trying to explain why they have TWO grandparents on one side and SIX grandparents on the other side. ("Grandma Judy is my mom's mom's new wife's ex-husband's new wife!")

The community was understanding of the divorces generally (these were couples who got married in the 70s, when homosexuality wasn't nearly as open or okay) though of course there was whispering; a bit taken aback by the two women falling in love so quickly, particularly before the husbands had moved on very far; and now just sort of laughs when trying to explain it to outsiders and everyone is happy it had such a happy, amicable ending. When it could have clearly ended badly and with a lot of ugliness.

I think it works better if the husband had a relatively legit reason for being closeted and then coming out ... if he were married in the 70s, and then came out after his very conservative parents died, that doesn't make him look like a jerk or a coward, more a victim of social pressure. And the wife can be hurt but supportive because obviously she's known there's something wrong for years. (You can even make it comedic if she assumes the best friend is also gay and/or the husband is interested in his best friend ....)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:22 AM on August 2, 2010

How about if the husband was married before, many years ago, but his then wife disappeared in a plane crash and was declared dead, etc., etc., and as he was slowly getting over his heartbreak and the loss of his One True Love, he met the current wife and was all, like, eh, she's okay, and so they got married. Meanwhile, his best friend was slowly and secretly falling in love with current wife but of course this could Never Be, alas, alack. Then the first wife gets rescued - maybe the best friend rescues her - and when she gets back the husband is all, "She is the One I Truly Love" and the current wife is all, "Whoa," and the best friend is all, "Fear Not! For I Have Loved You Long and Long!" and the current wife then is all, "Okay." Happiness all around.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:40 AM on August 2, 2010

there's actually a good example of this in John Barth's "The Floating Opera." The husband seems to want to share his wife out of friendship. The characters don't really discuss it, they just do it. None of them struck me as being very sleazy.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:02 AM on August 2, 2010

Do you mean this for a genre romance, a la Harlequin?

If so, what's really, really difficult about what you propose is the idea that the social relationships remain intact. For the most part, the female lead in a romance novel is expected to be a good, loyal person. So while she might leave a husband who was abusive, controlling, a drunk, mean, missing, criminal or dead, she would not be able to acceptably leave a husband who was say, crippled or off-doing good works with Doctors without Borders. Or one who was otherwise nice to her.

The only real, would work in a publishable contemporary romance novel situation that I can imagine, is that the marriage itself was always a marriage of convenience. Health Insurance might be a topical reason. Other things might be immigration, inheritance reasons (you would not believe how many men in romance novels still have to get married in order to inherit their fortunes), her bearding for him.

It's fairly standard for the female lead to marry the father of her sister's baby for some reason or another and then they fall madly in love. It might be an interesting twist if she *did* marry the father of her sister's baby, and that didn't cause them to fall madly in love, and now she's falling for his best friend, and how do they all get out of that situation in an okay way.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:16 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rather than devise a solution that might work in the real world, what you want is a solution that makes the readers hold the husband in contempt while they are very sympathetic toward the wife and the friend.

So, make the husband morally repugnant, even if he was decent when they married. Scenario: Husband engages in behavior that severs romantic relationship with his wife, but does not provide grounds for the wife to divorce. Maybe the husband's behavior implicates his wife, or so she fears. Husband's best friend notices that something is wrong. Husband denies it. In desparation, wife turns to husband's best friends. (Maybe in fear of the husband doing something terrible.) Sparks fly. Husband gets his comeuppance.
posted by justcorbly at 4:12 PM on August 2, 2010

Husband is misdiagnosed with illness. The medications for treatment of the disease is debilitating (chemotherapy?). He is weak and believes his days are numbered. He begins putting his house in order. Best friend has a number of serious conversations with both of them. Conversations about the future before and after his friends demise. The conversations are sometimes separate, sometimes together. Best friend starts to see wife through husband's eyes.

After months of treatments, husband's mis-diagnosis is discovered. Treatments given in error are stopped. He fully recovers.

Best friend feels bad because of thoughts of friends wife. Wife feels bad because she has mentally moved on. Husband feels angry because a medical error robbed him of many things.

All three relationships are different than before the mis-diagnosis.
posted by jack.tinker at 8:57 PM on August 2, 2010

Ok, so mine are super boring and mundane, but here we go. Husband has a bit of a mid life crisis and decides he no longer wants children or wants to circle the globe as [insert some type of scientist] or is in the CIA and wants to take his career to the next level and become a deep under cover spy. Wife wants kids, doesn't want to follow him around the world, and they split up amicably. Husband thankful that wife isn't bitter about his sudden change of life plans and understanding he was solely responsible for the end of their marriage is not angry or bitter when wife moves on with her life by dating best friend. Mutual friends think husband is a bit wacky, but not a bad guy and don't blame the wife for dating the best friend as she wasn't responsible for ending the marriage and the ex has no problem with it anyway.
posted by whoaali at 11:14 PM on August 2, 2010

There's a more general plan wherein the husband is some kind of hero who dies in the course of his heroism and the disapprobation from the friends of the wife-best-friend relationship stems from the notion that the husband's memory should be especially consecrated and not dishonored due to his heroic status.
posted by XMLicious at 9:05 AM on August 3, 2010

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