A Cheater's Guide To Happily Ever After

I found THE book of the summer. With a bit of instagram serendipity I came across Affairytale. The account featured photos of idyllic date settings (mountains, lakes, etc) and romantic quotes from one lover to another. By the second scroll of the thumb, I needed (!) to read the book. The quotes and photos drew me in and I wanted to know more about the relationship of the characters. That's when I discovered the book was a memoir. The book is about a real couple, a real affair, and truly undeniable chemistry. I dove headfirst into the story Friday night and could not put it down. Needless to say by the end of the weekend, I had a book hangover in the best way possible. Without further adieu, here's my review.

Do you believe in love at first sight? 

What if you met the man of your dreams in real life?

What if he wanted you as desperately as you wanted him?

What if you were already married to someone else?

These are the questions, CJ grapples with in Affairytale. In her early twenties, she has a child. She loves the child's father, but they have a toxic, volatile relationship. They bring out the absolute worst in each other. She trudges through the relationship, thinking that by staying together, they are doing what is best for their child. During the summer months, she escapes the fighting by spending time at her parent's lakehouse. It is there she meets the handsome, charming Grant and becomes instantly enamored, just like everyone else who meets him. She enjoys innocent flirtations with him weekend after weekend, but believing the affection is one-sided, does nothing about her feelings for months, which turn into years. During this time, she marries the father of her daughter and becomes complacent in life. In a passion (and partially alcohol) fueled night, CJ lets herself free and explored the physical manifestations of her feelings for Grant. Needless to say, an affair ensued. She blossomed under Grant's love and attention, becoming the woman she envisioned for herself. 

I feel like the trajectory of life can become so oppressive as a twenty something. There's both an internal and societal pressure to 'do the right thing' and check the boxes. Get married. Buy a house. Have a baby. If you check one of the boxes in the wrong order, then there's even more pressure to check off the rest of the boxes as quickly as possible. Whether it's fear of social ostracizing or being alone, the pressure is real. CJ, like may others, got caught up in life's trajectory. She wanted to do what she thought was best for her daughter and have the comfort of a lifelong partner. It was only in hindsight that she was able to realize marrying the wrong man accomplished neither goal.

To the judgemental type, it may seem like CJ's problems had a simple solution. If you're not happy in a marriage, divorce before cheating. But life is never that simple. There was pressure from her family and friends to stay with her husband. There was the pressure as a mother to maintain a happy, nuclear family. There was also fear involved: fear of loneliness, fear of financial hardship, fear of disappointing others. It would have been easier to stay married indefinitely. Once you've been together with someone so long, you may hate them, but you know how to deal with their bullshit and can shut fights down relatively quickly.  However with each fight, her soul, her personhood, was slowly siphoned away. She was sacrificing herself for the sake of her daughter and family. The stress was also physically detrimental, literally breaking her back.

It took a lot of strength for her to begin working toward her independence. Like alcohol can form liquid courage, so too did Grant's passion and attentiveness for CJ. Their rendezvous provided a safe space for CJ to reclaim herself and prepare to physically leave her husband (something she had emotionally already done). Yes, she cheated. Yes, she had an affair. But it happened for all the right reasons. She did it for love, not one night of whiskey dick. She did it to reclaim her fragile sense of self that had been battered like a weather beaten sail. Even if the affair didn't turn into a lifelong commitment, it was worth it because she found her inner tigress and was better able to be a mother to her daughter.

I found myself rooting for CJ and Grant from the first time his name appeared on page. As with many romance novels, their love is all consuming and passionate and can't be denied. Unlike romance novels, this book is real life. The salacious meet-ups were HOT and the love letters were aw-inducing. Each chapter started out with a quote from a classic text like The Scarlett Letter and Wuthering Heights to help the reader delve into the author's state of mind at the time of the events. My inner literary nerd loved the quotes. The narrative was well written, the storyline was gripping, and it's firmly in place at the top of my favorites list for contemporary romance. Ultimately, this book is a message of hope. Don't sacrifice yourself to 'do the right thing.' Don't settle. Somewhere out there is your Grant. 

The book is available for Kindle (here) and in paperback (here). 

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