Marriage-of-convenience and arranged-marriage romances (#rombklove 2020)

This post was written for RomBkLove 2020, a monthlong celebration of romance novels of all kinds held every May. In 2020, I wanted to discuss my favorite trope, the situation where people marry for reasons other than the usual in any romance novel: they don’t marry for love.

Marriages of convenience (MOC) and arranged marriages (AM) are uber-tropes in romances. They’re *everywhere.* No matter what or when your setting, you can probably find a MOC romance written for that.

It’s also clearly a favorite of romance writers. Some authors have only written a few MOC or AM romances; others have their own libraries of them! Mary Balogh has written numerous MOC Regency-set historical romances; Noelle Adams has about 15 contemporary MOC romances. But many, many authors write these romance tropes. Many, many romance readers enjoy them. 

What is it that makes this trope so popular? There are probably as many theories as there are MOC or AM romances, but here are a few that jump out to me:

–Getting to know someone when you’re already inside of what we consider to be one of the most intimate of relationships has a certain thrill to it. 

–These stories, by default, include forced proximity and its underlying current of sexual tension. Married people, regardless of the era, can have sex together with impunity. But when your rationale for marriage is something other than attraction, a delicious push/pull between physicality and the convenient or arranged portions of the relationship come into play.

–Especially in older historical romances, MOC and AM marriages let authors write and talk about sex before the protagonists find their HEA, in contrast to social mores of the time.

–Marriage was for a very long time the definition of an HEA in romance. MOC and AM romances turn that concept on its head.

–The trope itself can incorporate so many other tropes: enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, opposites attract, there’s only one bed, and so forth.

It’s important to remember that during most of world history the idea of an arranged marriage or a marriage of convenience *was* the definition of marriage. Marriages were made for security, for safety, for property, for possessions, for family; less often were they made based on the emotions of the parties involved. In her book Marriage: A History (which I highly recommend), Stephanie Coontz notes that it’s only in the last couple of hundred years that our modern concept of what she calls “companionate marriage” has come to the forefront over more practical reasons to marry. 

Radiance by Grace Draven cover

Indeed, throughout much of history the idea of love as a reason for marriage was considered in poor taste, from the Romans to medieval chivalric love (which was for someone other than your spouse). So it makes sense that as romance as a field evolved in literature in the last two hundred years, from Austen and Gaskill to Roberts and Jenkins; it paralleled our move from practical to companionate marriages predominantly in real life. And MOC and AM romances are the perfect blend of practical and companionate marriages in our fiction.

Despite our evolving mores about what marriage is, about sex before or after marriage, about what “couples” and “partners” are, MOC and AM romances still happen today. In certain cultures in our world, such as in Southeast Asia, arranged marriages occur routinely, often through family members who screen candidates to create a “short list” for the person they want to see married. Green-card marriages, some of which are MOCs, also happen around the world. 

If you look at early romance writers, working in more conservative times when it comes to marriage, it’s not surprising to see that MOC and AM tropes arose. Heyer, one of the ur-writers of romance, even titled one of her books A Convenient Marriage!

Simply put, romance readers love marriages of convenience. They love arranged marriages. So if you want the story of a medieval couple made to marry by their king to secure lands, romance has that. If you want two shifters who marry to protect their pack but who *don’t* have a mate bond, romance has that. If you want the story of a marriage that happens so one of the partners can get health coverage, romance has that. If you want a story about a woman receiving an email about being engaged to an African prince since childhood and ignoring it as spam (which it isn’t), romance has that. And if you want the story of an arranged marriage between two princesses (with dragons involved, because why not?), romance has that.

What do you think of this trope? Love it? Hate it? Comment below and let me know.

Here’s a sampling of MOC and AM romances old and new—I hope you’ll find something you like here!

The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Radiance by Grace Draven

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

Part-Time Husband by Noelle Adams

The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler

Texas Glory by Lorraine Heath

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin

The Devil’s Lady by Deborah Simmons

To See the Sun by Kelly Jensen

The Obedient Bride by Mary Balogh

Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon

A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

The Winter King by C.L. Wilson

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

The Mark of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy

His Inherited Princess by Empi Baryeh

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

An Arranged Marriage by Jo Beverley

Duke in Darkness by Nicola Davidson

Mate Bond by Jennifer Ashley

Who’d Have Thought by G Benson

Chemistry of Magic by Patricia Rice

Tall, Dark, and Deported by Bru Baker

Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber

Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

The Husband Gambit by L.A. Witt

Tempest by Beverly Jenkins

His Convenient Husband by Robin Covington