I really enjoyed Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating last year, and decided it was time to check out another novel by Christina Lauren (pen name for a writing duo) after reading a somewhat average YA novel. Like Josh and Hazel, this one was fun and light and breezy, and was filled with modern people that are both relatable and who I would want to be friends with. (Well, I did wonder if they would all be able to live on their own in their respective city this early in their academic careers but that’s also because I have no idea about real estate costs in their area, and have heard too much about struggling, underpaid professors to realize that the ones that do make it have decent incomes.)
A friend of mine asked me a while back if I thought that romances had given me unreasonable expectations about relationships. My response to him was no, because
- I have had issues with romantic relationships for years and have only been reading romance since 2015
- I would blame the general media more for any unrealistic expectations or false ideas of what romance should be (looking right at you, Buffy – arguing and angst aren’t required for passion)
- Romances, especially the ones I read thanks to carefully following the recommendations of CBR experts, aren’t about setting unrealistic expectations, they tend to show partnerships and strong women (and yes, the occasional reformed rake)
However, I do think an argument could sometimes be made that the media has set some very high expectations for ideas of idealized friendships, and if anything, those have set me up for more disappointment than my lack of success at men. I have some very close friends, but it’s never been easy for me outside of college to have the types of friendships that lead to weekly get togethers, regular girls’ trips, either with local friends or where a group of us organize across states and meet at least once a year. Probably because for the most part, I have always had lots of individual friends that didn’t know each other rather than a group of friends. The few times I have thought I was developing the second, it tended to crash and burn. And lots of guy friends but I have hadn’t as much desire to organize trips with them with one or two exceptions.
Why do I bring this up? Because as much as I liked the romantic leads of this story, it was their group of friends that made this novel. I want a group of friends I meet twice a week for lunch, and have game nights with and travel to vineyards with. Of course, they are in the type of setting (academia) where it might be easier to have those types of routines (like undergrad) but I just really enjoyed reading about everyone in this novel, and especially loved Ed.
Millie has always been one of the guys, and now is no exception. She and her four guy friends are all in various stages of their post graduate careers at UC Santa Barbara, and are celebrating that Reid now has tenure. That evening, Millie, Reid, Ed, Alex and Chris all discuss their need for dates and their utter lack of any potential partners for an upcoming gala. Within the group, Millie and Reid are especially tight, each other’s best friends, and a hard look at their relationship statuses makes them wonder if maybe they are all enabling each other to not pursue romance. Of course, Reid and Millie’s shared sex drought also leads them to hook up that evening, but it’s a one-off. They don’t want to complicate their relationship.
Over the next few days, the group decides to get serious about finding a date for the gala, and all sign up for a dating app. The men end up with varying degrees of success and potential matches while Millie ends up with married men, penis pictures and bad grammar. She decides to try again and makes an entirely new profile where she is a more honest version of herself, and lets her guard down. Her alternate persona matches with Reid, and much to Millie’s surprise, Reid doesn’t realize that Cat is Millie. She ends up messaging with him further, until she finds herself in much deeper than expected, and has to confront how she really feels about her best friend as she finds herself becoming jealous of his interest in her online version.
Reid is a great guy, incredibly smart, handsome, and he truly loves Millie – as a friend. But, Millie does not share anything about her personal life. She deflects, she turns the conversation back to the other person – she is an amazing friend, but she doesn’t let people in. As Reid realizes that he might want more from his best friend than friendship, he also fears that she may never be able to provide that more, and he’s interested in the online woman that shares so easily.
While this could be serious, the authors had enough interactions with the rest of the friends to keep it light. I enjoyed hearing things from both Millie and Reid’s perspectives, and I quite liked them both even while thinking that Millie was a mess. Being a romance novel, of course there will be a happy ending, but I definitely had a few moments in the middle where I wasn’t sure if Millie would be able to recover from the mess she had made or whether what she had done was entirely unforgivable. However, it wrapped up in a way that worked, and didn’t seem like one character had to bend too much to find the happily ever after.
Oh, for anyone that is curious – there is obviously sex in this novel, but not as much as in some other contemporary romance novels and it’s also not as descriptive; it worked well for me but might be a bit tame for others.