What is a Marriage of Convenience in Romance?

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Alison Doherty

Senior Contributor

Alison Doherty is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on the subway, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.

Marriage of convenience is a popular trope within romance novels. While it first became popular in historical romance novels, it has spread to almost every sub-genre of romance. From contemporary marriage of convenience plots to ones in paranormal romance, fantasy romance, dark romance, and even more, this trope delivers captivating plots, fantastic opportunities for character development, and (most importantly!) swoon-worthy, passionate love stories. Writers keep finding interesting ways to work this trope into their books. And readers keep wanting to read more and more. But what is marriage of convenience in romance? Let’s dig a little deeper into the trope: what it means, why it’s so popular, and a few recommendations for readers looking for this type of book.

What is a Marriage of Convenience in Romance?

A marriage of convenience is defined as any marriage that occurs for reasons other than love or affection. There are many political, economical, or social reasons that can motivate a marriage of convenience. The main thing to remember is that this type of marriage is inspired by practical reasons and not romance. Historical marriages of convenience often feature a hero who needs to marry in order to have an heir or to receive his inheritance and a heroine who needs to marry to save her reputation, help her family, escape a less desirable marriage, or gain independence. Some people include arranged marriage romances under the umbrella of marriage of convenience stories. But I think this trope really is about both lovers making the agreement themselves.

It’s easy to see why this trope was born out of historical romance, because in past centuries it was much more common for people to marry for reasons other than love. But marriage of convenience stories have become very popular in contemporary romance as well. Because most people now marry for love and marriage isn’t as much of a necessity, these stories often come up with creative circumstances to bring characters together. These include characters marrying to please a family member or a boss, green card marriages, marrying for financial benefit, fall back marriage pacts, marrying to fulfill a weird clause in an inheritance, and marrying for children or a baby. There is some overlap between character’s motivations in historical and contemporary stories, but in general contemporary marriage of convenience romances require more narrative gymnastics. This is part of what makes them so fun!

What Makes Marriage of Convenience Romance Novels so Popular?

Marriage of convenience is one of my all-time favorite romance novel tropes. And I know I’m not the only one. This trope takes all the fun of fake dating romance novels and ratchets up the stakes and tension a thousand percent. Keeping a big secret can lead to hysterical misunderstandings. But it can also be sexy as hell. And marriage of convenience sets the stage for beautiful slow burn romances. They can also include banter-filled enemies to lovers stories and irresistible forced proximity situations. We often tend to think of marriage as the happy ending to a romance, even though not all happy endings include marriage. But there is something that feels exciting about a wedding happening in the beginning or middle of a romance novel. It’s kind of like breakfast for dinner or eating dessert first. The novelty of the order pulls me in every time.

The First Marriage of Convenience Romance Novel

The first marriage of convenience romance novel I could find was the aptly titled The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer from 1934. In it, an Earl proposes marriage to a woman who is from a poor family. The woman accepts, but is in love with someone else. The woman’s younger sister goes to the Earl and proposes a marriage of convenience to save her sister from a loveless marriage. In return for the switch, she says the Earl can continue to visit with his mistress. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that many misunderstandings and hijinks later, the couple realize they are in love. This trope became very popular and is one Heyer would continue to revisit through many of her novels, including one of her most popular romances Friday’s Child.

Marriage of Convenience Romance Recommendations

If you are looking to read a marriage of convenience romance, here are a few ideas of where to start. I included both historical romances and contemporary ones, so there’s something for everyone!

Book cover of A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera

A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera

This was one of my favorite romance novels from last year. In it, Luz Alana is a rum distiller from the Caribbean in Paris to expand her family business into Europe. James Sinclair, the Earl of Darnick, is a whiskey distiller from Scotland trying to remove himself from his corrupt father’s sphere of influence. For different legal reasons, both need to be married in order to succeed in their goals. Thus begins a relationship that is supposed to be temporary and just about business. If only off the charts chemistry and those pesky feelings didn’t get in the way!

The Duke I Tempted Book Cover

The Duke I Tempted by Scarlett Peckham

To secure his family’s future and reputation, the Duke of Westmead needs to have an heir. He wants to marry a woman and keep her entirely separate from his unique sexual desires. Poppy Cavendish is an aspiring botanist who wants a greenhouse more than a husband. But when the duke offers to invest in her plant business in exchange for an heir, she takes the deal. This romance novel is passionate and atmospheric, with a lot of humor as well. It has some light BDSM elements, which I thought was boundary pushing for a historical romance.

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata cover

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

This contemporary marriage of convenience romance combines forced proximity with a slow burn romance. Vanessa was the personal assistant to star football player Aiden for two miserable years. When she finally quits, he not only wants her back in this life…he wants her to marry him so he can get his green card. Vanessa agrees in order to pay off her debt and hopefully pursue her dream of becoming a graphic designer. But the shift from a professional relationship to a fake personal one is a lot for Vanessa and Aiden to handle. I will warn readers, when I say slow burn, I mean SLOW burn. At over 650 pages, this book is a doorstop that will take you a big chunk of time to get through. But if that’s your thing, I promise it’s worth it. So worth it.

Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon Book Cover

Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon

The subtitle in this book is “a marriage of inconvenience” and it certainly fits the story. Xeni learns some deep family secrets when her Aunt Sable dies, including that in order to inherit her house and fortune Xeni must marry. And she can’t marry just anyone. Her aunt has chosen the man she wants for Xeni: a recent friend of hers named Mason, who is a Scotsman complete with bagpipes. The two agree to marry, but plan to keep things platonic, despite their attraction. This is a fun romance with a rare plus size hero, two bi characters, and a dash of family drama.

cover of electric idol by katee robert

Electric Idol by Katee Robert

This book is a retelling of the Psyche and Eros myth, in a wild world where Olympus is a version of New York City which no one can escape from. It mixes paranormal and dark romance elements, for a unique (and very sexy!) twist on this trope. Due to political reasons and jealousy, Aphrodite orders Eros to kill Psyche. Eros is tired of being his mother’s hitman and remembers how Psyche has shown him kindness in the past. So, he comes up with another solution. He offers Psyche a marriage of convenience so he won’t have to kill her. His mom can’t expect him to kill his bride, especially if all of Olympus knows about it, can she?

There are so many great marriage of convenience romance novels to choose from. Seriously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want more ideas of what to read within this trope, check out this longer list of recommendations or this older post on marriage of convenience which lists some amazing romance classics, including The Bride by Julie Garwood which is a forever favorite romance novel for me. Happy reading!