In Laura Dave’s newest novel, The First Husband, travel writer Annie Adams is sideswiped by her boyfriend’s announcement: He’s decided to end their five-year relationship and reconnect with someone else. Reeling from their breakup, Annie meets Griffin, a chef from Massachusetts. Fast forward just three months, and the two are married and moving to Williamsburg.
While trying to adjust to small-town life — and Griffin’s family and past — Annie is hit with another surprise: Her ex-boyfriend, Nick, is back and wants a second chance. As she tries to figure out her choice, along the way, Annie learns who she really is and discovers where she truly belongs.
The First Husband explores the big questions of love, happiness and authenticity. It explores what makes relationships work (and not work) and what happens when life doesn’t turn out like you expected or planned for.
I had the opportunity to chat with Laura Dave about all these things below. Specifically, Dave reveals why she needed to tell this story, what she learned from interviewing relationship experts, how Annie’s choice ultimately has to do with authenticity and much more.
1. What inspired you to write a book about a woman who’s torn between two men — her husband who she’s only known for three months and the man she thought she’d marry? Why do you think you had to tell this kind of story?
I was interested in the idea of how we avoid living our lives in reaction. So I created a situation in which a travel writer, who has spent her life living in one way, is presented with a completely different version of what her life could be. It was a lot of fun to see what she was going to do and watch her become proactive about her own happiness.
2. When researching the book you interviewed many people, including psychologists and people who are happily married, about commitment and what makes marriage work. What did you learn?
Divorce gets so much airtime, but the truth is people still believe in marriage — and find a lot of joy and comfort in spending their life with someone.
3. Did the information differ between psychologists and regular folks who are happily married?
There were definitely some common themes. The happiest couples understand (as the experts do) the importance of operating from a place of respect and compassion in regard to your spouse. It sounds obvious, but so many people lose sight of being kind to each other. No matter what.
4. In another interview you mentioned that who Annie picks in the end has less to do with the men themselves and more to do with which Annie she’s going to pick. Can you elaborate on why it’s more about Annie?
Annie is in a struggle to find her authentic self: what truly makes her happy vs. the idea she had about what should bring her joy. Ultimately, in choosing a partner who appreciates and loves her, Annie is choosing to be the most authentic version of herself. Her relationship asks that of her.
5. Do you think that, in part, people choose their partners based on who they want to be?
So many people are drawn to someone who has the qualities they’d like to inhabit — or that they admire. But there’s a line between that and choosing a partner because you want to be like him.
6. In the book there are several long-term relationships (one being 13 years!). It seems like today more and more couples are choosing to get married after living together or being together for many years. In your research, did you find that dating for a long time was a good thing for marriage (or not so much)?
There was just an excellent study done about this. And it turns out that how long you are together — six months vs. six years — isn’t really an indicator of how your marriage is going to turn out. There are success stories at every end of the spectrum.
7. Many people believe that you “just know” regarding the person you’re going to marry. Do you think that’s true?
You can get lucky that way, but often it’s not the case. There are many happy couples who just knew. And many who figured it out more slowly.
8. The title of the book is really interesting because it hints that there’s more than one husband. Why did you decide to call it The First Husband?
The title is playing the idea that marriage can be ephemeral now. This is really going to be Annie’s battle: Does she chalk her marriage up to a bad decision? Or does she commit to making her marriage work in the face of having to make some life changes in order to do so?
The First Husband title is also a bit of a wink to Nick, who Annie thought was going to be her life partner. So many of us, like Annie, have such serious relationships before marriage that this person we end up parting with is almost like a first husband or first wife. I liked that the title could speak to that as well.
9. I write a lot about cultivating creativity and I love learning what inspires other people’s work. What inspires your writing?
Music is a big inspiration for me. I listen to music whenever I’m working and it really helps motivate my writing like nothing else!
Laura Dave also is the author of The Divorce Party and London Is the Best City in America. She has contributed to The New York Times, Redbook, Glamour, Self, Ladies’ Home Journal, and NPR’s All Things Considered. A New York Native, she now lives with her husband in Los Angeles.