When it comes to weddings, most of us like to plan things out in advance. It’s not uncommon for couples to spend years figuring each other out before they finally tie the knot. So what happens when you wake up one morning and find yourself married by accident to a complete and total stranger?
This trope generally comes in two forms:
- Situational: Two people from the same culture end up in a comedic situation where, quite unintentionally, they end up marrying each other. Often takes place in Las Vegas and/or involves some form of intoxication. Usually, neither of them has a clue what they’re getting into until it’s too late.
- Cross-Cultural: While traveling in a foreign land, the hero unwittingly marries the chieftain’s daughter through a hilarious cultural misunderstanding. Typically, the guy is the oblivious one, while the girl knows exactly what’s she’s doing, though the gender roles do occasionally get reversed.
The characters are never the kind of people who would just up and leave their spouse, though–that would ruin the story. For that reason, they’re usually both decent, likable people, at least at first. But even if they decide to stick together, they usually have to work through a ton of (often hilarious) challenges first.
When part of the main storyline, this trope is often used as the setup for a romantic comedy (since the alternative is, well, kind of a downer). When done well, it combines the awkwardness of a blind date with all of the angst and anticipation that comes along with wedding and marriage. There’s a variety of ways that the situation can be resolved, and the longer things drag out, the more reasons the couple finds for sticking things out.
That’s not always the case, of course. In the “Our Mrs. Reynolds” episode of Firefly, what starts out as an accidental marriage between Mal and Saffron turns into…well, something else.
Within science fiction & fantasy, this is probably the most prominent example of this trope. The first half of the episode plays it straight, with Mal participating in a ceremony that seems innocent enough, but later turns out to be a marriage. At first, he tries to get out of it, but one thing leads to another, and…well, go rewatch the episode!
Another good example of this is found in the movie Jeremiah Johnson. The titular character, a former confederate soldier turned mountain man, finds himself a guest of the Flathead Indians. The chief asks about a number of horses and scalps he acquired, and Jeremiah, who never wanted them in the first place, gives them to the chief as a gift. Moments later, he realizes his mistake: the Flatheads have a custom of exchanging gifts of equal or greater value, and if they cannot reciprocate, they consider it an insult worthy of death. Fortunately for Jeremiah, the chief finds a solution: he gives him his daughter.
Both of these examples involve variations of the cross-cultural type. A good example of a purely situational version of this trope is the webcome Marry Me. It starts with a philanthropist pop-star who’s suffering from burnout and on the verge of having a mental breakdown. While putting on a concert, she sees a guy in the front with a sign that says “marry me” and decides, on a whim, to bring him onstage and do just that.
The thing is, he was only holding the sign for a friend, who was taking a bathroom break at the time. He’s not even a fan of her music. As you might expect, hilarity ensues.
Finally, this trope plays a major role in my latest title, Star Wanderers. It starts off with a young single starfarer, who makes his living running the trade routes between stars. Without realizing it, he visits a station where the food production systems have just recently broken down, condemning everyone to die.
The station master pulls Jeremiah into his private quarters and makes him choose one of his daughters, presumably to save her. Jeremiah can’t really say no, so he chooses one, only to find himself holding hands with her while her father says a quick prayer. Moments later, they’re whisked away to his starship, where they have a long voyage alone together to look forward to.
As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of this trope. When things work out, it can really make for a heartwarming story. But whether or not it does, the romantic tension is just delicious.
PS: Be sure to check out the “playing with” page for this trope–there’s a lot of interesting variations on the main theme! My favorite is the logical extreme, with the fertility dolls and the pie. Interesting stuff…maybe I’ll use that in a story of my own someday.