Study Guide

Gone Girl Marriage

By Gillian Flynn

Marriage

What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do? (1.3)

Maybe every marriage brings these questions into the picture, but not every marriage is as messed up as Nick and Amy's. The fact that he's wondering these things on page one of the novel gives us a clear introduction to the state of their relationship: Nick has no idea who Amy is.

There's something disturbing about recalling an old memory and feeling utterly cold. (1.25)

Here's what's disturbing about it: Nick's relationship with Amy is "utterly cold" itself. With virtually no positive associations with his wife in the present day, old memories don't carry the warmth they should. The fact that there's no going back to the past makes it painful to remember.

For our anniversary, [Amy] always set up an elaborate treasure hunt, with each clue leading to the hiding place of the next clue until I reached the end, and my present. It was what her dad always did for her mom on their anniversary, and don't think I don't see the gender roles here, that I don't get the hint. But I did not grow up in Amy's household. I grew up in mine, and the last present I remember my dad giving my mom was an iron, set on the kitchen counter, no wrapping paper. (3.26)

When people get married, they bring all kinds of baggage into the relationship, including what their own parents' relationships taught them about marriage. Amy seems to have unrealistic expectations of what a long-term relationship is like, probably because her parents have a bond that couples rarely maintain after twenty-five years of marriage. Nick, as the child of divorced parents and an abusive father, has seen something far different.

And the moral of the story is this: Nick and Amy's very different past experiences create expectations on Amy's part that are impossible for Nick to fulfill.

[My parents] have no harsh edges with each other, no spiny conflicts, they ride through life like conjoined jellyfish—expanding and contracting instinctively, filling each other's spaces liquidly. Making it look easy, the soul mate thing. People say children from broken homes have it hard, but the children of charmed marriages have their own particular challenges. (4.12)

One of the reasons Amy feels like a failure in her pre-Nick life is because although she's Amazing Amy and everything is supposed to go perfectly and smoothly for her, she still hasn't found a soul mate. As a result, the loneliness she felt as a child has now transformed into a different kind of wound—she not only feels the absence of a husband, but also feels like a failure because what happened for her parents has not happened for her.

The older women keep swirling around me, telling me how Maureen has always said what a wonderful couple Nick and I are and she is right, we are clearly made for each other.

I prefer these well-meant clichés to the talk we heard before we got married. Marriage is compromise and hard work, and then more hard work and compromise. And then work. Abandon all hope, ye who enter. (16.22-23)

If you're married, you know that there's a lot of truth to this—people throw clichés around in an attempt to give advice, but end up coming off as somewhat smug. After all, they've survived that challenging, young period of marriage, and have so much wisdom to offer. Understandably, Amy's pretty annoyed by Maureen's friends and their attempt to make small talk about inevitable struggles in relationships—especially when Amy's in the middle of them herself.

"It's not an easy thing, pairing yourself off with someone forever. It's an admirable thing, and I'm glad you're both doing it, but boy-oh-girl-oh, there will be days you wish you'd never done it. And those will be the good times, when it's only days of regret and not months." (16.25)

Maureen's commentary on marriage obviously owes a lot to her own relationship's failure. It tells us that she loved Bill when she married him, and she really tried, but regret was always present in both small and large doses.

c) Don't press him about his new attitude—know that he will confide in you when the time comes, and in the meantime, shower him with affection so he feels secure and loved, because that's how this marriage thing works. (22.4)

When Nick changes his mood toward Amy and starts showing the first signs of warmth toward her in a year, Amy does what she does best to process the situation: she thinks of it in terms of personality quizzes. This particular answer choice makes it sound like she's trying to reassure herself that the change is permanent, saying that as long as she does her part, he'll eventually explain what's going on. And interestingly enough, C is the correct answer.

I couldn't think of a decent thing I'd done in the past two years. In New York, those first few years of marriage, I'd been desperate to please my wife […] For two years I tried as my old wife slipped away, and I tried so hard—no anger, no arguments, the constant kowtowing, the capitulation, the sitcom-husband version of me […] Each action, each attempt, was met with a rolled eye or a sad little sigh. A you just don't get it sigh. (29.57)

Tanner's assignment for Nick to make a list of nice, romantic things he's done for Amy ultimately leads him to a pretty disturbing conclusion: he's totally failing in the hubby department. While Amy's definitely been doing her part to tank their relationship and bears some responsibility here, Nick hasn't done the greatest job of making her feel special. Maybe Flynn's trying to say here that it takes two people to make a marriage work, but it also takes two people to wreck it.

Love should require both partners to be their very best at all times. Unconditional love is an undisciplined love, and as we have all seen, undisciplined love is disastrous […] [Nick] is learning to love me unconditionally, under all my conditions. (64.1, 3)

It's the end of the book—the part where the characters are supposed to have learned some kind of lesson from the previous events and become better people. Amy wants to believe this has happened to her, but it's pretty clear that her logic here is way off. She's redefined "unconditional love" in the way only Amazing Amy can: by placing herself and her needs at the center and designing the conditions herself.

To know exactly what I wanted to hear in those notes, to woo me back to her, even to predict all my wrong moves… the woman knew me cold. Better than anyone in the world, she knew me. All this time I thought we were strangers, and it turned out we knew each other intuitively, in our bones, in our blood. (55.44)

As dysfunctional as their marriage is, as destructive as they are together, as much as Nick's life is going to stink now that he's united to Amy in not only marriage, but with a child, the truth still remains: Nick and Amy are perfect for each other. Better yet, you might say that they deserve each other.