Jason Feifer and Jennifer Miller get asked the same question a lot: “How are you still married?”
That’s because Feifer and Miller, who have been married for seven years and have a toddler and another kid on the way, have completed the kind of emotionally fraught journey that would ruin many other relationships. They co-wrote a romantic comedy novel called Mr. Nice Guy, which follows romantic partners who sleep together and then critically review each other’s performance in a magazine. To write the novel, Feifer and Miller plumbed their own sexual experiences, then write vicious criticisms.
Against the odds, Feifer, the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur magazine, and Miller, the author of The Year of the Gadfly, says the process made their marriage even stronger. Fatherly wanted to know how so we asked the couple to interview each other about what it was like reading each other’s work—and trying to not take what the other wrote too personally.
Jason: So, let’s get it right out there: Were you offended by anything I wrote?
Jen: That’s the beauty of fiction: There’s plausible deniability all over the place! We were writing through the voices of two fictional characters, so whenever I came across something that felt a little too real, I could always think, Oh, he probably just made that up. Or maybe, Oh, he’s probably talking about someone from a past relationship—which, now that I think about it, is actually even more uncomfortable.
Jason: I definitely included some details from past relationships.
Jen: Like what? Like what!?!?
Jason: Weird little things—you know those funny details that stay with you? The way someone looks into your eyes an uncomfortably long time, or touches you in a way that I guess is meant to be tender but comes off kinda like dog petting.
Jen: Oh, I’m fine with all that. But I did catch one thing that definitely came from our relationship. About midway through the book, our male character starts telling this story about how, in a past relationship, his girlfriend once tried to lead him into the bathroom at a party to have sex, but he was too afraid of getting caught and ruined the moment, and how he always regretted it.
Jason: You remember that!
Jen: I wasn’t that drunk! It was years ago, at some corporate event. That band One Republic was playing, and we ended up standing in a ballroom watching them perform all these radio hits instead of, like, having a lot more fun in the bathroom. But I wasn’t offended to read it. Actually, I kind of liked it: We never talked about that after the fact—we both just moved on. But it was nice to know it had stuck in your head, and that you regretted it.
Jason: I know, I really do regret that! But also, there were so many people in that bathroom. And a security guard. I’d like to think that if we went back in time, I’d have somehow figured out how to seize the moment. But I still think we would have gotten busted. This is a recurring problem I have: I’m bold in many ways—like, I’ve taken lots of career risks—but I’ve wimped out so many times too. I think I’m too much of a rule-follower. I immediately skip to imagining the moment when the guard escorts us out of the hotel while everyone’s watching.
Jen: So did you see anything that I wrote, which you feared was about you?
Jason: It’s funny, the stuff that jumped out at me wasn’t really potentially about me. I kept focusing on the stuff you wrote about other people. When you’d write a scene and describe the other characters—the traits that made a guy attractive, or the ways you focused on how people moved or acted—it felt almost like seeing the world through your eyes. It was like being in your brain. I’d think, like, Oh, is that what she’s attracted to? Is that what she notices? It was actually kind of freaky.
Jen: Bad freaky?
Jason: No. Weirdly, it was healthy freaky. It was almost like a reminder: Your wife sees the world differently than you do. I liked that. After enough years of marriage, you can start to forget that. Or you stop considering the nuances of how they think; you just assume you know them well enough to understand them. But then you see how they describe an attractive man, and the way they describe their hair and facial features, and you see something else entirely!
Jen: But you know I complimented you in the book too, right?
Jason: Oh, how nice! Where was that?
Jen: The book title.
Jason: Womp womp.