Ellen Graham (formerly Ellen Dempsey) is a newly married photographer living in New York City. She thrives on the energy of the city and is deeply in love with her husband, Andy, who is a lawyer at a big New York firm. Her life is as close to perfect as anything she could possibly imagine…until fate blindsides her.
Walking on the street one day, Ellen runs into Leo, the quintessential “guy who got away.” Their relationship, filled with soaring highs and the deepest lows, was tumultuous and intense – nothing like Ellen’s safe relationship with Andy. After Leo dumped Ellen (at least, that’s the way she remembers the story), she was depressed for an unnaturally long time, unable to deal with her grief because she had no closure to the relationship. There was always that lingering question of why – why it didn’t work out, why did he fall out of love with me, why, why, why?
So when Ellen runs into Leo, she decides to take him up on his offer of friendship, even though she knows she is treading in dangerous waters. Their intense chemistry hasn’t dissipated at all, and she doesn’t feel like Andy would understand her draw to Leo – understandably, because she can’t understand it herself. Before she realizes it, Ellen is drawn into an impossible situation, questioning the fundamentals of her relationship with Andy – and whether or not she is living the life she is meant to.
Love the One You’re With by Emily Giffin is a wonderful story about a woman who isn’t quite sure of what she wants or of who she is. While Ellen is a strong, confident photographer who knows she is good at her job, when it comes to her personal life, she is a little more insecure. First, there is her situation with her husband’s family, Andy. While she adores them and they have accepted her warmly into the family, she still feels inadequate. Her background is nowhere near their old-money Southern country-club lifestyle, so it is understandable that when Leo shows up, Ellen feels conflicted. Did she marry Andy because she was settling, because she knew that Leo no longer loved her? Does she still love Leo? These questions are all serious issues that must be faced in a marriage, if there is to be any hope of longevity. Unfortunately, they are also some of the most uncomfortable issues out there, and it is easier not to face them. Giffin tackles these questions with grace and dignity. The reader never loses faith in Ellen or becomes disgusted with her choices. She takes her marriage very seriously, and her choices with regards to Leo are weighed heavily and carefully.
Characters are always Giffin’s strong points in her novels. The stories are always interesting, but it is the reader’s ability to sympathize and relate to her characters that give her stories their drive. While Ellen is easy for a reader to understand, the rest of the characters are a bit more difficult. This appears to be purposeful on Giffin’s part, as Ellen has trouble understanding them as well, further contributing to her sense of loneliness and not quite fitting into her husband’s world.
The questions at the core of Love the One You’re With are the most interesting aspect of the book. What is love? What does marriage mean? Too often, chick lit/women’s fiction paints an excessively rosy a picture of love and marriage – the soul mate, the one you’re meant to be with. All the stars align to see you together, and when you fall in love, nothing else matters. As much as we want to believe that this is the case, Giffin presents a much more believable picture of love and marriage. Put succinctly, it’s about the one you’ve chosen to love and loving the one you’re with.