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Results May Vary Reader’s Guide

By Bethany Chase

Results May Vary by Bethany Chase


An Essay by Bethany Chase
One of the things I found myself grappling with as I wrote Results May Vary, and which Caroline struggles with throughout the book, is the delicate nature of trust. In our best and closest relationships, trust is the default setting. If we have good parents, we learn to trust them from the moment we’re born—­again and again, they protect us and care for us, and we reward that care with love. Friendships and romantic relationships develop gradually into a structure of closeness, with moments of shared experience and mutual support climbing upward and bracing each other like bricks laid in mortar, creating a shelter that becomes ever more solid and reliable with time.

But if someone betrays our trust, what then? The shelter cracks, or maybe it crumbles all the way down. And then, suddenly, there is a choice to make.

What fascinated me as I wrote this story was Caroline’s realization that there has been a break in her relationship, between a past when she trusted her husband without thinking about it and a future in which it will have to be a deliberate and ongoing choice.

Prior to the opening of the story, Caroline never chose to trust Adam, because she always had that default setting: She understood, without conscious consideration, that he loved her, supported her, wanted the best for her, would never knowingly hurt her. But after she finds out about his affair, that unthinking sense of security is gone. He has hurt her, terribly, and so the trust she has given him is destroyed. And so, she must determine first whether she wants to rebuild it, and then, if she does, how to rebuild it.

When someone you love dearly has shown you that they will hurt and mistreat you, how do you rebuild? What steps do you take to replenish what’s been lost? Can you trust this person without having to be aware of it, and is it worth it to have to work to trust someone? Doesn’t that destroy the very joy of it? Because trust at its most beautiful and rewarding does not have to be consciously built.

I think the partner of trust is vulnerability. One of the primary ways we demonstrate trust toward the people in our lives is to give them access to our raw, tender parts: the insecurities, the painful memories, the innermost emotions, the feelings we yearn to have reciprocated. As trust deepens, we allow our defenses that protect these parts of ourselves to drop away. So surely one of the steps to regaining trust in someone is to slowly—­ slowly—­lower those barriers.

In the kayaking scene, Adam very intentionally places Caroline in a position that maximizes her vulnerability, which she recognizes, and she spends most of the day fighting to keep her armor on. She’s short with him, and guarded, and won’t show him any signs of softness until, at their picnic, he asks her to. And in that moment she asks herself what is more important: to satisfy her savagely wounded pride, or to heal her relationship? So she reaches deep inside herself for the courage and generosity to let a little of her indignation go and start treating her husband like the man she loves again.

Of course, she finds out not much later that there are even more reasons to mistrust Adam than the one she knew at first, the main example of which was born in his own (unfounded) lack of trust in her. And this, finally, is what makes her decide that the relationship is too badly shattered to repair.

And that is a question that anyone in her position has to answer: At what point do you decide the other person has transgressed too much to deserve your good faith? There is a point of no return, and we all have to keep an eye on that in every single one of our relationships, whether with our partners or with our friends or even with our parents. Sometimes, for our own emotional safety, we have to stop being vulnerable and walk away. How do you know what that threshold is? And, when you have been badly hurt in a relationship, how—­as Caroline wonders—­do you muster the willingness to open up all your raw and tender corners to somebody else?

And the answer is, always, there’s no reward without risk. There is no guarantee of safety, but for most of us, the immense rewards of connection make it worthwhile to accept that danger. As frightened as we might be, we just have to keep on trying. We have to take a breath, square our shoulders, and take that turn that leads us deeper into the maze.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. If you were facing the choice that Caroline does throughout much of the book—­to forgive your partner for an enormous betrayal and rebuild the relationship, or to walk away—­what would you do? Why?

2. If Caroline had reconciled with Adam early on, instead of continuing a separation that let him rekindle his relationship with Patrick, what do you think would have happened in their marriage? Do you think Adam would have kept seeing Patrick if Caroline hadn’t left him?

3. One of the questions the book asks is, How well can we ever really know the ones we love? Aside from Adam’s affair and lies, which other characters hide bits of information from one another, and why? What particular secrets would you find hardest to forgive?

4. Jonathan takes a more laissez-­faire attitude than Caroline toward people in a relationship withholding small things from each other. How do you draw the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable? What do you do when there’s a difference of opinion between one person’s “I truly did not believe this mattered” and his or her partner’s “Of course it does”?

5. Adam deeply loves Caroline—­at least, he says he does—­but it does not seem to be exactly the same way in which she loves him. What are the differences between their feelings for each other?

6. What do you think is going to happen with Jonathan and Ruby? Do you think they will make their relationship work and end up together? Why?

7. What Neil says about his wife in the final scene—­that he’s realized that letting go of her is a step beyond simply accepting that she’s gone—­is also true of Caroline with Adam. How much do you think she has truly let go of her husband by the end of the story? Do you think Caroline and Neil are ready to start a relationship that doesn’t have two other people in it?

8. On their trip to the Grand Canyon, Ruby explains to Caroline that “people can only give you what they have.” Do you agree with her? How can you know if your partner is giving you everything he or she has? When do you know if it is not enough?

9. We come to learn that Adam struggles with his relationship with his father and a fear of disappointing him, which is one of the reasons he has kept so many secrets from Caroline as well. How can fear affect our ability to experience love? How does this speak to the interconnectedness of our relationships? Has there been a time in your life when you felt that the state of one of your close relationships impacted another? 

10. Besides her ability to accept and forgive Adam and his betrayal, another of Caroline’s personal successes is her ability to entice Diana Ramirez to donate to MASS MoCA and fund a residency for Farren Walker, an artist close to Caroline’s heart. How do you think this victory contributes to her healing process and new sense of self?

11. In describing one of her pieces, Farren explains, “The dots are the guidelines we think we see. But they’re only an illusion, not the thing that marks the path.” How does this statement resonate with Caroline’s own journey throughout the novel? When in your life have you had to rethink the “dots” you thought you knew? How did you navigate the maze in your life?

12. Caroline eventually decides that “maybe there [is] a limit to the power of knowledge, after all,” and that, even with everything she knows now, she wouldn’t change anything about her relationship with Adam. Do you agree? When is knowledge powerful? When can it do more harm than good? In matters of the heart, is there more value to your knowledge of your partner or to the experience you share?

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