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Oops I Forgot I Was Married
See that girl/ With the diamond ring?
She knows how to/ Shake that thing!
Aww, mess around
I declare she can mess around
Ray Charles, "Mess Around"

Sometimes when a writer is looking to stir things up, or prevent the inevitable progression of a relationship, or stop a wedding, we'll find out that oops, once upon a time our hero/ine had an Accidental Marriage, Arranged Marriage or Citizenship Marriage, possibly brought on by an Off The Wagon night. Which they then proceeded to forget about for years on end until their long-lost spouse comes looking for them wanting a divorce, or they want to marry their current SO. Occasionally they'll think the marriage was annulled or never really counted, or they'll foolishly trust their spouse to take care of doing away with the ill-advised nuptials. It can be a bit more forgivable if the returning spouse supposedly died.

Depending on the situation, this can result in a New Old Flame starting a Love Triangle, a very much unwanted Stalker with a Crush, or a second chance at a missed opportunity.

For added drama to all parties involved, the writer can also make the unmentioned wife a Madwoman in the Attic.

This is somewhat uncommon in Real Life, but not unheard of - some people really can't be bothered with the paperwork necessary to get a proper annulment/divorce for a relationship that's long since over. However, the New Old Flame complication generally only happens in Real Life in cases of intentional bigamy.

Can happen with The Mistress.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • There is T-Mobile commercial that commits this trope. Catherine Zeta-Jones is sitting in a living room discussing plans with a T-Mobile customer. Said customer is male and stares at Jones in an uncomfortably awkward fashion while his wife is SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO HER. He then makes the remark, "This is my wife. We're married...technically." What kept the wife from leaping across the room and strangling the bastard is beyond any laws of reason.

    Comics 
  • Happened in the 80s to Supergirl, in a story just after she died in Crisis on Infinite Earths. An alien named Salkor showed up on Earth claiming to be her husband, which of course Superman didn't believe. Later in the story he finds a video Supergirl made in his fortress where she relates being injured by a collision in space with a kryptonite meteor. Salkor, the hero of his world, finds her and nurses her back to health. Since she has amnesia, she hangs around and falls in love with him. But eventually her old memories return, in the process pushing aside her memories of the incidental marriage. She flies back to Earth and resumes her life. Her memories returned just in time for her to make the video before her death. A lot of fans forget this story because it was a time of way out stories as writers were cut loose to write any story they wanted before the reboot. Plus the marriage was a little bit gross by human standards.

    Film 
  • The Accidental Husband Starring Uma Thurman. In this case, the title is sort of misleading: Thurman plays a relationship talk show host who advises one of her listeners to break up with her boyfriend. When said boyfriend learns the host is about to get married, he gets his revenge by having a kid hack into a government database and list her as married to him. "Hilarity" Ensues.
  • Bill and Jo in Twister. Bill and Jo had long split up, but never signed the divorce papers until Bill shows up with his new fiancee. It makes one wonder exactly how and when Bill broke the news to her. First date? Second date? The marriage proposal? "Honey will you marry me?" "Yes!" "Great! Would you mind coming along on a road trip to visit my current wife so she and I can get divorced?" "What?!"
  • Sweet Home Alabama has the main plot ride on one of these, as the main character not only never got divorced, but even leads her new fiance to believe her first husband was her cousin. And it takes place in the deep south...
  • Move Over Darling (Doris Day, James Garner, and Polly Bergen)is a 1963 remake of a 1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife (Irene Dunne, Cary Grant and Randolph Scott). The plot is: a wife was lost off a ship that sunk. Presumed dead after 7 years, the husband remarries. However, the first wife has been living on a deserted island with another man, is rescued, and comes home on the wedding day.

    Literature 
  • Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, though he never forgot, he just kept the fact concealed.
  • In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Sissy never bothers to properly divorce her first two husbands.
  • Barbara in Harry Turtledove's World War series. Her husband Jens went missing during a scouting mission and was assumed KIA. By the time he caught up with her, she was already remarried and pregnant, driving him to a Face-Heel Turn.
  • The first husband of Hatty Doran in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" was reported killed in an Apache raid on his mining camp. She only learns that he didn't die when she sees him at her second wedding.
  • In Animorphs, Marco's dad remarries a few years after his first wife "died." Unknown to him, his wife was still alive—she was the host of Visser One, who Faked The Dead when it was time to leave the planet. Needless to say this situation was quite awkward for Marco, who knew his mom was alive but couldn't tell anyone.
  • In The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe, Victorine La Fourcade, a wealthy French girl, was involved with a poor journalist named Julien Bossuet, whom her family did not approve of because of his socioeconomic status. She caved under family pressure and married a wealthy banker, who abused her until she fell ill and (apparently) died. It turns out she was not actually dead, just unconscious, and had been Buried Alive! Julien came to her grave not long after her "death" to take a lock of her hair, and found out the truth. He took her home, nursed her back to health, and eloped to America with her. The couple returned to France some 20 years later, and the banker recognized Victorine, and tried to legally claim her back. Because of his bad treatment of her and her current marriage to Julien, Victorine refused, and the court ruled in her favor, saying that because of the unusual circumstances and the time that had passed, her marriage to the banker guy was herewith dissolved.

    Live Action TV 
  • Friends:
    • Phoebe is very fond of this trope. She married a Not-So-Gay Ice Dancer and conveniently forgot to mention it to even her best friends and it is implied that she also married an unknown (to the viewers) man in Las Vegas.
    • Rachel trusts Ross to annul their drunken Vegas marriage - and he doesn't go through with it.
  • Bones had a multi-episode subplot where Hodgins and Angela were getting married, but it turned out that Angela was already married, so they had to track down her husband so she could get a divorce. This was a problem because she didn't even remember who he was, or that she was even technically married, since all she could remember was getting massively drunk and jumping over a broomstick with a guy.
  • Sam on Burn Notice drifted apart from his wife and eventually lost contact with her altogether. He never bothered to file for divorce because he thought, as a womanizing spy, that he wouldn't live long enough to settle down. Several decades later, his girlfriend proposes...
  • Castle:
    • The plot of the up coming season 6 finale.
  • Psych:
  • Mr. McQueen on Popular
  • G.O.B. on Arrested Development, explained as the logical conclusion to a series of drunken dares with a woman (played by Will Arnett's actual wife Amy Poehler) he met at a bar. The sad thing: he could have gotten it annulled if he'd just admit that he never actually had sex with the woman.
  • Mimi on The Drew Carey Show. She was married to Eddie Money for a week. She'd been divorced; the problem was that the church she wanted to be married in refused to do the ceremony unless she got an annulment.
  • On Angel, Doyle was married to some woman, which he neglected to tell Cordelia. Said woman came looking for a divorce as she found a new husband, though she called off her new engagement, probably because her demon fiancÚ's family would only approve of their marriage if he performed an obscure ritual that involved eating Doyle's brain.
  • Edward and the mistake he and Kitty swore never to talk about in Dharma and Greg. He trusted her to file the paperwork, and she... forgot. The problem is never resolved, because it turns Kitty on that she's "the other woman", effectively un-probleming it.
  • Karen Darling from Dirty Sexy Money.
  • Frasier Crane was married prior to him appearing on Cheers, to fellow medical student Nanette Guzman. They were only married for a few months and then divorced. Years later, when Frasier was married to Lilith, Nanette reappeared as a children's entertainer called "Nanny Gee". Turns out Frasier never told Lilith about his first marriage, leading to a conflict between The Missus and the Ex.
    Lilith: "Oh look, it's my first husband."
    • Nanette later appeared in an episode of Frasier, and she tried to seduce Frasier despite having remarried herself. (Incidentally, Nanette was also an example of The Other Darrin, being played by Emma Thompson in the Cheers episode and by Laurie Metcalf in the Frasier one.
  • Sarah 'Mac' Mackenzie on JAG especially horrible in that she is a lawyer and US Marine officer.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun has a fascinating twist on this. As just when Dick Solomon is about to get married The Big Giant Head decides to send a wife to him. Thus he didn't 'forget' he was married, but was suddenly forced to ret-con a wife into his life, and yes, hilarity ensues.
  • On Wings, Helen was about to marry Joe but she forgot to divorce Antonio who she married for citizenship reasons.
  • On Scrubs Dr. Cox and Jordan find out that they never correctly filed their divorce and so are legally still married. Being the weird couple they are, this actually ruins their sex life and puts serious strain on their relationship. At the end of the episode, Cox gets down on one knee and asks Jordan to divorce him again. They go back to being a happy, independent, royally screwed up couple after they file the paper work.
  • Though not married, Craig did pull this in Degrassi when he was having an affair. Manny didn't want to be Craig's skank on the side, and he told her that he broke up with Ashley so that they can be together. The problem is he doesn't break up with her, and now is cheating on both girls with eachother. Leading to both finding out and dumping him on the spot.
  • On Shameless (US) Kevin proposes to Veronica while drunk. It takes a while for him to confess to her that he never divorced his first wife. According to him she was a total psycho and he is actually in hiding from her. If he asks her for a divorce now, he fears she will kill him. Veronica is actually fine with this and they have a fake wedding just so they don't disappoint Veronica's mother and more importantly get wedding gifts.
  • Inverted on The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob and Laura discovered they're not actually married because Laura had lied about her age in order to marry (she was 17 apparently). They fix it by quickly getting married ... again.
  • On My Name Is Earl, Joy tricks Earl into marrying her, by getting her friends to serve him "upside-down martinis", before driving off to Las Vegas with him. The next morning, Earl wakes up badly hungover, and spots Joy's wedding ring.
    Earl: "Oh, my God! You're married?!"
    Joy: "Yeah, sweetie. To you!"
    Earl: Beat "'Scuse me." Vomit Discretion Shot
  • Subverted in the Mash episode, "Cease Fire". The war is believed to be almost over. A nurse Hawkeye was dating asks him about what their relationship will be post-war, and he claimed to be "suffering from terminal marriage", even though he wasn't really married. And he does it several times. Hawkeye Really Gets Around, and after the events of that episode it's odd that anyone on the nursing staff would even talk to him again.
  • In Mad Love, due to a clerical error Kate turns out to be still married to her high school boyfriend she married on a dare.
  • Rachel in British series Cold Feet. The series kicked off with her break-up with a super serious boyfriend of several years, but she immediately meets her new big love Adam. When Adam and Rachel are later moving together, he finds her marriage licence and thinks it's a just-for-fun fake thing. However, it's very real and she never got divorced, and she has no intention. She wants to live with Adam, but doesn't want to be a divorced woman. Her friends call her on it, but when she goes to meet her estranged husband to deal with it, they sleep together and she gets pregnant. Rachel and Adam eventually patch things up and get back together, but they broke up over Rachel's cheating, even though Adam wanted to forgive her.
  • Subverted in How I Met Your Mother. When Ted dates Robin, he finds out she has a secret. He desperately wants to find out what it is, and his friends bet on her being married because she hates marriage and commitment, and always talk about this friend who married way too young. Robin confirms it and Ted fusses over not being a boyfriend, but a "mistress". However, they later find out she lied. Her embarrassing secret is that she used to be a teen pop star in Canada.
  • On an episode of The Big Bang Theory, we learn that Penny and Zack had engaged in matrimonial hijinks one drunken night in Vegas. She thought it didn't count, or wasn't real, but...

    Music 
  • Ray Charles' "Mess Around", per the page quote.
  • Arctic Monkeys "Do the Bad Thing":
    Do the bad thing
    Take off that wedding ring
    It won't make it
    That much easier
    It might make it worse."

    Mythology 
  • Medea in Jason and the Argonauts and their Quest for the Golden Fleece. At first, Medea helps him complete the insanely difficult tasks her father sets him provided he marries her. After embarking on adventure and obtaining said Golden Fleece, they eventually arrive in Corinth, where Jason engages himself to the daughter of the king. Medea was not happy. Makes this trope. Older Than Feudalism.
  • In Hawaiian Mythology, there is Aiwohikupua. He was originally from Tahiti, and he vowed that he would never marry a woman from Hawaii. He had a relationship with a Puna chiefess named Laieikawai, and they eventually got engaged. Then he sailed off to Hawaii, and he met a beautiful Tsundere named Hinaikamalama. She is actually a form of the fire goddess Pele. He bet himself in a game of chance against Hinaikamalama, and got engaged to her. They had an argument, and he sailed away to cool off and escape her temper. Then he met and became smitten with the ice goddess Poli'ahu, who kind of gave him a What the Hell, Hero?. But she also had feelings for him, so she offered to release him from his vows, on the condition that he become her husband. They traded their capes to seal their arrangement. Aiwohikupua started the rites to break off his engagement to Laieikawai, and to prepare for the wedding to Poli'ahu. Then he ran off with Hina, and Poli'ahu attacked her and him with chills and fever, then returned home to Mauna Kea. Hinaikamalama left Aiwohikupua, and he was ostracized for his cheating ways.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In the old-school WWF: during her on screen marriage to Triple H, Stephanie McMahon was drunk enough not to remember about it anything until the groom made the announcement at her wedding to Test. This was rendered pointless at the Armageddon PPV in December 1999, when Stephanie turned heel on her own father, during his match with Triple H. Incidentally McMahon and Triple H later got married in real life (the bride was sober then).

    Webcomics 
  • Trace in TwoKinds, having amnesia, fully forgets that he was married. His wife, Saria, does not.
  • "Sparky" from Juvenile Diversion not only forgot his wedding along with his name, but mistook his dead squadmate for himself and wrote to his wife that he witnessed himself die. Needless to say, his wife was not pleased.
  • Used as a Brick Joke in Scandinavia and the World. Denmark pronounced Sweden and Norway being civil union partners in the comic's first strip, and mentioned in the comic's third year anniversary with Norway upset Sweden forgetting it.

    Web Original 
  • Donnie DuPre of Demo Reel certainly hasn't forgotten he's married, but the emotional neglect and mistreatment on both his and his wife's part, his much deeper relationship with his team, and his heavily implied affairs with Uncle Yo and Egoraptor lead him into this territory.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons had an episode where Homer and Flanders' "Vegas wives" - two cocktail waitresses they had accidentally married several seasons earlier during a drunken bender at Caesar's Palace - reappeared long after they (and the viewers) had forgotten about them. The local judge ruled that polygamy, or "Mormon Hold-Em" was legal in Nevada and therefore Homer and Ned had to support both wives.
    • Well, Homer did. Ned's "real" wife had died by this point, so he just had to try to be a good husband to his new one. (Un)fortunately, she quickly grew tired of his squeaky-clean lifestyle and ran for the hills.
    • Also of note: Homer got rid of his Vegas wife by tricking her into marrying Grandpa, which apparently works like an automatic annulment in whatever state Springfield is in.
  • Done hilariously on Camp Lazlo. One season ended with Jane, the love of Lumpus' life, getting engaged to the next guy who walked up: some old man. A season later, they almost got married—-but in the middle of the wedding, his other three wives complained. His excuse? Senility.

     Real Life 
  • This may come up with one's religious practices. For example, a Catholic may get legally divorced, but may discover years later that they need to qualify for an annulment to remarry in the Church. Traditional Jews have similar practices; there is even a specific term, agunah, for a woman whose husband has not yet divorced her, however long they have been apart.
    • In Ancient times, Jews with jobs that required long and dangerous travel(such as soldiers, sailors, and caravaners)had a custom of leaving a certificate of divorce behind to be opened after a certain date, to spare their wives this inconvenience.
  • May be a borderline case, but in his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Sigmund Freud related an anecdote of a recently-married woman who was walking around Vienna with a friend of hers, and pointed to a man across the street, saying, "Look, there's Mr. X!" Mr. X, of course, was her new husband. The husband and wife had a good laugh over that story later, but Freud felt a chill when he first heard it. As he predicted, their marriage ended badly.
  • In Hamilton, Ontario, there is a section of a street called "Hess Village" - the entire run is cobbled and covered in pubs and bars. And a wedding chapel. They actually have a sign in the window saying they don't do drunk weddings.
  • In Married by America was a discovery that one of the contestants was already married; she tried to justify going on the show by saying it was an impulsive Vegas marriage and she and the man broke up soon afterwards and never actually lived together, but the fact that neither ever bothered to annul it got her kicked off anyway.
  • While people don't tend to forget they are married without amnesia or something of the kind, it is quite common to make some mistake in filing the divorce papers, and then not finding out the divorce was invalid until one party tries to remarry.
  • During his Presidential campaign of 1828, Andrew Jackson's wife was accused of bigamy. She had separated from her first (and abusive) husband in 1790, and both she and Jackson thought she was divorced. She wasn't. They got matters straightened out in 1794, but if you think that minor detail wouldn't make any difference you don't know American politics.
    • The scandal probably contributed to Rachel Jackson's early death, as bigamy (on a woman's part, at least) was considered no better than whoredom.
  • Janeane Garofalo recently revealed that for the past twenty years she was married to producer Rob Cohen and forgot about it: more to the point, they didn't know their drive thru Vegas wedding counted in the eyes of the law. They recently divorced so Cohen could marry his new paramour, though the IRS might give them both a headache.


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