Remember last month when I wrote about what I called “unusual romantic understandings”?” As I said then:

People … are willing and able to make the most astonishing compromises and bargains (physical, emotional, financial) in order to get the love, affection, validation (and, yes, sex!) that they need.

I was reminded of this by a stellar example from the pages of the New Yorker, in a review of a book about John Stuart Mill:

Mill said that he had always been a feminist, but there isn’t any doubt that the engine of his feminism was his friend, love, collaborator, and eventual wife, Harriet Taylor. They met at her home, in Finsbury, in the summer of 1830, over dinner among liberal friends. Harriet, a year younger than Mill, was married, to a slow-witted, well-meaning pharmacist named John Taylor; they had two children. She was smart and pretty—“a small head, a swan-like throat, and a complexion like a pearl,” the daughter of someone present at the momentous dinner wrote later—and already oppressed by her very unequal marriage. If you see her pictures, and make allowances for the cosmetic conventions of the portraiture of the time, she still looks pretty wonderful: big Natalie Portman eyes and that fine long neck. She and Mill fell for each other quickly….

For the rest of the decade, theirs was a complicated lobster quadrille of love. If the lovers were just a touch less fierce-looking, Mill and Taylor would make as good a Victorian love story as Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. They were seen everywhere together. Carlyle’s wife, Jane, gossiped that “Mrs. Taylor, tho’ encumbered with a husband and children, has ogled John Mill so successfully that he was desperately in love.” After years of intrigue, the Taylors finally decided on a separation. To test Mill’s love, Harriet went to Paris, and invited him to spend six weeks with her there. The interlude was splendid—but then Harriet, with a rather sweet imperiousness, allowed her husband to come to Paris for his own audition. Harriet ultimately decided—with mingled propriety, uncertainty, and something like flirtatiousness—that they could share her, on an alternating schedule, at the Taylor house, her husband entertaining guests with her on some days, and Mill on others. Taylor paid the bills, while Mill stocked the wine cellar.