A romance is all about finding the wonderful forever love, so the happy ending is just built in. But what about the getting to the point of even noticing that there’s another man with whom forever is a good idea?
That period before the commitment is known as “dating”, and those of us who have done it know that exclusivity isn’t always part of it. In fact, the “eyes meet, no one else exists” part happens more often in stories than in life. Isn’t the deciding just as important as the final decision? And in the meantime, if the story supports it, why shouldn’t the character still play the field?
A relationship evolves, and one of the stages involves concluding that forever is a good idea. Some people take a hell of a long time to make up their minds. Sometimes the other person can’t wait any longer for a decision.
This isn’t the same as cheating. There have been no promises made, no declarations of where the boundaries are. In fact, if one of the terms of the relationship is that they aren’t exclusive, that they are both free to see other people, then they are just drawing out the dating phase. Sometimes to ridiculous proportions.
We’ve seen real cheating: that looks different. The couple has made promises and put restrictions on what is acceptable and what is not. Maybe “anything we both do with a third (or fourth) party is okay, because we’re doing it together.” Or “Bye, honey, have fun at the club, I’m going to watch Netflix tonight.” There are a lot of ways to define the commitment. “No nothing with anyone else ever” is one way, and probably the one we like best, because it’s familiar and the ideal we’ve been taught to strive for. Real gay men don’t always draw the boundaries in the same places that traditional heterosexual couples do, and don’t we read them because they aren’t the same as het couples?
But for cheating to occur, there has to be a violation in the limits that the couple has agreed to. Any definition the reader has is not something that binds them.
And if the two men haven’t moved past the dating stage and feel free to see others? I’m not about to call that cheating: they haven’t decided for themselves what their relationship is going to be. That’s what the romance is for—I’m going to read it and see how two hot men choose.
Jon and Ricky, from The Rare Event, are still working this out. Here’s an excerpt:
Almost against his will, Jon’s arms slipped around his wandering lover. “I don’t know that. What I know is that any man around you is either someone you’ve fucked, someone you’re going to fuck, or someone too straight or too contemptible to fuck, though they might do in a pinch.”
“Those aren’t bad categories. Jon, yeah, I like variety. But I keep coming back to you. Out I go, back I come.” Ricky stroked his fingers through Jon’s wet hair. “I always come back to you.”
“What if I did that?” Jon pulled away, but Ricky wasn’t letting go easily. “What if I had sex with someone else now and then?”
“You’d be entitled, I guess.” Ricky looked sideways into Jon’s eyes, confused. “But you haven’t. You wouldn’t.”
“Why? Why wouldn’t I?” Anger gave Jon the strength to jerk back, and knowing the answer made him want to pull more clothing on, to cover himself.
“It’s just… that’s not who you are.” Ricky shook his head minutely.
“Damned right that’s not who I am.” That wasn’t how Jon would have explained it had Ricky asked. “But what I don’t get is why who I am isn’t enough for you.”
He wouldn’t press more; he couldn’t say another thing without demanding something that Ricky couldn’t or wouldn’t give him, and if he stayed another second without demanding it, he’d either punch Ricky or cry. Or both. He shoved out the bedroom door, past Ricky, whose mouth was hanging open, and fled barefoot for the beach.
Ricky came outside about twenty minutes later, carrying a fried egg sandwich wrapped in a napkin. “You’re bonking after your run. Here.” Jon put down the stick he’d been using to randomly draw and dig in the sand and accepted the peace offering. “It’s all worse when you’re hungry.”
Maybe the hollow pangs in his gut weren’t just misery. Jon ripped off a corner of toast, hating that Ricky had a point.
Ricky sat down in the sand, assuming the same cross-legged position Jon had, and picked up the twig. Jon ate silently, feeling his blood sugar coming back up point by point. He licked his fingers, knowing that he’d lost control of his tongue earlier because of how much his exercise had taken out of him; he’d met other men wearing that knowing expression and kept silent. The encounter with the stranger in the beach house wasn’t the first such, and hadn’t Ricky come as close to declaring his affection as he ever had? Jon had given up the jealous scenes after the first he’d pitched, a year ago, when he hadn’t touched Ricky for a week after and had only seen him in the office in passing.
“It is,” Jon finally admitted. “But it’s bad enough the rest of the time.”
“You really hate that we’re not exclusive, don’t you?” It wasn’t really a question. Ricky dug the twig deeply into the sand, finding the damp, dark layer under the surface.
“I try not to push, but yeah. I do.” Jon crumpled the napkin in his hand just for something to destroy. He looked out at the water in the bay, not at Ricky, or he’d need the napkin to wipe his eyes.
“I don’t know that I can ever be, Jon. Home base with you is as close as I’ve ever gotten.” Ricky smoothed the dry sand over, hiding the damp below. “I won’t make you a promise I can’t keep.”
“That’s something.” Jon sniffed in spite of himself. “I don’t want broken promises. Or lies.”
“I’ve never lied to you.”
“No, you’ve been more open than I can stand sometimes.” Ricky had never hidden his adventures, but he’d been more sparing with details after that week’s hiatus. Jon didn’t want to know more than “Did you use condoms?” There’d been a six-week gap and some blood tests before they’d been intimate again the one time Ricky had said no.
“Jon, what you want and what I want are… aren’t the same. Would you be happier if… if we didn’t see each other?” Ricky’s voice was low, almost lost in the mumble of the surf.
“Yes.” Ricky jerked around to stare at him. “No.” Jon wrapped his arms around himself, shivering in spite of the warmth of the day, and leaned into Ricky. “I don’t know.”
The hell of it, Jon thought, with his face buried in Ricky’s neck and their arms tight around each other, fallen backward onto the sand, was that he truly didn’t know.
Hedge fund trader Ricky Santeramo has it all: money, looks, and fellow trader Jonathan Hogenboom. The two couldn't be further apart: Jon is from old money, and Ricky clawed his way out of blue-collar New Jersey. Jon hedges his positions; Ricky goes for broke. Jon likes opera and the Yankees, Ricky prefers clubbing. Jon drinks wine with dinner, Ricky throws back a beer. Jon wants monogamy; Ricky likes variety.
Everything’s changing, in the stock market and their relationship. Airlines are bankrupt, the housing market is crumbling, and Jon's old friend Davis comes to town, ready for baseball and forever.
Faced with losing it all, Ricky must make the savviest trades of his life and pray for a rare event. His stocks and Jon's heart are on the line.
But for cheating to occur, there has to be a violation in the limits that the couple has agreed to.ReplyDelete
Absolutely. If no promises are broken then it's not cheating, period. Doesn't matter what you or I or anyone else wants or demands in their own relationship -- the rules of Joe and Bob's relationship are for Joe and Bob to agree on, and nobody else's opinion counts.
Ricky has a serious case of tunnel vision when the story opens, but he is NOT cheating on Jon, and Jon never accuses him of doing so. I appreciated the rational, adult view they both had here, even if there were things to be learned and worked out.
These two would not have worked at all as a "meadow run" all is well relationship. I like our genre's ability to see more shading in what constitutes couplehood.ReplyDelete
Thanks for dropping by.
I think everyone staying on the same page is an inherently hard task when these types of emotions are involved. I don't know that I could have ever done it.ReplyDelete
It would be hard, but some people do structure differently, and until there's been that structure put in place, whatever it is, they're still dating. (Not that I didn't gnash my teeth a time or two over a guy going out with me one night and someone else the next.)Delete
I know more gay couples in open relationships (with rules, nobody is cheating) than in "traditional" monogamous relationships. Then again, I know a lot of m/f couples in complicated relationships too. We're human, and that means we operate in shades of gray, rather than black and white.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the insightful thoughts (and for giving me one more book to read. A snippet and I'm suddenly in love with these two... sigh. Oh well. I won't tell my husband and he never reads the same blogs I do!)
A relationship is what the partners make it. People do operate in shades of gray. Romance readers don't always, I suspect.Delete
I'm glad you like Ricky and Jon: they were a wonderful challenge to write.
I do like to read stories that have more to them then just the "eyes meet and no one else existed, the end" - that's fun now and again, but I wouldn't want to live on a diet of those reads. People who are imperfect, who screw up, who hopefully learn and grow from their mistakes - that's the interesting stuff. :)ReplyDelete
I agree -- I live for the resounding *pop* of someone getting his head out of his butt. I hope I can keep you entertained.Delete
I completely agree Pam, and you know what makes me so angry (and I really shouldn't let it bother me)? I see so many people mark books they've barely started reading or haven't even read yet with "cheaters" shelves on GoodReads which discourages other people not to read certain books. Half of the time the situation is as you described it: not technically cheating no matter if feelings might get a little hurt. On the other hand, so what if a charater cheats? I know lots of people don't like to read stories that have such plots and that's their prerogative. Still, I usually enjoy it. It has been my experience in reading m/m that the majority of authors who write such a storyline are the craftier writers -- they're probably pushing their writing a bit more and taking more chances, so I find that they're usually well written. I like seeing how characters work through that situation and if they do come out on top and I feel like they'll really make it, well, then I feel as if they've really worked at their relationship, which makes their success all the sweeter.ReplyDelete
Thanks for an interesting post! I'm really excited to read The Rare Event :)
I don't like narrow definitions and I don't like anyone trying to limit the genre to what flies in traditional het stories: that was a big motivator to writing this book. It may be that Ricky is a bit of a rake who gets reforming, but I prefer to think of it as he decides what's truly valuable.Delete
Thanks for the kind words, and I hope you enjoy the story.
Agree with the no-rules-breaking aspect of non-exclusivity. That said, I would make condom use an absolute rule. You don't want to do something that could cause a permanent change to both your lives without discussing it with your partner/SO/spouse.ReplyDelete
Congrats on the new book! :)
Thanks for the kind words!Delete
Yes, these two use condoms; they'd be fools not to, given Ricky's dating ways.