Friday, July 12, 2019

Cheating in Novels and Real Life

One thing I've learned from social media posts is that readers hate cheating. They want the happy, and cheating is a big no-no.

There are also many different definitions of "cheating" too. Some readers are so adamant about the issue that if one of the main characters is intimate with someone other than the intended love interest, even before they actually get together, it's cheating. Others think it's perfectly fine for one or both parties to have sex with other people.

Cheating happens. It's brutal and it hurts and it's hard to recover from. However, sometimes cheating isn't the end, but merely a bump in the road on the way to a stronger couple.

I recently read a book about a long term couple, in which one made a horrible mistake, confessed, and destroyed the trust between them. I won't mention the book's title, because this situation is not described in the blurb and I don't want to give spoilers. However, the author vividly describes the situation from both points of view, and it broke my heart.

There are two sides to every story, and this one leaves you breathless and hopeful, showing the lengths it took for these two men to start talking again and trying to work through the issues in their marriage.

Cheating doesn't have to be the end, but sometimes there is no going back.

I know several people who have been there and chose to ride out the storm, hoping there'd be a light at the end of the journey, myself included. One of the people I talked to held on for two years while their partner had an affair, and ultimately the cheating partner left for their paramour.

There have been some cases, though, where the couple did reconcile--one couple I know getting back together after being divorced for  three years. They've been married over twenty-five years since then, so guess that's testament to the fact that cheating doesn't always mean the end.

Still, in romance, it's all about the happy, so tell me: How do you feel about cheating in books? End of the line, or obstacle to overcome?


  1. For me, it depends.

    I think some people are ridiculous in what they call "cheating" in a romance. If Tom and Bob aren't together, and Tom spends the weekend banging Dave, that's not cheating. If Tom and Bob have had a great weekend together, but didn't make any promises or even make another date, and Tom spends the following weekend with Dave, he's not cheating on Bob. If Tom and Bob are together but they have an agreement -- maybe Bob's job takes him out of town (or out of the country) for weeks at a time, and Tom can see and have sex with whoever he likes while Bob is gone, and that's okay with everyone. That's not cheating.

    I think a classic situation was in the American Queer as Folks TV show. Brian was characterized as a huge slut. When he and Justin got together, that didn't change, and Justin didn't expect it to. Later on, they broke up and Justin got together with Ethan. When he found that Ethan was cheating on him, he was hurt and angry and confronted him about it. Ethan said, "Brian cheated on you all the time!" and Justin said, "Brian never made me any promises!"

    That's the key, in my opinion. "Cheating" means cheating on the rules, breaking the rules. If you're not breaking the rules -- actual rules established by the people in the relationship, not some fuzzy, presumed-universal "rules" that a lot of people just assume apply all the time in their opinion -- then you're not cheating. Whatever Brian and Justin agree works for them, that's their rules. Whatever Tom and Bob decide they'll abide by are their rules. If you don't break the rules, your rules, yours and your lover's, then you're not cheating.

    That said, if someone does break the rules, deliberately and in their right mind, and in full knowledge that their partner will be hurt if/when they find out, then that person is officially a dirtbag. Although a good writer can produce an excellent story about a dirtbag who realizes what a precious thing he's thrown away, and working (and grovelling) to get it back.

    I remember a controversial book from the oughts by a popular writer, where the two guys have a huge fight about halfway through, and one of them stomps out, drives to a bar, picks up some rando and has sex. People either loved it or hated it; I loved it. After a fight, and with alcohol added, I don't know that "deliberately and in their right mind" quite applied there. It certainly wasn't done selfishly; it was done in anger, which is something that happens when you've had a knock-down drag-out fight with your lover. It's not good, but it's not someone coldly going out to fuck a stranger just because he wants to, either. That was a great book, and sufficient grovelling and rebuilding was done to make it an excellent story IMO.

    [Cont. on Next Rock]

  2. [...Cont. from Previous Rock]

    Re: alcohol, and other altering substances, that's another factor. I have some experience with drunks, and IMO you get one (1) free pass. Once you know that you turn into a violent asshole, a cheating dirtbag, or just a generally obnoxious jerk, under the influence of whatever you're into, then the next time you indulge, anything you do under the influence is IMO a deliberate act. Sorry, you knew you behave like that when you're drunk (or whatever) and you chose to get drunk (or whatever) anyway. You're 100% responsible for your actions at that point, and "But he was drunk!" is zero excuse in my book. If that makes me an uptight bitch, so be it.

    Anyway, you put all that together, and there are times when cheating is unforgiveable. But there are also times when it was a mistake, a misunderstanding, something done in the heat of anger, or not cheating at all. Any of these situations can make for a great story. It might not be to every reader's taste, but that's fine. Not everyone likes cowboy romances, either, or BDSM, or vampires, or ABO, or historicals, or, or, or.... [shrug] Writers write what they want to write, and readers read what they like reading. There are enough different opinions in both groups about what a "good" book looks like that most readers can find books they think are good to read, and most good writers can find readers who'll enjoy their books.


    1. Very well said. Cheating happens. It's a fact of life. How a couple deals with a "mistake" can make their relationship stronger, and help dispel the myth that all cheating must automatically end a relationship. In the book I mentioned, the two ended up reconciling, but they went to couple's therapy, acknowledging that recovery was a journey.