Friday, December 21, 2012

Cheating: A Sticky Issue in Romance Fiction – Part Two – By BG Thomas

In Part One of this essay, I started talking about the issue of cheating in Romance Fiction, but centered my writing on statistics and “real life” instead of fiction. Now I want to hit cheating in fiction and romance fiction. And why so many readers are unforgiving of just a hint of infidelity in their romantic heroes…

Part Two

Cheating of any kind in Romantic Fiction seems to be the death knell for a story and even its author. I get the idea people don’t want to hear about it, or read about it, despite the fact that it is a very grim reality.

For me writing and reading about cheating is healing for me, considering I was cheated on so many times in my first gay long-term relationship. I want to read about redemption, but more I want to read about the fact that just because the relationship one thinks it the one that will last forever fails, that doesn’t mean one doesn’t have a second chance at love.

What is wrong with a story about a character slipping—re: cheating—and how the couple find redemption and forgiveness and new love? Wouldn’t that be a great story. It would talk about how the cheater was more than weak, he was going through all kinds of shit that made him vulnerable to making a mistake. Does this mean the hero is beyond redemption? No! As a matter of fact, the couple working on their relationship would make it stronger.

Why is it that so many readers can not forgive a character who has cheated? They’ll see a hint of it in a blurb and not even consider reading the book.

But wait! It gets worse!

All kinds of stuff gets lables or lumped into cheating!

For instance: in my novella "All Snug" two men meet in an antique store. Elliot is wealthy and rather jaded. He longed for love for years, but has given up on it and settled on a hot time with a friend with benefits. Sean can barely afford his rent and utilities, but has found what he thinks of as the love of his life. Both the heroes have come to the store to buy the same thing: an expensive antique bed.

The two men decide to do a series of tests, based on the Trials of Hercules. The one that wins the most challenges gets to buy the bed.

But as the story goes along, the men find themselves attracted to each other. Elliot man begins to suspect that maybe real love is there after all. Shawn becomes incredibly confused and begins to suspect that the only reason he is in the relationship he is in is that he is in love with being in love, and not in love with his boyfriend at all. That they have nothing in common.

To my shock, some readers considered my two characters to be cheaters!

One reader said, “I was really, really enjoying this story until halfway through Elliot goes home and I had to read about how he had rough sex with his boyfriend Steve. Twice.”

She was upset that Elliot had sex with his boyfriend!

She went on to say that it ruined the story for her. She said that she couldn’t believe that Elliot would have sex with Steve when had developed some semblance of feelings for Shawn. She was upset that Elliot was getting aroused by Shawn even though he had a boyfriend. Hello! I said that Steve wasn’t really a boyfriend. That Elliot was settling on sex because he’d given up on love. She said that when the two main characters finally make love, “the only thought in my head was that how romantic it was that the last person Elliot’s dick had been in [anther man].

Did she miss the whole point of the story? Oh, she did, Entirely. She stated that since the story was a romance, nothing like this should have happened. I guess Elliot and Shawn had to be virgins and not dating anyone. Of course there wouldn’t have been a story that way…

Other writers have reported the same thing. Like maybe their hero is dating this other guy, but he has a long term friends-with-benefits that is a very fulfilling relationship and he isn’t sure if he wants to give it up to have a monogamous relationship. They call him a cheater even though there is no cheating going on. Especially if the potential boyfriend knows about the FWB.

When I single and I am dating, I don’t become monogamous on the first date! That is how the hell I got with my ex. One date and I felt that to be a good boy, I had to be faithful to him! No no no!  When you are simply out there meeting and going on dates, it in no way implies monogamy. That only happens when the two people begin to realize that there is something special going on and perhaps giving up others is a small price to pay in order to strengthen what is happening between them.

So I began to suspect some things about the woman who only gave my story “All Snug” one star. First I began to think it was very likely that she had been cheated on. It would make her overly sensitive to the issue. I know that when my ex would want to have sex with me, I often couldn’t help but wonder where his dick had been and if I wanted anything to do with it. Did I want that thing in me?

I also began to wonder about the age of the reader. I began to wonder if she was very very young. Like in her teens. Still believing that a person meets the love of their life when they are somewhere between the ages of 12 and 18, they are both virgins, the get married and not only never cheat, but are never even tempted to cheat.

As romantic as that may or may not be, it ain’t real.

So…  What should a romance story be? Should it be totally fairy tale with little semblance to real life? Totally sweetness and light? Fairly unbelievable?

Or should it show that romance can be found when you never ever expect to? That when you’ve given up, you can still find romance. That when you have cheated or your lover has cheated, you can find a way to make it work? That when the relationship you thought would last forever ends, that you can find a second (or third?) chance at love?

I’ve talked to a lot of writers who are conflicted over this issue. They do have been downright attacked because they wrote a story where one of the lovers cheats. Or “worse,” one isn’t a monogamous kind of guy. It doesn’t matter that the character might change his mind and decide to be monogamous by story’s end. He is considered irremabel simply because he wasn’t interested in monogamy in the first place.

I talk to fellow writers and we often wonder: Do we write about romance that could really happen in real life? Or only the fairy tale kind that rarely happens? It gets a bit saccharin to write I can tell you. Especially when you’ve experience hurt and pain and infidelity and you find it hard to write about something you no longer believe in. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in love! Hell no! I am totally in love with my husband, even thought we aren’t living a fairy tale either. It doesn’t mean we haven’t been each other’s Knight in Shining Armor more than once! Because of real life, I find that I can write about love finding a way to prevail despite all of the pain life can sometimes offer.

So what do we writers write about? What do you want to read?

Is it only the saccharin-sweet fairy tale that rarely happens in real life? Or the kind of love that finds a way, no matter what?

I want to know! I hope to hear back from you on this! It will certainly guide what I write about in the future!

BG Thomas


  1. Yikes, no, no, no! Not the dreaded fairy tale that is completely unbelievable ;-)! As an older reader who has been around the relationship block a time or three, I would much rather read a romance/book that is realistic. Yes, a happily ever after is nice but the road to that HEA is often paved with bumps and detours. Relationships take work. Period. For some romance readers, this comes as a shock and they have unrealistic expectations for their own relationships. I would much rather read a romance about the protagonists overcoming obstacles than one with main characters so perfect I spend more time rolling my eyes than reading!

  2. What an interesting post, BG. I don't have an answer to your question but if I were going to guess based on my own writing experiences, I'd say one book or scene that is one reader's most-hated will be the same book or scene that is another reader's most loved.

    We all bring our history to the table as readers and that influences how we view characters and read scenes. It's sort of wonderful, I think, that we can write a book and it's ours until we send it out into the world. Then the book belongs to every single person who reads and it turns into hundreds or thousands of different books. Some of those books are one star, some are five because even though they're all that same book we wrote, they're also all those different versions that were read by all those different people.


  3. I'm one of those who prefers not to read a book that involves cheating, unless it's where one of the characters gets out of a relationship that involves it and moves to a stronger one.

    That said, I wouldn't do a review and base it on that event. If it did involve cheating I might not finish the story, but I'm certainly not going to review it and give it a low rating because it touched on something that made me uncomfortable.

    Cardeno C is correct. I read a book that contained a scene with cheating and, to me, it made the story a lot less likeable. Another friend who read the story, who is also opposed to cheating, said it was her favorite in the series. Based on that I'm going to re-read it and try to keep an open mind. Plus I really love the author's work and believe I might have misjudged the story based on one event.

    Everyone has their trigger points. I don't like stories that involve cheating or multiple partners. Others love stories like that. We cannot please everyone, obviously. One person will love it, one person will hate it. In the end we can only hope more people like and appreciate our work than don't.

  4. Ugh, I lost my entire comment on this!! Grr. Let's see---as a reader I'm ok with cheating if it is an external factor that I don't have to witness. For me I read romance (aside from the fact that I like it :)) to escape from the vagaries of real life.
    Of course cheating does occur -- quite a bit as you point out -- but the romance genre doesn't have a lot of room for it. And you are right, there are reasons for why people cheat. I, personally, have never been tempted to cheat on a partner. If I felt that way it was a hint to me personally that the relationship was in trouble. I think that is why many people are uncomfortable with cheating in romance--we are looking for some kind of HEA and cheating is a bitter taste, maybe the writer is raising questions that make the reader feel uncomfortable?
    This doesn't mean readers won't read stories that have a more tangible dose of reality, after all we (readers) like it when the lovers have to work a little at obtaining their ending.
    As an aside I will share that a pretty dang famous romance/suspense author who I have never even met in person helped me, through her writing, figure out that I was in a bad place and something needed to change. It was slow but now it's done and I cannot thank her enough for writing about difficult topics like alcoholism and addiction -- come to think of it she also has a very main character who cheats but is redeemed.
    So, much more rambly than I intended but I say--keep up the good work and write what you feel.