Let Cheaters Prosper?

broken-heart On Tuesday, Lynn wrote about some of her favourite romance plots. Among them was “Second Chances” where the hero and heroine get another look at love after something happens to part them. Lynn said that she didn’t care how the couple separated and that got me thinking. I like second chance romance plots as well, but I’ve got three conditions.

First condition, if either of them cheated, I don’t care to read about their Happily Ever After.

Second condition, see above.

Third condition, all of the above.

I do not care how many “real world” examples there are of marriages which thrive after an incidence of cheating. I do not care how perfectly the author writes. I do not care how emotionally satisfying the romance is. I do not care if I am paid ten million dollars to read…okay, that last is a lie.

Suffice it to say: I am unforgiving when it comes to cheating. I am a romance reader who views the stories as escapist fantasies. Therefore, I am at my happiest when I am reading about perfect loves. Not perfect people, but perfect loves. So, the man could be a highway robber, the woman could be a prostitute – if I believe in their love, I am content.

I acknowledge that love has many facets and sexual attraction is but one. I also acknowledge that a cheating spouse does not equal an unloving spouse. But to have to consider these things in my romance reading spoils the fantasy.

So, what is my fantasy exactly? In short form: That for the rest of their days, from the moment it is shared between the two of them that They Are In Love, he is sexually attracted to no one else but her and vice versa. My fantasy is not that neither of them ever acts on any third party sexual attraction that may come up in life; my fantasy is that there never will be (beyond the basic attraction to a good-looking face and body that is closer to an appreciation of beauty than a desire for sexy-times).

In incidences of sex-revenge (you’re too domineering, you don’t pay attention to me anymore, you don’t want to sleep with me what the hell else am I supposed to do etc), where sexual attraction to someone else is not the reason for cheating, this still spoils my fantasy. This is simply a no-go area for me. Cheaters are the scum of romantic earth.

That said, I’ve been thinking about whether I would ever read about letting a cheater prosper because Ann Christopher’s latest book is about a divorced couple and it’s the man who was the ho-bag (I can’t even stomach describing him as the ‘hero’). But I really, really like Ann Christopher’s books so I’m wavering.

What to do, what to do? Am I missing out on some seriously romantic books because I believe strongly in the Die Cheater, Die philosophy? Do you believe in a Cheater’s Redemption for your romance novels?

And as a short postscript, I can shamelessly read about a hero or heroine being a cheating spouse of another relationship if the prior relationship was off the page; the cheated partner was referred to only in negative, horrible terms; and the cheater cheated with his/her Perfect Love (current hero/heroine).

What about you?

- Abi Bishop

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47 Responses to “Let Cheaters Prosper?”

  1. Tee says:

    I too prefer not to read stories with a cheating spouse/s. I do have to admit, though, I have read some books in the past where this occurred and I still liked the story. No particular titles come to mind just now, but I know there have been some in the past. I guess it’s how the author handles it and the outcome she gives. An HEA could mean the character leaves their partner and finds someone else, or leaves them and they come to terms being content with themselves. Very rarely am I rooting for them to stay together.

    Summing up, I would probably not be drawn to such a book. But if I wasn’t aware of the setup prior to reading it, depending on how the author is pulling it together, I may not abandon it either.

  2. AAR Lynn says:

    I know a lot of readers who would agree with you on the adultery taboo in romances, but I’d have to disagree a bit. Then again, there really aren’t too many plot points out there that are absolute no-gos under any circumstance for me. As with many plots, the key for me on adultery is how it’s handled. I’ve read books where adultery or the possibility of adultery comes up and the relationship is handled so sensitively and well that I cannot imagine NOT having read this fantastic book. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Millers Kill series comes to mind for me.

    However, I’ve also read novels where the adulterer just does not get my sympathy at all and I also have trouble believing in the couple’s happiness at the end. I won’t put specific spoilers in here, but I will say that I read a book once that was well-written, but in which the hero cheated on the heroine, reconciled with her, said he loves her but also basically tells her that he can’t guarantee he’ll never cheat on her again. And this was supposed to be HEA! Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling it.

  3. Kris says:

    I can’t read Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed because of the cheating. I started with the sequel and I was so upset by the whole idea of a woman sleeping with her best friend’s fiance (no matter the original couple’s circumstances) that I refuse to read the first book or any of her other books.
    I just can’t buy it when authors try to redeem characters who’ve cheated. I recently read Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis, and there was an attempt to make Serena likeable after she cheated on Cam, but I couldn’t get behind it.

    • mingqi says:

      I can tolerate the cheating thing if it’s not only told by a great storyteller, but if I’m in the right mood. Right now, with the Tiger Woods and Jesse James thing, I’m more than willing to see cheaters, real and fictional, tarred and feathered and pitchforked into a junkyard- unless it’s an issue of national security and the “cheater” is also suffering like Jo Beverly’s An Arranged Marriage

  4. Kara says:

    Those are exactly my three conditions too…just don’t get any enjoyment out of reading about cheaters. But I guess, as Lynn mentioned, it would depend on how it is handled…what exactly the cheater did, what he is asking forgiveness for.

  5. Diana says:

    Agree with Lynn. Cheating is bad, absolutely, not unforgivable. But I would never judge or condemn in RL a friend who took back a lover after cheating. Good fodder for fiction.

  6. Jane AAR says:

    I generally dislike setting absolutes for my preferences. I prefer to take it situation by situation. A hero who just hooked up with some girl because she was hot, while in an active relationship with the heroine, is one thing. A years-long separation for other reasons, during which either or both of the characters had other lovers, is another. There aren’t many situations where cheating is forgivable, but they do exist. It’s never OKAY, and should never be glorified, but I do believe in second chances– in real life, and in romance novels.

  7. JulieLeto says:

    Interesting…my June Blaze has three novellas and the first one includes a cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater (as Gayle King likes to call it.) Now, they weren’t married when the incident happened. This is backstory and the couple was in college. It was a stupid mistake and I made sure the hero PAID. But as I think cheating is stupid and wrong in so many ways, it was interesting to explore the whole issue of forgiveness. Whether or not I pulled it off, I don’t know, but I did like exploring the issue through the story.

    But I couldn’t have written it, I don’t think, if they’d been married. That’s a really tough one. Maybe later on in my career, LOL. Right now, this was as far as I could go.

  8. Laura says:

    I agree too. I will never read a romance book if I know beforehand that the H cheated (BTW why is it always the hero?).
    I’ve often asked myself why I have this absolute refusal: for me at least I think it’s not because of the cheating, but because the h is always depicted as putting her life on hold waiting for the cheater to realize his mistake. I find this horrifying, and when they get back together, it’s not love, it’s just a sick hang up on a particular man.
    If, for example, the story was that they had broken up because of his cheating, the h had gone on to have a GOOD marriage with someone else, and they met again after the spouse dies, would you still refuse to read it?

  9. Laura says:

    Just wanted to add: we cheater-haters may be in a minority. Over at Amazon, there’s a HUGE thread by gals that love this sort of story, for the emotional ‘punch’. To each her own

  10. Marci says:

    I would normally agree with this, but I am okay/intrigued with the Stephanie-Joe-Ranger love triangle in the Stephanie Plum series. (I am still on Book 14, so I don’t know if this has been resolved in any of the later books yet).

  11. AAR Sandy says:

    I don’t think in absolutes. And I don’t need absolutes in my reading either.

    • willaful says:

      AAR Sandy: I don’t think in absolutes.And I don’t need absolutes in my reading either.

      I agree. And think it must make it very hard to find good stories. having such stringent requirements.

  12. I have your same aversion to cheaters. But I couldn’t resist Ann’s book. She so goo she actually redeemed Beau for me. I think you should read it… ;-) Plus… I’d love to find out what you thought about it.

  13. Abi says:

    Lynn: Maybe if I find Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Millers Kill series at my used books store I’ll give it a try and read it with one eye closed.

    Tee: I agree. If I’m already “in” the book, a well-written romance will keep me reading – but reluctantly! It will have to be one hell of a love story to keep me interested despite my gut instincts.

    Kris: I was hearing great things about Giffin then when I read the blurb I had a ‘hell to the no’ moment. Never picked it up! I was so traumatised that this could have been so well-loved by the masses that I couldn’t even read any of her other books for fear she’d throw a little adultery in there, just for so.

    Kara: for me, it would only depend on what the cheater did if I was already reading the book. If I knew the plot beforehand, I would never start.

    Diana: I definitely distinguish real life from what I want out of my romance novels. RL is a whole nother story! A whole nother sad story.

    Jane: I have such strong, negative feelings about cheating plots that I’m finer than fine about treating them as absolutely off-limits if I have advance warning. If I go into one knowing what’s coming, it’s going to be an uphill struggle and there’s so little time, so many other books, I simply couldn’t be bothered to test the waters.

    Julie: I’ve never read any of your novels. Maybe if I read the Ann Christopher one (and I think the pull of the Ann is strong) and I, heaven help, like it, I’ll dip a little deeper into the pool and try yours!

    Laura: I’m liking the sound of that story. No, I don’t think I’d refuse to read it. But I wouldn’t buy it. It would have to a book borrow situation. And I agree with you about how the heroine handles the cheating hero (cheating hero, lorse, what a concept).

    Marci: Apart from the objectification of the crazy-ass, borderline stupid fat black chick that we have in Lula, I stopped reading the Plum series because of that god-awful love triangle.

  14. Vickie says:

    Cheaters are for Soap Operas not Romance novels. Making the hero of the story into a cheater spoils the whole book for me and I wouldn’t want to finish the book.

  15. bungluna says:

    I don’t like cheaters in books where the relationship has been established and then one of them cheats. That said, I enjoy historicals where the marriage is one of convenience, the husband goes off and does the mistress thing, and then comes home and falls in love with his wife. The variation of that in contemporaries is when the marriage/relationship falls appart due to other causes and then the spouses stray, eventually coming back to each other.

    As for the ever-growing popularity of the love triangle, that’s not cheating; that’s something else. I can’t quite decide what, but it’s definitely not cheating, imo.

  16. Sonal says:

    I also have the same beliefs. Romance novels are meant to be escapist but I made an exception for Laura Lee Guhrke’s The Marriage Bed (which was recommended by many) and while I had my difficulties reading certain circumstances the hero/heroine were in, I was satisfied by the ending because in a situation like that an ending can never be too neat and I was happy the way it was presented. But I can’t abide it generally.

  17. AAR Lynn says:

    @JulieLeto “it was interesting to explore the whole issue of forgiveness” I think that’s exactly why these sorts of stories can draw my attention. I see love and redemption intertwined in many stories from real life and fiction, and I find that powerful. I can definitely go for a good forgiveness story.

  18. Tracy says:

    Let me say that I don’t like cheaters, however, I do like reading about characters that are real and have real issues. I want believability and if that includes cheating then so be it!

  19. Diana says:

    I’m one who can’t separate what I find (im)moral or (un)ethical in RL behavior from fiction. My moral code comes from my RL experience. But to each their own. Since I’ve never met a perfect person in RL, I don’t expect or want fictional characters to be error-free either.

    Sometimes trust is irrevocably broken and sometimes there is a chance for forgiveness and redemption. Tiger, Jesse…nah. Sandra Bullock, I’m rooting for you! I think anyone who thinks they don’t know someone in RL who has dealt with this is mistaken. We don’t know what goes on in a marriage. I don’t see it as my place to judge what’s forgivable or not if I’m not the wronged party. Elin and Sandra get to make their own call. The redemption of a former jerk is a theme that sucks me in when it’s done by a skilled story teller.

  20. abi says:

    Diana, its precisely because we don’t know what goes on in real life relationships that I distinguish between that and fiction.

    In fiction, I’m supposed to know everything that goes on as I’m the fly on the wall. Armed with all this knowledge, it is much easier for me to, frankly, pass judgment.

  21. Abi says:

    Willaful, thankfully out of the hundreds of thousands of romance books out there, I am able to find great stories even with my stringent requirements.

    Long may my good fortune continue.

    Gwyneth, I’m going to read it! It’s not out yet in my country though boo hoo, but when it is, I will pick it up and cross fingers that I like it.

  22. Ann Stephens says:

    I can’t stomach a cheating hero or heroine in the course of the book. That said, my next book has off-the-page infidelity involving a secondary character, and I have a WIP featuring a heroine who must deal with the consequences of cheating on her late husband. I am okay with a couple who has unquestionably broken up going on to have affairs with others, but cheating while involved with each other…can’t handle it.

  23. Jean Wan says:

    Re: Julia Spencer-Fleming – I would not define the central relationship as an adulterous one. Technically speaking. They never get further than kissing while Russ is still married.

  24. Kelly S. Bishop says:

    I really don’t like cheaters either. Like bungluna said, if was a historical romance & the marriage started off as a marriage of convenience…. Maybe.
    I don’t buy it at all in a contemporary.

    I love Georgette Heyer’s stories but Venetia is one of the exceptions. Damerel never cheats on Venetia. But towards the end of the book, one of the minor characters asks Venetia if she thinks Damerel will be faithful to her when they marry since he’s been quite the rake in the past. She just replies that she thinks that he will always love her. In other words, no she doesn’t think he will be but she’s going to marry him anyway. That one sentence ruined the whole story for me.

  25. carrie says:

    Possible Spoilers for Spencer-Flemings mysteries****

    I read three of Spencer-Fleming’s Millers Kill books and I definitely define their relationship as adultery. Up until the third one I thought she was going to handle the situation gracefully, like let Clair fall in love with Hugh, but she didn’t and that ended it for me. I skimmed the fourth title, but stopped there. I should have known how it would end up when Russ’s wife was never developed as a character in the first three books and rarely showed up on page. It was easy to disregard her when you are never allowed to know her and become sympathetic. Wedding vows cover emotional fidelity, not just physical fidelity. Think of the line “forsaking all others” which is present in many ceremonies.

    Obviously, this is my opinion only and I understand people differ, especially about what they are willing to tolerate in fiction that they wouldn’t necessarily in real life. I personally don’t like reading about cheating, although I can’t say I would never read a book with that plot device.

  26. Kelly S. Bishop says:

    I guess I should also say that I don’t like adultery in romances not only because I think it’s wrong but that for me it makes the HEA ending really unbelievable. I have a hard time buying that the cheater won’t cheat again.

  27. MB says:

    Cheating for me is such a total non-romance and mood killer that I either stop reading the book or stop the series. I can’t get that “Yuck!” feeling out of my mind.

    Julia Spencer-Flemings series was very good but I just couldn’t force myself to go past book 3. Even if the adultery was ‘only’ emotional at that point, I could see where it was going to change. (And I read the end of book 4 and was angered by what I felt was a manipulative ending.) Not going to say any more about that–spoilers. But I was pretty ticked off. That did it for me.

    The only books I’ve been able to re-read with adulters were that hinted at in some of Georgette Heyer’s. And “Bygones” by LaVyrle Spencer because it showed the consequences and both characters were able to change and grow to love again in spite of past hurts. No matter how good LaVyrle’s books were/are, I was never willing to re-read Bittersweet or HomeSong simple because the adultery was such a turn-off for me.

    What an interesting post! Thanks for giving me a chance to respond.

  28. Niveau says:

    Much as I hate cheating, I can actually like it if both characters cheat. The fact that both the heroine and the hero cheated in Private Arrangements is pretty much the only thing I liked about the book. But when it’s just the hero who cheats? Drives me nuts! Why why why why is it always the hero, and no matter how bad he is the heroine neeeeeever ever cheats back? Arrg! (I am speaking of historicals, here, mainly; I don’t think I could stomach any kind of cheating in a contemp.)

  29. AAR Lynn says:

    @MB – Yes, I remember reading Bygones! It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember totally believing that this couple really had found their way back to each other.

    Re: Julia Spencer-Fleming – Trying to stay spoiler-free, but I do love these books and one big part of that is how she handled the situation. Far from being turned off by the cheating issue, I think the plotting just feels so real and so wrenching, and the good parts of the characters’ various relationships (some romantic, some not) ring true. I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do love the deep emotional quality of the relationships and how she goes places many authors do not.

  30. MB says:

    Thanks for responding AAR Lynn! Just curious, did the end to JS-F’s book 4 bother you? SPOILER ALERT!!!

    *

    *

    *

    *

    *

    *
    I felt like she’d set up this big, horrible, gut-wrenching, emotionally-draining situation then wrote it off/resolved it with such a simplistic stroke-of the authorial pen that ‘I’ could have guessed coming into the series. As a reader, I felt manipulated, slighted and angry and (as you can tell) still pretty ticked off. Yeah, it was a good series, BUT! That did it for me.

  31. Magdalen says:

    I have some strong views on this, but I need (forgive me if I think like a lawyer for a moment) to get some distinctions out there.

    I actually agree with what Abi wrote, because I took it this way: Hero & Heroine fall in True Love . . . therefore neither one is ever sexually (or emotionally) interested in anyone else. Aesthetic appreciation of physical attractiveness is okay because it’s neither emotional nor sexual. (Abi — if I got that wrong, it’s my bad.)

    So, if a couple marries and they love each other, and yes, they made vows, BUT it’s not True Love, and THEN one of them meets the True Love mate of his/her life . . . what to do? I respect anyone who says that it’s the vow (before family, friends, God, etc.) that matters — honor the vow and accept you don’t get your True Love. But in the Julia Spencer-Fleming books, the facts as presented are just those: Russ did love his wife when they married, but they were young and she wasn’t his True Love. Clare comes along, and he’s torn — he loves his wife, but he’s met The One. And yes, he falls in love — it’s not a choice he makes; it just happens. He remains sexually faithful, but emotionally he cheats.

    I love those books and consider that romance the most romantic romance ever, mostly because Spencer-Fleming conveys it so perfectly, but yes, okay, also because I knew exactly how Russ felt. I was married to a man I loved (and still love) when I met The One. And I would have stayed with my first husband if he’d asked because it would have been what he wanted and I owed him that. As it happened, he was thrilled to get rid of me, and we’re good friends with HEAs all around.

    {I digress.}

    The other case that has been mentioned is the Youthful Indiscretion. Couple meets, dates, enters a committed monogamous relationship, but hero slips up. Later, couple reunites and addresses trust issues. It seems to me, that plot works as long as the first time they met it wasn’t (yet) True Love and the second time they realize it now is True Love. Oh, and also he really, truly pays his debt to her.

    But if the first time they’re a couple it is True Love, then he’s a putz for risking that and deserves to be kicked to the curb. Forever.

    So — Abi’s definition (if I got it right) still allows for some moral complexity depending on when the True Love occurs.

  32. Diana says:

    Hats off to moral complexity in the hands of a skilled author. In Kleypas’ Dreaming of You after Derek has fallen hard for Sara and knows in his heart that she’s The One, he sleeps with a prostitute and calls her Sara. I forgave him and so did Sara.

  33. MB says:

    I thought of another book where the infidelity was crucial to the plot, and although painful reading it really added to the intensity, I thought. The way that it took such a toll on the main characters, their friends, and their marriage made it really touching. That is “An Arranged Marriage” by Jo Beverley.

    It was such a good book, and really set off the series with a bang! I was invested in all of the Rogues by the end of that book. I liked the emotional intensity in that book and the next in the series, they are my favorites (and re-reads).

  34. CK says:

    Reading the posts I was wondering if “Dreaming of You” would come up. Like Abi, I cannot abide cheating in romance–I HATE it! Even Gurke’s “The Marriage Bed” (previously mentioned) didn’t work for me–still hated the hero at the end. I couldn’t continue on in Sherry Thomas’ “Not Quite a Husband” in spite of my enjoyment of the writing style and all the recommendations, and I’ve never re-read Kleypas’ “Prince of Dreams” because the hero willfully cheats. However, “Dreaming of You” is my all-time favorite romance that I’ve re-read numerous times and I actually really enjoyed reading about how and why Derek slept with another women after he was clearly already in love with Sarah. I might even go so far as to say it’s one of my favorite parts of the book. I’ve thought about this a number of times and I really can’t explain why I’m so okay with it when I have such a visceral, negative reaction on basically every other occasion.

    Does anyone else feel this way about “Dreaming of You?”

  35. xina says:

    I remember reading a handful of hero-cheaters when I first started reading the genre. I can remember some titles, others…I just remember the scenes when the cheating too place. Among them….Bold Angel by Kat Martin, Lady Gallant by Suzanne Robinson and The Coming Home Place by Mary Spencer. There are others, but I can’t remember titles. In all the books, the hero cheats and I remember wanting him to pay, and grovel, and then grovel some more. It was very upsetting to me. :) Now, after years of reading in the genre, I still don’t like it but in the hands of a good author I can read it without raising my blood pressure. I think I am a more mature reader today. I try to go with the flow of the book and if it fits, I’m…okay with it.

  36. Claudia says:

    I don’t like cheating/infidelity themes. The book that comes to mine is “This Duchess of Mine” by Eloisa James; I struggled with their storyline throughout all the other books in which it appears until you reached this book and finally resolution. I was conflicted, getting to know and actually like the characters but not what had happened, and though I still prefer to steer clear of this type of story I believe Ms. James managed to bring them together at last in a convincing way.
    Anyway…my thoughts… :)

  37. Kerith says:

    Well, I also hate cheating, and it makes me really upset to read about. I cried about the Jesse James thing… I know I am sad. But if an author can write about a couple that can go through that and then forgive and trust the cheater, that would be one heck of a book. I do like a story about someone redeeming themselves, forgiveness and then help the other person heal. One thing that is an absolute for me is a HEA, why spend time reading a romance novel just to be depressed at the end.

    Redeeming Love, I have heard good things about and it is about the heroine cheating. I just went to Ann Christopher’s website, and the book seems like a good story. I feel like it is a story you would want all cheaters to go through.

    • Kerith says:

      Sorry one of my sentences did not make sense.

      I said: But if an author can write about a couple that can go through that and then forgive and trust the cheater, that would be one heck of a book.

      I meant to say: But if an author can write about a couple that can go through that and then forgive and trust the cheater, and I believed in their HEA, that would be one heck of a book.

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