The Big “I”

2421311-LI don’t remember much from Psych 101, but I do remember Sternberg’s Triangle of Love.  Sternberg sees Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment as the three corners of love.  Pick any one or two components and you have various kinds of relationships; combine all three, and you have what he calls the Consummate Love.

Which is sort of what 99.99% of romance novels is about.  Except in the romance world, there’s a fourth corner: Fidelity.

Wait.  Isn’t that the same as Commitment?  Well, not according to Dan Savage, the love and sex columnist who was featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine two weeks ago.  He recognizes that monogamy is right for most couples, and that’s great.  What he doesn’t like is our society’s assumption that monogamy is right for all couples:

Folks on the verge of making those monogamous commitments need to look at the wreckage around them (Schwarzenegger, Clinton, Vitter)…and have a conversation about what it’ll mean if one or the other partner should cheat.  And agree, at the very least, to getting through it, to place a higher value on the relationship itself than on component of it, sexual exclusivity.”

Mr. Savage doesn’t support thoughtless infidelity, but he’s asking for smarter boundaries and honesty, an acknowledgement that:

  1. Monogamy is hard.  Much harder than anyone ever thinks.
  2. Because of this, mistakes happen.
  3. In any case, sometimes there are things, sexually, that our partner simply can’t, or won’t provide.
  4. So if we were all honest about our needs and desires, it might make things a whole lot little easier when the going gets tough.  Commitment is not the same as monogamy.

Which stopped me in my tracks.  Because let’s face it, that would put a big stopper to Disney, romantic comedies, and of course, romance novels.  And it doesn’t sound romantic.  No one wants to consider that they’ve chosen someone flawed enough to cheat, or they’re not the whole answer to their spouse’s basic needs.  For all of our modern sexual liberation, North Americans still generally subscribe to Sternberg’s Consummate Love as the ideal – but with monogamy.

Now look at romance novels.  This is what they sell, a love between two people that is strong enough to overcome not just the serial killer next door or the totalitarian space dictator. This is a love that can withstand the job that gets progressively more disillusioning; the colleague whose every word is spite; the new neighbor who looks more attractive mowing the lawn than your spouse.  This is a love that can keep two people wanting each other with the same fervor at 60 as at 30.

In short, this is a love that many would call unrealistic.

While I read the article, a part of me had to wonder if Mr. Savage isn’t on to something.  And that, even more, if romance novels and romantic comedies aren’t doing their part in adding to the pressure of monogamy.  Yes, I know they’re just stories, and we can all tell the difference between fact and fiction.  But I also know that infidelity is one of the hottest hot-button issues with some readers – we hear about it, and we’re gone.  After all, who wants to read about adultery in a romance novel?

I have a huge respect for authors who dare to broach the topic, and feature couples who work past their mistakes.  I don’t think the romance world is quite ready yet to see a HEA with “extramarital encounters” on the side, slaking our happy couple’s need for variety.  Erotica is different; it’s made to push boundaries, and authors like Maya Banks, Lora Leigh, and Emma Holly have written books featuring multiple simultaneous partners, all parties satisfied.

But in the romance novel world, we also have books like Private Arrangements and Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas, The Marriage Bed by Laura Lee Guhrke, and of course, Mary Balogh’s classic The Obedient Bride.  All of these books deal with the consequences of infidelity in a marriage, and the repaired, stronger relationship that follows.  More, please.

I’d be very interested to hear your views on this topic.  Is infidelity a hot button for you, and why/why not?  Do you think that romance novels need a dose of reality, so to speak?  Can monogamy actually be successfully optional in a long-term relationship?

- Jean AAR

42 thoughts on “The Big “I”

  1. I for the most part, don’t want to read about infidelity. Who hasn’t seen examples of what it does to the partners involved? But then again I don’t like bittersweet novels, and how can it be anything else, when an individual’s trust is betrayed.

  2. I love some of the books you used as examples and adored those story lines. But, I don’t want to read about infidelity in the present storyline. It’s all right to read about it as a flashback or have it alluded to and then have the present story dealing with finding one another again and getting over it. As you say, it makes them a stronger couple and they realize how valuable their love is and how close they came to almost losing it forever. To me, that’s a great story line.

  3. Call me a prude, but I think there’s a reason there’s a big bad word like ADULTERY attached to it.

  4. Jean asks— Is infidelity a hot button for you, and why/why not? Do you think that romance novels need a dose of reality, so to speak? Can monogamy actually be successfully optional in a long-term relationship? —

    It’s not necessarily a hot button for me, but it’s not my first-choice issue in a book either. On the other hand, there have been some books that dealt with infidelity that were very good, as well as others that were not.

    As far as whether romance novels need a dose of reality, I believe some are so fairy-tailish that they are almost absurd. But just because an author writes in the challenge of deceit in a marriage in a story doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s reality either. When I’m reading (and it’s purely a personal observation), I know when a storyline is realistic or not for me. If it’s within my believable parameters, it can work. I think every reader determines that on their own “realistic” meter. For instance, vampires don’t work for me in a romance. Talk about not being realistic. But someone else who has an imagination beyond me finds this kind of situation pefectly acceptable. It’s in the eye of the beholder.

    Can monogamy actually be successfully optional in a long-term relationship? I have a question. If a couple plans not to practice monogamy, why even marry? What could be the main reason for them to commit to each other with vows? I don’t get it. Stay single, but together, in a relationship. Then bang away with anyone you can get a hold of. Marriage has enough challenges as it is today; we don’t need to create more mockeries out of it. To me, and many others, commitment and fidelity are important when you are even considering marriage. If they are not present, then back off and stay unmarried with this person or wait until you meet someone who will share these values with you.

    I know that mistakes happen and errors in judgment are made as time goes on in a marriage, but if some critical issues were never important from the very beginning, then the marriage has already begun on the wrong foot.

    As ever, IMHO. LOL

  5. Love this topic, Jean. Especially because lately I’ve been feeling like I can’t talk about being happily married without people secretly thinking I am suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I think polyamory and infidelity are two totally different things that might be getting blurred here. Infidelity implies (to me) lying and “cheating” without any attempt to inform or involve your partner, and brings up the entire crux: communication. I am most fascinated by this idea of partners who can’t or won’t do what their partners ask. Setting aside physical handicaps, isn’t that something you can figure out on date one or two? Someone’s willingness to explore, even hypothetically? I love to ask and be asked to try new things as it makes me feel like I am that much closer to my own and my husband’s deepest desires (or good for a shared laugh). Especially for women (predominant readers of romance) perhaps *the asking* is a crucial element of a satisfying relationship. A willingness to try new things can lead readers to a much richer monogamy (my case) or may lead to the discovery that monogamy (or that partner) is not for them (go for it). My favorite romance novels encourage women to be demanding in the best possible ways: of themselves and of their partners, and the HEA is a result of that full disclosure. PS I don’t think we should dismiss the polyamorous erotica as too far out of the mainstream to be relevant. The majority of my reading is mainstream/Sternberg, but I still enjoy erotica about all sorts of alternative lifestyles that I don’t necessarily intend to adopt. I like knowing those situations are not totally out of the realm of possibility and seeing what constitutes someone else’s dream.

  6. I agree with Julie L that a novel that features adultery as part of a back story is one I can read, at least it has possibilities. But that is, at least in part, because I don’t read fiction so I can travel through someone else’s grief. I have plenty of real trouble of my own, thanks.

    And as far as having romance novels reflect reality better, I’d say no. Of course, there are some that are so out there that I can’t read them. Oddly enough, the ones that are just too unrealistic for me are not the scifi/fantasy books, but the ones where this gorgeous, straight, employed, single, perfect man just shows up one day, and instantly falls for the heroine…..the equivalent of finding the Hope Diamond on the sidewalk. Yeah. No, not so much.

  7. I don’t want too much ‘reality’ in my novels; I get enough of that IRL.

    As for the question of monogamy and commitment, I have to give Mr. Savage some points. Before my husband and I got married, we sat down and talked about our expectations. For me, infidelity is a deal breaker. NO WORKING THROUGH IT AT ALL! Maybe if expectations are clearly delineated ahead of time, the long-term relationship has a better chance to succeed. I do know some couples who have a live-and-let-wander phylosophy who seem to be happy. Maybe they have different expectations. I just think it’s important to state your terms and stick to them. It’s the lying and sneaking and cheating that destroys a relationship, imo.

  8. I don’t do books with infidelity by the hero. I would never take back a cheater, and I can’t respect a heroine who would.

  9. Personally, I applaud an author who will tackle these topics and use them in their novels. I just recently read Not Quite a Husband, and I was happy to see that they worked their way through the infidelity. Who in their right mind would expect the person to be celebate in a 12 year separation? That’s crazy talk.

    I get a little tired of the hearts and flowers romance endings. Real life is a struggle, and the happieness that you achieve is that much more sweet when you have worked and struggled to get there.

  10. Hmm I think I got Mary Jo Putney’s Silk and Secrets mixed up with Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite a Husband. That was also a long separation. I highly recommend Silk and Secrets (and it’s newly out on Kindle…)

  11. My issue with infidelity is the trust that is betrayed by one partner. If my husband were to cheat on me – for whatever reason – all of the trust between us would be shattered. Never again would I feel confident in our relationship, worried that if I “failed” him in any way (sexually or otherwise) he’d simply turn somewhere else. I personally could not live in such a relationship. Monogamy is a way of demonstrating trust between two people. You’ve made a promise to be true to each other in that way, and breaching that promise is a violation of the trust you’ve placed in one another. Sure, there are lots of reasons to stray (monogamy can be hard!!), but so what? If the reasons are that strong, rather than engaging in affairs, some serious conversations need to be had.

    As for realism in romance, I am pragmatic enough to understand that the type of love and romance in novels rarely if ever exists IRL. It’s all a fantasy. As such, I want perfection. I want the impossibly beautiful heroine and the studly hero and the passion and intimacy and commitment. And I want fidelity between them. I like the idea that two people are so meant for each other that, honestly, being with someone else doesn’t even cross their minds. And they maintain that commitment and passion until death they do part. It’s fantasy. I want the whole enchilada.

  12. I find the language used to describe infidelity in this article interesting (“mistakes happen), but common today. A mistake is something that you can’t control, that you didn’t mean to happen, like dropping a glass, but somehow, adultery always is planned, otherwise, there would be no lying, no deception. It’s not “Oops, my penis is in your vagina!” If the definition of a “mistake” is that you could not foresee the consequences of an act (disastrous), with adultery, anyone can imagine the consequences. If not, you wouldn’t have the deception. I think people think of it as a mistake because they regret it and later consider it not to have been worth it. To me, “mistakes were made” is taking no responsibility for an act. Sorry, if this sounds harsh, but this type of language drives me crazy.

  13. I admit that adultery would be tough for an author to successfully pull off…..but I’d read it. I like stories with deep emotional turbulence. I find them much more interesting than the serial killer next door.

    I am the opposite of JMM who says she couldn’t respect a heroine who took a cheater back. Frankly….. I respect women (and men) who can work through infidelity to repair a marriage. It isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and deep love. Compassion. Forgiveness. There is no way I would walk away from my marriage due to one f-up by my husband. We have waaaay too much magnificence for me to walk away so easily. I will adore that man to my dying day. Can’t help it. Just do.

    JMHO.

  14. Although I appreciated Not Quite A Husband and saw it as a well written successful novel, the subject made me sad and I did not want to read it again – there was just a lot of emotional pain there.

    For myself, this kind of betrayal is not something I am want to read about. Too many people have to deal with it in real life.

  15. LOL! Marriage is hard…Commitment is hard…Fidelity is hard…Real life is real life and a book is a book! I know its a parallel universe, as long as its a well written book with a great plot and likable characters…I really don’t care what it holds between its pages…its escape for me pure and simple…because life is much harder and much more in your face! :)

  16. I’m with JMM here.
    Once trust is broken, there’s no going back.
    If my husband were unfaithful, and I took him back, for the rest of my lofe I would ask myself, every time he’s late or on a business trip, if he’s with another woman.
    Better a clean break.
    NQAH was a bit like that, for me. How could the h trust him again? I just don’t believe she could

  17. Thanks, Lynda X, I agree. A mistake is forgetting to carry the three when you are adding a column of numbers.

    Cheating in a marriage is not a mistake, it’s a choice. A choice to hurt someone and betray a trust.

    And anyone who tries to justify it by saying “I made a mistake” is someone truly untrustworthy, who can be counted upon to have many similar oopsie-doodles in the future.

    I saw this with my dad… who made many “mistakes” over the years.

  18. I don’t consider infidelity a hot button for me when reading fiction, but I have to say that it is not something I enjoy reading. For instance, in Jodi Picoult’s book…Mercy, the “hero” was married to a wonderful woman and had an affair with a co-worker. That affair took up most of the book and in the end, his wife too him back even when he admitted to still loving the other woman. When I read the reviews and see that many were not bothered by this unsavory character, I have to wonder if my tolerance is exceptionally low for a cheater of a hero. Picoult does not write romance, but I have read several books in the romance genre where the author pushes the hero into similar situations. I would have to think carefully about reading a book where I knew the hero…or heroine had an affair. I would probably not read it if I knew. As for flashbacks (not my favorite thing in a book) I would probably not mind so much if the flashbacks were not too lengthy. I don’t mind infidelity…in the past, if a couple is working toward a resolution because they realize their love for one another.

  19. I’m loving all the perspectives coming out here. Okay, playing devil’s advocate and just throwing ideas out:

    Tee – But what about variety? Let’s say ten years into the marriage, X and Y are fully committed to each other and their kids, and have tried every combination under the book, and they’re just plain bored. If they both establish parameters (e.g. no penetration), and give each other one night to go out into the wild before nesting again at dawn, mightn’t that serve as a positive refresh? Sort of like, rebooting the computer system?

    Megan Mulry – Actually, Mr. Savage (whom I summarized in a very briefly) was talking about both kinds of infidelity, deliberate and not (but not necessarily polygamy). With deliberate infidelity, as long as boundaries are laid down and honesty preserved (see above), it may actually keep a couple together.

    With adultery (if one partner cheats behind the other’s back), the reasons behind it may be so complex that a blanket dissolution of the union may not address the cause. After all, it takes two to make a marriage, and usually it takes two to break a marriage (see above books).

    And I should have remembered to mention two more books: Mary Balogh’s “Dancing with Clara”, which also discusses the possibility of infidelity AFTER the HEA, and Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel” fantasy series. In her world, her heroine needs pain, and she finds a HEA with a good man – but three times a year, she goes out to get what she needs, because her husband can’t provide it (if I remember correctly). Full disclosure on all parties, and a compromise is reached.

    And yes, I definitely think all avenues should be explored within the union before going outside.

    Bungluna – “I just think it’s important to state your terms and stick to them. It’s the lying and sneaking and cheating that destroys a relationship, imo.” I completely agree. (And from what I read of Dan Savage, I think he would too. :))

    Lynda X – I think irresponsibility would be to leave it there (“I made a mistake”), and just hope that it goes away. It would be breaking the glass in a shop and not apologizing and paying for the damages. But if you acknowledge the wrong and try to fix it? I think the parallel is an oversimplification, but it also kind of works.

    (And now I’m thinking of “Lady Gallant”, by Suzanne Robinson. Christian made some huge mistakes – huuuuuuuuuuuuge – but actions do speak louder than words, and he changed.)

    How many times have heroines and heroes thought back to their prior relationships, and thought, “Wow, that was a huge mistake.” But in that moment, they weren’t thinking. I think we can all agree that it’s easy to ignore one’s head in certain situations.

  20. I’m with those who find adultery, especially in what is called a romance, a contradiction. Once the vow is made, it should be kept until one has ended the marriage for which it was made, whether in real life or romance fiction.

  21. I agree with ELL I don’t read romance novels to get too much reality I live that day in day out. I really want to be transported into another world preferably a nicer one not too unrealistic but certainly not one that traumatizes me. I want to escape to a nicer place.

    Infidelity will always exist but that along with many other things awful things that people do to each other I don’t want to read about in my down time.I leave reality to the fiction , thriller , mystery and horror genres which I rarely read anymore.I just want romance in my romance and a guaranteed HEA.

  22. one of the reasons i quit reading romance novels a number of years ago was that i was dealing with the collapse of a 25+ year marriage due to infidelity. some of you think this sort of thing would be ‘obvious’ by one or two or half a dozen dates? no, it’s not. and when you’re already in a committed relationship, a marriage, with children and property and emotional investment, just saying ‘you cheated, you’re out’ is not always feasible. that’s reality, and sometimes it’s a damn hard reality, a painful reality, an ugly nasty hideous reality. but sometimes it’s the only reality you get and you have to work through it and come out stronger on the other side. does it destroy trust? yes it does. does it damage the relationship? yes, in a big way. can it destroy the relationship? it can, or maybe it just seriously alters it so it’s not what it was before. in some people’s opinion, that kind of alteration equates to the destruction of the relationship. certainly the original relationship is gone, but it’s been replaced with something else. not necessarily something better, not necessarily something worse. just different.

    i think one of the reasons romance novels — and their readers — make such good targets for the armchair psychologists is that 1.) romance novels are mostly read by women and 2.) romance readers don’t just read two or three books a year; they devour dozens, if not hundreds, spending as much time reading escapist fiction as they spend cooking meals for their families and cleaning their homes. that in itself is a serious commitment, and while obviously not all romance readers read 100 books a year, there are enough who do.

    some of the comments here make me wonder how many of the avid readers of romance who say they don’t want a serious issue like infidelity playing a part in their novels are essentially shutting their eyes to the possibility of seeing how someone deals with it in a fictional situation BECAUSE they (the readers) don’t want to deal with the possibility that it may become a reality in their own lives.

    the human animal is not by nature monogamous; we are not hard-wired to be faithful. individuals yes may mate for life with their first partner but most of us do not. i think this is one of the reasons why the whole virginity thing is such a big part of romance fiction. there’s an underlying belief that a woman can/should/must only have one physical lover, that she cannot possibly have an emotional attachment to more than one man or else she must be labeled a slut. i find that someone distressing.

  23. Jean – Thanks for elaborating. I am off to read the entire article.

    Elaine – I certainly didn’t mean to imply that anyone could foresee infidelity after date one or two, I only meant that you can get a sense of the type of person you are dealing with. I knew when I married my husband that I was foregoing the more adventuresome type of guy I’d dated before in order to be with someone as opposed to lying-infidelity as I am. My husband knows that if either one of us deceives/cheats (even after 2 kids and 16 years of marriage) it might not be easy or right, but as far as we’re concerned that would be breach of contract and our marriage would be over. We are rather black-and-white like that and people often try to tell us that we can’t know until it happened to us, but I am 99.999999% sure that there would be no circumstance (perhaps an act of war) that would make me spend five minutes (much less a lifetime) trying to get to “the other side.” I understand women may feel forced to stay in loveless marriages (many times the alternative is financial peril) but romance novels give many women the courage to demand respect and love from their partner, not to live in a world of unrealistic expectations. Again, that has been my experience. My husband is no Harlequin prince, but he is *my* hero. (I read more than 100 romances a year as well as plenty of literary fiction that deals with every dreadful misery under the sun. My reading is omnivorous; my marriage is not.)

  24. I am a huge, massive fan of Dan Savage and I agree 100% with his take on relationships – it’s not infidelity that ruins them, it’s dishonesty.

    That said, and meant, I’m hesitant to read a romance that includes infidelity unless it’s the type found in erotica where a third is a playmate, not a partner.

    Honestly, I don’t think I could read one where Hero goes out every month or two to get his Dom on with someone else because the Heroine isn’t into that. Even though I truthfully believe that is the definition of True Love in real life. “I love you enough to let you go do things that make you happy even if it’s not my cuppa as long as your heart stays home with me.”

  25. To me the argument that people are not naturally monogamous is irrelevant. People are not naturally unselfish, honorable, hard-working, etc. Only in the arena of sexuality do we hear this argument. No one says of a person with a violent temper, “Well, people are not naturally self-controlling, therefore, we have to accept this behavior.” If we limited our expectations of people to what they were naturally, it’d be actually chilling.

    The few marriages I have known that attempted to be “open” eventually ended. I have known a few where the marriage continued, even after adultery was discovered, but I can’t testify whether it was stronger afterwards. I can’t judge that, and have never been in a position with a faithless mate. I, personally, have enormous respect for both the mate and the strayer who manage to improve the marriage after such devastation.

    • Lynda X: To me the argument that people are not naturally monogamous is irrelevant. People are not naturally unselfish, honorable, hard-working, etc. Only in the arena of sexuality do we hear this argument. No one says of a person with a violent temper, “Well, people are not naturally self-controlling, therefore, we have to accept this behavior.” If we limited our expectations of people to what they were naturally, it’d be actually chilling.

      So true. On a lesser scale, when I’m at an intersection stopped by a red light and there is not even one other car on the road, I am tempted to just go through it. But I don’t for two reasons: it’s the law to stop on red and I may get caught and have to pay the consequences. We human beings need to continually work to stay in control of some of our less desirable emotions which could fly out of control at any time. That’s what sets us above the animals—our ability to think and form logic to create a better world for all, not just for our selfish selves, if we allowed it. Thank goodness the majority of people work at countering some of these basic instincts; a world without self-control would be a world totally out of control.

    • Lynda X: To me the argument that people are not naturally monogamous is irrelevant.People are not naturallyunselfish, honorable, hard-working, etc.Only in the arena of sexuality do we hear this argument.No one says of a person with a violent temper, “Well, people are not naturally self-controlling, therefore, we have to accept this behavior.”If we limited our expectations of people to what they were naturally, it’d be actually chilling.The few marriages I have known that attempted to be “open” eventually ended.I have known a few where the marriage continued, even after adultery was discovered, but I can’t testify whether it was stronger afterwards.I can’t judge that, and have never been in a position with a faithless mate.I, personally, have enormous respect for both the mate and the strayer who manage to improve the marriage after such devastation.

      Brava! Bravissima!

      That was outstanding. Learning to control one’s urges is part of being an adult. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is part of being an adult. Don’t get married if you don’t think you can stick with it. It really is that simple.

  26. Infidelity isn’t a favorite plot device, although Ive read a few that were handled well. For me, handling it well means the adulterer has a believable turn-around, and the reader can trust the emotional healing.

    I do believe a monogamous, happy marriage is possible. I’ve lived one for 28 years, and counting.

  27. My future husband, during our engagement, asked what would happen if he — hypothetically — ever strayed.

    I answered that I would find my heaviest cast iron skillet, get a two-handed grip, and bash him over the head just as hard as I could possibly swing it.

    No ambiguity.

    The marriage lasted 47 years until death did us part.

    That said, I don’t require that fiction plots reflect my own reality. If I weren’t willing to follow the author’s imagination, I’d really not read fiction at all. So for a book, it depends on whether a plot element is effective.

    • Virginia DeMarce: My future husband, during our engagement, asked what would happen if he — hypothetically — ever strayed.I answered that I would find my heaviest cast iron skillet, get a two-handed grip, and bash him over the head just as hard as I could possibly swing it.No ambiguity.The marriage lasted 47 years until death did us part.That said, I don’t require that fiction plots reflect my own reality. If I weren’t willing to follow the author’s imagination, I’d really not read fiction at all. So for a book, it depends on whether a plot element is effective.

      I just have to say…I love your post. Wonderfully put.

  28. I think Sternberg is one short of what it takes for a succesfull marriage and that is basic friendship; monogomy can be tough, especially if one partner has a job thst takes them away from their home for extended periods of time. That sex drive is a pretty powerfull human need, mix in a little alchohol and bingo – one strayed hsband. I think the attempt to remain faithfull and genuine remorse is an important factor in deciding weather or not to try and repair the marriage. I could forgive that type of mistake, if I believed it was not usual behavior. Of course if you got a hound dog who figures if wifey doesn’t find out – no problem – thats different. I had one of those and the only self respecting resonse is a good lawyer, if a guy can’t be faithfull within his own zip code – there is probably not much to save in the marraige.

  29. Marriage is work and the more you work at it, the stronger it will get. I don’t believe in infidelity and I don’t like reading about it either.

  30. Re human hardwiring – I think there are enough sociological examples around the world to show that humans come in all shapes and sizes, beliefs and cultures. We have societies that are matriarchal and patriarchal, monogamous and polygamous, and with so many beliefs that I would disagree with Mr. Savage’s book of the moment, “Sex at Dawn” (which basically says, I believe, that humans aren’t made to be monogamous). No way am I an expert, but instinct says that most humans like variety as well as stability. It’s finding the balance that defines a culture.

    Lynda X – In the NYT article, Dan Savage shared the fact that his marriage of 10 years has included around nine “extramarital encounters”, with the full consent and knowledge of the other partner. It seems to work for them, so far.

    Becky – Sternberg calls “basic friendship” the “Intimacy” part of his triangle.

  31. I am one of those who pretty much won’t read a book that features infidelity. As a blanket statement: I abhor the mere thought of infidelity. However, if a couple decides from the start that monogamy is not a priority for them them it is their business. Personally, I have a hard line monogamy rule. First, I wouldn’t trust a non-monogamous partner not to bring home diseases . . . when sleeping with someone you sleep with everyone he or she has ever slept with. Second, I have seen the emotional damage infidelity can cause. If you have a hard rule like mine and are up front about it, it should not be that much to expect your partner to discuss any issues he or she may be having staying monogamous. It’s much better to establish the boundaries early and adress the issues attached to them before someone gets hurt. Unlike in romance land, some mistakes break relationships for good and cannot be overcome. For me, fidelity is deeply connected to trust and once my trust is violated, I cannot find it in me to fully trust someone again.

  32. I read the Savage article and I came away with a different interpretation of his “open” relationship. I understood that he wanted the external sex and his partner did not. Considering Savage has the financial power in the relationship I’m not surprised his partner agreed. It seems like this scenario is introduced by one partner after a relationship has begun. The other partner is put in the position of agreeing or worrying that the partner will leave. I think the power structure is uneven.

  33. I read the Dan Savage article and it seriously rubbed me the wrong way with its very American premises of “Men have a stronger sex drive than women and are rarely satisfied with just one partner, but since men aren’t emotional about sex, unlike women, that’s okay.” and “The institution of marriage is more important than whether the marriage actually works and makes both partners happy.”

    The key to a successful relationship (and I include stable longterm committed relationships without a marriage certificate) is communication. Once things start getting serious, both partners should sit down and frankly discuss issues such as sexual preferences, infidelity, do we need the marriage certificate or not, do we want children, etc… Because one frank discussion, even if it is uncomfortable, is a lot better than a lot of heartbreak down the road.

    Infidelity would be a dealbreaker for me (actual physical infidelity, not watching porn or going to a strip bar. I have never had a problem with that, though some women do). Things might be different for other couples and that’s okay, too. The important thing is to talk about it.

    As for romances, stories about infidelity and marriages on the rocks are not my favourites, though I will read them if I trust the author to do a good job.

  34. I’ll be honest at the outset — I know (for reasons that would take too long to spell out, so you’ll either believe me or you won’t) that my husband is never going to cheat sexually. Not going to happen.

    So maybe that’s a thumb on the scale when I say that I could deal with sexual infidelity before emotional infidelity. Having an affair that combines both? Deal breaker for sure. Sexual infidelity that’s recurring, i.e., the Eliot Spitzer “Client #9″ nonsense? Deal breaker.

    But the one-time got-drunk-on-a-business-trip hook-up? I could live with that provided I never knew about it.

    That’s what we’re really talking about, isn’t it? The infidelity, not the emotional trauma of having the spouse tell the other about the infidelity. A spouse who cheats is guilty even if the non-cheating spouse never knows.

    Even so, I don’t want to know. My motto: live with the guilt, scumbag.

    There’s a theory that, by telling of the infidelity, the cheating spouse is communicating his/her current value in the market. So, however much the cheating spouse says it’s to be honest, and the guilt was weighing too hard, etc., etc., what’s really being said is “other people still want me.”

    And that’s the worst betrayal of all. Because if my husband needs to game me, all bets are off.

    As a romance reader, I could understand a non-cheating spouse forgiving the cheater in fiction if the character arc for both protagonists showed real growth, real redemption, payment in full of the moral debt, and somehow a better relationship than what they had before the cheating. As you can imagine, that would be a tough book to write in a convincing manner. But never say never…

  35. Lynda X wrote
    To me the argument that people are not naturally monogamous is irrelevant. People are not naturally unselfish, honorable, hard-working, etc. Only in the arena of sexuality do we hear this argument. No one says of a person with a violent temper, “Well, people are not naturally self-controlling, therefore, we have to accept this behavior.” If we limited our expectations of people to what they were naturally, it’d be actually chilling.

    I’d never thought about it quite that way, but it was beautifully said, and I agree 100%.

    I don’t think that those of us who have a hot button about infidelity are afraid of it in RL. I’ve been married 40 years and if we haven’t been unfaithful yet, I doubt it will happen now.
    My reason for not reading about infidelity is that I want to believe in an unconditional HEA, not about two persons who have to ‘settle’ . If I can’t get that ‘fell good’ feeling at the end of the book, why read it?

  36. I’m a big fan of Savage, but I agree that his premise of men always wanting more sex/not wanting to be monogamous is bogus. I feel like my husband and I are disrespected minorities when he gets on this soapbox. ;-)

    I think infidelity can be part of an incredible story, as witness the ones mentioned in this article, all of which are keepers for me.

  37. Savage’s article sounds less like a description of reality than a pretentious excuse for bad behavior.

  38. I like the range of comments. I read Savage’s article in the NYT a few days ago and the comments have made me rethink my reaction to the article. But I do get hung up on “mistake,” like some of the other commenters. Also, a relationship is a choice to be with a person. It is a choice to not be with other people. If you can’t make that choice, don’t commit. Commit has the baggage it does for a reason. I think my response to the Savage article is a partner doesn’t limit you, the choice YOU made to be something more WITH THEM limits you. Don’t want to be limited, don’t choose a partner.

  39. I have to say, I kind of understood Savage’s point if BOTH partners agreed to non-exclusivity AHEAD OF TIME but…

    …once I got to the gender-essentialist b.s. whining that “men have NEE-E-E-D-S, women just don’t UNDERSTA-A-A-AND”, I too started hunting around for the cast-iron skillet.

    There are a lot of things I want in life — another doughnut, that sparkly diamond necklace in the window, to punch annoying customers in the face, and yepper dawg, an up close and personal encounter with Hawt Random Stranger.

    I don’t take them because I am an adult, and I have learned not to indulge desires that I know darn well will hurt me and others in the long run.

    And I want the h/h in my romances to be at least as grown up as I am.

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