Thursday, October 13, 2011

Heroes Who Cheat


Infidelity in a hero is a tricky topic, isn't it? And one that many readers just cannot stand to read about, to the extent that they DNF any book with a hint of infidelity. This has always been the case but recently I've seen a bit of an upsurge in general outrage over infidelity on sites such as Good Reads. I've read comments where people have outright condemned a whole book, no matter how well written, because one of the characters has cheated on the other. I've had readers email me to check whether there is any infidelity in a book I have reviewed because they wouldn't read it if there was, even if I had given the book a glowing review.

I've come to the conclusion that I must be a person of dubious morals because I'm willing to give a cheating character the benefit of the doubt and would never dismiss an entire book based on the flaws of one character. Yes, even one who is unfaithful. Now that doesn't mean to say that I condone infidelity, and certainly if a hero consistently cheats on the other hero/heroine throughout the book then I wouldn't like that man very much - indeed a man like that would be more akin to villain material than hero. I would also question why the person being cheated on would keep standing for that behaviour from their lover. However, there are occasions in a book when I enjoy an infidelity storyline because they often show a significant character growth, and I'm also very partial to a flawed character who makes mistakes.

This is the crux of the matter really: Is the infidelity a mistake, a product of a flaw in a character which needs to be addressed and resolved for love to flourish? If it is, then I'm willing to set aside any reservations and see where the book takes me.

Another thing to consider is the definition of what cheating is. This varies from person to person as can be seen from the following example:

I read a m/m romance book recently which a few people called a 'cheating book'. Now, I have to admit, I was scratching my head a little over why people felt it was a cheating book because I couldn't remember there being any cheating in it! Then I remembered the following scene: To set the scene, the hero is a man who in the past was used to sleeping around a lot. He meets another guy whilst on holiday and they spend a week together, promising afterwards to keep seeing each other long distance. Whilst back at home the hero is lonely, plus he and his lover have argued. He goes out with his friend with whom he used to have a 'friends with benefits' relationship, gets completely plastered and they end up at his friend's flat, kissing and getting naked. However, before the deed takes place, the hero comes to his senses and puts the brakes on.

Depending on your definition of cheating, then hero could be a cheater or not. The way I saw it was that the hero's natural inclination when going out was to pick up a guy and have sex and so the temptation, when back in his regular life away from the long distance lover, is to do what he's always done, especially when there was bad feeling between them at that time. The fact that he didn't go through with it, meant that he didn't cheat - therefore he had overcome his essentially flawed nature. However, I know that many of you will read that description and say that because he kissed and got half naked with someone other than the hero, then he is a big, fat cheater and deserves to be condemned as such.

Interesting, huh?

What I will say is that there has to be a reason why a hero cheats for it to be effective in a book, and it either has to further the plot or show us something of the character of the cheater. One of the most controversial cheaters I've come across in m/m romance is Jake Riordan from the Adrien English books by Josh Lanyon. Jake cheats on Adrien and his wife but still manages to remain sympathetic in my eyes because the author shows how much of a mess he is. The emotional fallout from his actions are what drives the romantic narrative and keeps me reading. I know not everyone agrees with me on this matter!

One final thing to say is that for me to truly forgive a cheater there must be a significant amount of grovelling done by the person who cheats towards the person cheated on. Preferable on their knees or prostrate on the floor with promises of endless chocolate/back rubs/blow jobs. Also once the cheating is done and all has been forgiven, then that will be it. The hero remains faithful to their dying day. Unless, of course the other hero/heroine suggests bringing a third into their bed, which is a different matter entirely!

Do you agree with me? Are you one of those readers who cannot tolerate any hint of cheating in your romance, or are you like me and have a certain fluidity when it comes to this theme? Do tell.

26 comments:

Beebs said...

I wouldn't dismiss a book because there was cheating in it. Again, for me, it all comes down to the writing.

I have to believe there's a real reason for the cheating and then that the H/h is genuinely remorseful. I have to believe that they've sorted out their issues and will never do it again.

Certainly, it's not enough to tell me the H/h is sorry and won't do it again. Show me.

Sharon said...

great post. I agree with you. I don't like cheating because it says something about the person who got cheated on if they take the cheater back. In most books the hero or heroine is suppose to be strong and independent and for them to accept being cheated on usually goes against who they are.
I *love the Adrian English series and it broke my heart when Adrian found out about Jake's cheating, but that is one of my favorite love stories.

Josephine Myles said...

Hmmm, I wonder which book this was, Jen?!

I'm like you, and am surprised at the vehemence of some readers' reactions to what they perceive as cheating - especially when it's a one-off mistake rather than a sustained deception.

With Dan in Barging In, for instance, I felt I had to include a slip up in his fidelity, because I simply couldn't believe in an overnight transformation from free-and-easy party boy to monogamous in a long distance relationship. I kept it as mild and non-titillating as I could, while staying within what I thought was in character for him in that situation - especially after the disinhibiting effects of a few drinks.

Mind you, I find I can forgive even those characters who cheat on a longer term basis, like Jake in Adrien English, or Don Draper in Mad Men. Like you say, so long as the motivations and consequences are clearly shown, and they aren't blithely doing it without a care in the world, then I'll keep on reading. I'll even wish them an HEA.

We all have our flaws, and often those character flaws will cause others pain and distress, intentional or not. Infidelity certainly isn't something I'd condone in real life, but I like to hope I'll always find it in my heart to understand and forgive people who are weak in this respect, especially when they're genuinely trying to do better.

Jenre said...

Hi Beebs
Certainly, it's not enough to tell me the H/h is sorry and won't do it again. Show me.

That's certainly true. This is why it's not just enough to have a declaration of love and then the book end. We have to see that the hero has remained faithful and that there is genuine remorse for his actions.

Jenre said...

Hi Jo

Yes, I wonder :).

especially when it's a one-off mistake rather than a sustained deception.

This is the key for me with some cheater books. One off mistakes can be forgiven, sustained cheating is less sympathetic.

I agree though characters like Jake work because of the suffering that goes along with the cheating. Jake spends most of the series a deeply unhappy man because of the choices he makes.

Jenre said...

Hi Sharon

it says something about the person who got cheated on if they take the cheater back.

Yes, that can be a tricky one. A good author will be able to pull that part off without the other hero seeming weak. Like I said to Beebs, we need to see that the forgiveness has been cherished by the other hero remaining faithful

Anonymous said...

I can't see any point at which infidelity and romance can either compliment or complement one another. It does, as the synonymous "breaking faith" implies break the connection, and even if mended, leaves an ugly scar, none of which "fits" romance.

dick

K. Z. Snow said...

What really mystifies me is when readers fuss over "cheating" before the H/h or H/H have even committed to each other. What's up with that?

Two people do not become a couple from the moment they realize they're attracted to one another. They might not even consider themselves a couple once they start dating. "Couple" status is achieved after exclusivity is mutually agreed upon; it doesn't happen the instant two pairs of eyes meet.

I appreciate fictional romantic relationships a whole lot more when they take into account the realities of human nature.

Jenre said...

Hi Dick

It does, as the synonymous "breaking faith" implies break the connection, and even if mended, leaves an ugly scar, none of which "fits" romance.

That can be very true, but I also find that stories where there is some wrongdoing leading to forgiveness very romantic, which is why infidelity stories can work for me.

That's the key though - genuine repentance and forgiveness. Otherwise there will always be a scar and a weak spot in a relationship. I've seen in happen with people I know where there has been infidelity and the couple have decided to remain together. Yet in every argument or disagreement since the injured person in the couple has thrown the infidelity in the face of the other person. That isn't true forgiveness and therefore there's always that strain.

I suppose this is why I need to believe that the person has truly changed their ways and will remain faithful.

Jenre said...

Hi KZ

What really mystifies me is when readers fuss over "cheating" before the H/h or H/H have even committed to each other.

I know what you mean. There are a lot of m/m romances where the men date or see each other casually. It's not cheating if no-one has made a commitment. There are a lot more instances of 'open relationships' in m/m romances too which hardly ever crops up in m/f romance. I'm reading a book at the moment where the couple are keeping things casual and have just got the the stage where they realise that things are getting serious and it's time to commit - I always like that bit :).

JenM said...

I've seen readers who automatically condemn all infidelity use the argument that they know it happens all the time in "real" life, but they just don't want to read about it in their fantasies/romances. They don't find it sexy. That's a valid argument for them, but for me, it narrows the romance world considerably by making authors afraid to tackle certain subjects.

Maybe it's because I love lots of angst in my romance, but I find it incredibly moving when an author shows the progression of a romance, warts and all. I also think the problem might be that it takes a skilled author to pull of the character growth required to make infidelity be forgivable. You can't take the easy way out and just expect a romance reader to accept a 180 degree turnaround when a character has cheated if you don't show character growth.

I also think that the short time periods in most romances work against this kind of storyline. When the action takes place over a week or two, you kind of have to move into a committed relationship right away. You can't have one of the characters cheating on Friday, then committing to the relationship on Saturday and expect readers to be okay with that.

Jenre said...

Hi Jen

They don't find it sexy. That's a valid argument for them, but for me, it narrows the romance world considerably by making authors afraid to tackle certain subjects.

I think you are right there. I've heard from a few authors who are frankly rather baffled at the negative backlash they've had from their books with cheating characters in them and I can see why it would make an author reluctant to tackle such a topic again

it takes a skilled author to pull of the character growth required to make infidelity be forgivable.

Yes, it's the growth that's the important thing and what makes the book realistic, especially if it is to have a happy ending. I also agree that the timeline has to be right. It can'#t be solved in two days or a week. This sort of theme also doesn't tend to work in a short story unless the story deals with the act of contrition and forgiveness rather than the whole story from start to finish.

I've read stories where I just haven't believed that the cheater either deserves forgiveness at that stage or has done enough to gain forgiveness by showing that they are truly sorry, and that's where such a theme fails for me.

Hilcia said...

I agree with you on this one, Jenre. I happen to like flawed characters and would never dismiss a book because of supposed, imagined or real cheating. I love to see what writers do with a situation like infidelity, how they turn it around at the end (how or if they can make it work).

Jake's example in the Adrien English mysteries is an execellent one. His was a character that needed growth in different areas (not just fidelity), and I can't imagine missing the changes and character growth that both he and Adrien went through by the end of that series.

Jenre said...

Hi Hilcia

I love to see what writers do with a situation like infidelity, how they turn it around at the end (how or if they can make it work).

Yes! And the fact that the theme is so controversial means that the author often has to work hard to make the HEA believable. It makes for good reading!

Jake definitely had a LOT of growing to do. It was a delight to see this through Adrien's increasingly jaded viewpoint.

S.L. Armstrong said...

I'm partial to flawed characters. Flawed characters, to me, are real characters. As much as I love the fantasy of a romance, I also like the realism of characters. And characters--like people--make mistakes. They can cheat. They can hit. They can call their lovers horrible names. They can do a lot, and if it's handled well, then it creates a rounded, real character. What's important for me is motivation and consequences.

Everyone who cheats in life isn't a jerk. Everyone who accepts a cheater back into their relationship isn't weak. It takes a hell of a lot of work to come back from infidelity, and it takes a lot of strength. Maybe the issue is that a lot of authors don't deal with the real, long-term consequences of cheating?

I don't know. I know K. Piet and I have the idea to write a book that centers solely on infidelity and price paid and the road back... mainly because of all the negativity about such storylines. To me, those are romantic. They show dedication on both characters in the relationship, and that shouldn't be belittled, you know?

Kaetrin said...

There definitely has to be grovelling! But, if it's done well, I can cope with a cheating storyline.

Jenre said...

Hi SL

Everyone who cheats in life isn't a jerk. Everyone who accepts a cheater back into their relationship isn't weak. It takes a hell of a lot of work to come back from infidelity, and it takes a lot of strength.

Exactly! I couldn't have out it better myself. Hmmm, maybe I should have got you to write the post for me :).

I certainly would be interested in a book that looks at the effects of infidelity in the long term. They won't appeal to everyone but there's still a market for stories like that.

Jenre said...

Hi Kaetrin

Yes, lots of grovelling followed by forgiveness!

Sharon said...

@ Armstrong - would love to read that story. I need a good tear-jerker with a HEA every once in a while. It would have a HEA, wouldn't it? . A book that can make me cry, lol, cuss and/or squee is what I look for.

S.L. Armstrong said...

@Jenre: Exactly! I couldn't have out it better myself. Hmmm, maybe I should have got you to write the post for me :).

I'll admit, I speak from experience. :) I'll have to push the infidelity book up the ladder on the 'to write' list. :D It would be an emotional ride, but I think well worth it.

@Sharon:
Oh, yes. Definitely a HEA. A rocky middle, but a solid ending. I like happy endings! ;)

Stevie Carroll said...

I definitely wouldn't give up on a story because of infidelity. I'd be more concerned by a romance where a character took back a formerly violent partner than one who'd been unfaithful. Either way though it all depends on how the story is handled.

Lou Harper said...

Mary Sexton got a lot of flack for "Letter Z," even though there was no real cheating in the book. There is a sizable contingency of m/m readers that can only accept sex between motionally committed partners. Any sort of casual sex, temptation, even hero with sexually active past, or past mistakes are rejected. The problem with is that it makes for boring, cardboard cutout characters.

Jenre said...

Hi Stevie

I'd be more concerned by a romance where a character took back a formerly violent partner than one who'd been unfaithful. Either way though it all depends on how the story is handled.

Yes, domestic violence is another tricky subject to handle in a romance. I don't think I've ever read one where the couple has remained together by the end.

Jenre said...

Hi Lou

There is a sizable contingency of m/m readers that can only accept sex between motionally committed partners. Any sort of casual sex, temptation, even hero with sexually active past, or past mistakes are rejected. The problem with is that it makes for boring, cardboard cutout characters.

You are right that some readers are very rigid when it comes to any hint of infidelity - and some will have a good reason for being so. I didn't think that the scene you are referring to in the Marie sexton book was infidelity when the hero had the blessing of his lover, but I did wonder how it would affect their relationship in the future. Fortunately Ms Sexton made sure it was addressed effectively :).

Perfect cardboard cut-out heroes are just not my sort of thing. Men like that are just dull and I like some spice in my characterisation.

Kaetrin said...

"Marie Sexton got a lot of flak for the Letter Z..."

ORLY? I didn't know. That never struck me as cheating either. I agree with Jenre - it was about something else entirely.

Jenre said...

Hi Kaetrin

I agree, nothing was done in a sneaky fashion and it was all honest and out in the open, so it wasn't cheating in my book. I think some readers couldn't stand the idea that one of the heroes needed more than his lover could offer. I can see their point, especially if you are a reader who needs their characters to remain totally true to each other, even if permission is given.

It didn't bother me though, rather it gave a different perspective to the relationships in the book.

Copyright © 2008-2011 Desert Island Keepers All Rights Reserved. Proudly powered by Blogger

  © Blogger template Starry by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008 Modified by Lea

Back to TOP