The Cheating Hero/Heroine
There’s something I’ve wanted to discuss for a while now.
Cheating versus open, honest relationships.
I’ve seen it said, in more than one place, that readers would rather have characters who cheat—and eventually repent—rather than deal with open and polyamorous relationships. I just can’t wrap my head around this thinking. Readers would rather read about dishonest jerks who cheat rather than read about a relationship that is deep and loving but includes more than two people? Bzuh?
Maybe it’s because so many people are told the only One True Way to love is monogamy, and so it’s easier to excuse cheating with a sufficiently repentant character than having one’s life values tried through polyamory. There’s a reason the adage ‘Sin in haste, repent in leisure’ exists. It seems many in the world are content to offer forgiveness over honesty.
Personally? The one thing I do not tolerate in my professional or personal lives is lying. You lie to me, I lose all respect for you, and I’ll likely end our relationship—regardless of what that relationship is. I value honesty above all else. I think lies are just messy, cruel things, and I simply won’t tolerate it. To lie to me means you have no respect for me. I don’t particularly like associating with people who disrespect me. That goes for cheaters.
Cheating happens. Ignorance and paranoia, jealousy and boredom, can often lead couples down a terrible, emotional road. It’s drama. It’s unnecessary drama. I don’t read novels with cheaters in them, mainly because authors handle it poorly. An ‘I’m sorry’ and fantastic fuck doesn’t equate true repentance or adequate forgiveness. I’ve lived through cheating. It took years to repair the lost trust, the accusations, and the emotional scars. Authors don’t seem to think about that, about how much it hurts to be lied to in such an intimate way.
The answer, in my book, is honesty. Polyamory. Open relationships. Yes, those take a lot of work, too, but there’s a different atmosphere for the characters. I love reading about characters in these relationships, where people don’t lie to one another. Yeah, drama still exists—and sometimes, it can be tripled or quadrupled—but it’s… well, it’s a different sort of drama with different expectations. There can be lies. There can be jealousies. There can be just the same level of disrespect. But, I think it’s a little harder to make it believable when you set out to have open communication.
Can someone in an open relationship cheat? Yes. But, why would they? If they just sit down with their partner and say, “I’d like to date So-and-so”, where is the impetus to cheat?
And don’t get me started on what happens if it’s the heroine who cheats. While men who cheat can still be made romantic, a woman who cheats is just a step above a whore. The way readers react to women cheating makes my heart hurt, as it seems expected of men. Women screw up, too, and it doesn’t make them a slut. The sex-shaming of women just needs to stop.
I don’t know. Lying needs to have bigger consequences than mere groveling, and that seems to be all romance readers want from their rakes. Well, I want more. I need more. I need a rake who has true guilt for his lies, and that is firm on his road to repentance. Rarely do we get that because, honestly we’ve spent ¾ of the book on setting up the couple, forcing the drama, including sex, and then you need the neat little bow. Nope, not going to fly with me. This reader has high expectations.
A reviewer at one point boiled Riley from Other Side of Night: Bastian & Riley down to ‘the cheating boyfriend’. That one cut deeply since I’d never thought of him in that manner—and I still don’t. His indiscretions were specifically brought on by the changes his body was going through, changes he was trying to ignore. It was a direct effect of what Bastian had done to him, and it made Riley feel like trash when he went back to Bastian.
But Riley never lied.
Cheaters lie. It’s what they do. They lie to themselves, their partners, the world.
I can’t get behind that sort of character, and I’d love to see authors trying a little harder. Include polyamory and open relationships. And if they do write a cheater, make the cheater have to suitably work to repair that relationship, all the shattered trust. If a writer writes a cheater, write them well, write them right, and write the damn consequences! Actions have consequences, and to shy away from them is lazy writing.
Don’t be a lazy writer. 😉