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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

73 Comments

  1. Jude
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 12:46:06

    To say that adultery can never be in a romance is a bit extreme. There are exceptions to every rule. If someone is in a bad marriage and temptation comes along, that affair can be an escape. Maybe the new person can help in getting hero/heroine out of marriage. I’ve actually written a novel about a passionate affair. The Happily Ever After doesn’t necessarily have to be with the person you marry.

    By the way, I couldn’t choose more than one answer in the poll.

  2. Twitted by judel
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 12:52:54

    [...] This post was Twitted by judel [...]

  3. Jackie Barbosa
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:11:58

    I think whether or not adultery is okay with me has a lot to do with the WHY behind the original marriage. Especially in historicals, when many people married w/o love and probably didn’t even expect fidelity from their spouses (sadly, women probably had almost NO expectation of fidelity from their husbands, although it was generally espected from them).

    But I do think it’s easier to understand/forgive infidelity in that context, especially if the marriage was made for money/position/duty and not based on a true emotional commitment on the part of either party. That doesn’t mean it’s not a flaw to be overcome, though. Only that the adultery doesn’t necessarily make the adulterer seem like a schmuck.

  4. Jen
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:17:30

    I’m going to be a bit personal–good thing there are so many Jen’s in the world–

    I think its interesting to read about book where there has been adultery, having been on the non-cheating spouse end of it. I’m still with my husband and I like to read books where it’s okay to forgive someone who cheated on you–that the happy ending is possible and forgiveness does not make you weak. Done really well, I think it’s a very powerful conflict and BOTH parties have to do some major soul searching to make the ending work. When done well, very interesting.

  5. Diana Peterfreund
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:19:46

    I’m with Jackie. My answer used to be “NEVER” (it’s a HUGE hot button for me) and then I read the fabulous “The Disciplinarian” by Leigh Court in SECRETS VOL. 15 which had an abusive husband who sent the heroine to a famous “Disciplinarian” to make her “less frigid” — and it was an awesome, beautiful story. So now it depends on the story, but there’s got to be a DAMN good reason.

    For instance, I’m not a huge fan of the pie-baking movie with Nathan Fillion and that Felicity girl. can’t remember the name. She cheats on her abusive husband — whatever — but he cheats — why again? Forget it.

  6. Randi
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:21:56

    As usual, it totallly depends on the plot and characters. Generally speaking, I have a high tolerance for adultery in historicals, for exactly the reasons Jackie Barbarosa mentions. For contemporaries, my tolerance is very low. But like most other scenerios, a great writer can make any scenerio believable and adulterous protags likable.

  7. LizC
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:30:55

    In the “it depends” crowd. If the couple is estranged I can generally overlook it although it does bug me when it becomes clear the estranged couple is the h/h of the novel. Although I suppose it does add angst and, I admit, it works better for me in a historical than a contemporary.

    It can be done well and I won’t hate it but I won’t actively seek out a book that features an infidelity plot or subplot.

  8. Shiloh Walker
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:36:41

    In general, the answer for me it no, it’s not okay.

    However, there have been a few select voices that made it work for me.

  9. joanne
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:36:51

    People can probably think of 100 good reasons for committing adultery and I don’t want to read about any of them. That is a choice that would keep me from caring about the either the hero or heroine and what would be the point of reading for pleasure if my blood pressure goes up?

    In my personal life: If you want someone else than I don’t want you and don’t let my new door hit you in the ass on your way out.

    ETA: Broken by Megan Hart was my only exception to the reading rule and that was because I was PROMISED that it wasn’t really infidelity. I liked the book.

  10. GrowlyCub
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:43:00

    My instinctive reaction is ‘never’, but I’ve read books that were deeply moving that had adultery in them (Balogh’s ‘A Secret Pearl’ for example). But that one only worked for me, because Adam was cheating on his wife not on the heroine of the story.

    Another of Balogh’s titles I want to love, but can’t (‘Dancing with Clara’) because the husband cheats on Clara after they are married. I understand logically why it’s written the way it is, but it doesn’t work for me and it makes me sad because it’s a great setup and wonderful story idea that’s ruined for me by the adultery.

    There are books, where a single throwaway line referring to adultery negates all the enjoyment I’d gotten out of the book until that point (actually, I get physically ill when I read about adultery happening after a couple has been established; that’s why I can’t re-read Gellis’ ‘Gilliane’). Personally, there is no way I could ever trust a man again who lied to me, and there is no ‘forgiving’ because I could never forget that my trust was betrayed. Once it’s broken there’s nothing that could fix it again.

    Other books worked, for example, ‘Private Arrangements’ and a lot of Paula Detmer Riggs categories that feature couples who were separated for long periods of time.

    But I couldn’t make it past the first 30 or so pages of ‘The Slightest Provocation’ because the protagonists had hurt each other so badly it was basically jumping out of the pages and attacking me (guess the writing really hit the spot!), and I just could not stand to read on and I absolutely couldn’t believe that after that much emotional trauma the h/h could ever trust each other again.

    I went with ‘estranged’ but only if the adultery is in the past by the time the book starts or ends pretty much right away after they meet again.

  11. RStewie
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:44:58

    It depends on the writer, the story, and the characters’ motivations, I think. I’ll read just about anything…my only “hot button” is when the leads are stupid, or just Will Not Communicate.

    In fact, my one of my favorite tropes is “Find the Heroine a Husband” wherein the dutiful guardian/protector/whatever has to find the heroine a husband and ends up having to work through his jealousy,etcetra. That’s not necessarily “cheating” or “adultery” but, taken a few steps further would be, I guess.

  12. Lusty Reader
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:49:07

    It’s never ok for the Hero and Heroine to cheat on each other, but fine for me if they’ve cheated on others in the past. More fine for the man to do it, double standard i KNOW, so flog me, but that’s how i feel.

  13. Tee
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:50:18

    by Shiloh Walker — In general, the answer for me it no, it's not okay. However, there have been a few select voices that made it work for me.

    Shiloh said it perfectly as far as my POV is concerned. I don’t approve of it, but some books containing it have worked very well for me. Thanks, Shiloh.

  14. LizC
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:57:31

    But I couldn't make it past the first 30 or so pages of ‘The Slightest Provocation' because the protagonists had hurt each other so badly it was basically jumping out of the pages and attacking me (guess the writing really hit the spot!), and I just could not stand to read on and I absolutely couldn't believe that after that much emotional trauma the h/h could ever trust each other again.

    I had the same issue with The Slightest Provocation only I did finish it. But for me I was never satisfied that they’d resolved their issues that made them be so hurtful to each other in the first place. It was basically just the h/h having lots of sex every where they went.

  15. Teresa
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 13:59:10

    yeah, I wanted to be able to choose more than one option in the poll…

    Adultery doesn’t bother me for the most part in books, unless the h/h have already established an emotional connection and I assume they are ‘together.’

    Having been in an emotionally abusive relationship before with someone who was mean and having gone outside the marriage for intimacy (with spouse’s permission actually), my views on marriage, fidelity and adultery have shifted significantly. Of course I am no longer married to said individual.

  16. CupK8
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:11:54

    Estrangement is the easiest for me to believe, but I can see other reasons as well. It definitely depends on the writing and the characters. Not Quite a Husband, Private Arrangements and The Slightest Provocation all worked for me. I understand why they wouldn’t work for others, but they worked for me. :)

  17. Scarlett
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:24:59

    I’m not “wild” about adultery in a romance novel (who is?) but there are certain books where it didn’t really bother me, and they almost always feature a couple that has been estranged for many years.

    Silk and Secrets by Mary Jo Putney and Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas are the two that spring to mind — in both cases, the H/h had been apart for so long they were essentially divorced, just not legally. Considering how difficult divorce was to obtain back then, it didn’t bother me at all (but in contemporaries, there is no excuse really, just get a divorce).

    In The Secret Pearl by Balogh, it didn’t bother me b/c the marriage was in “name only” and the husband/wife never had a true relationship.

    In that case, the wife refused to sleep with her own husband (did they ever consummate it? I don’t think so), and she wasn’t faithful to him, so I never considered it “adultery” because the marriage wasn’t real, and there was no person or relationship that would be “betrayed.” In fact, I was annoyed at the hero for NOT being with the heroine, because imho, it was stupid to care about being faithful to someone who didn’t even want to be in the same room with him. He was being faithful to a piece of paper, nothing more.

    In sum, technical “adultery” doesn’t bother me when there is no real commitment between the parties to be a true couple. I am more offended by cheating in a non-married couple, if there is real love and commitment between them.

  18. Moth
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:29:56

    I thought about clicking the “estranged,” “invalid” and “evil” buttons, but in the end I clicked “Never.”

    Here’s why:
    If your spouse is abusive: chuck them
    If your spouse is evil: chuck them.
    If you are estranged (and don’t want to reconcile): chuck them.

    I agree with Joanne above:

    If you want someone else than I don't want you and don't let my new door hit you in the ass on your way out.

    I guess my thinking is adultery isn’t really going to make any problem better, so I prefer the characters try and fix the problems they already have instead of trying to get away from them or soothe them a little by stepping out on their spouse.

    My opinion is also colored by the fact I have yet to read a book where I felt OK with the adultery/cheating. And yes, I read Private Arrangements and I hate to admit it (here where it’s so popular), but the characters really didn’t resonate with me. And in Scandal the hero cheating on his wife, even though she wasn’t the heroine, really made me question how faithful he would be to the heroine once they were together.

  19. Scarlett
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:35:31

    Moth:

    “Chuck them” sounds like a great plan . . . but divorce wasn’t an option for women in most of history, except on specific grounds and even then it was difficult. It usually wasn’t possible for a woman to obtain a divorce on the ground that the husband was “abusive” or “evil.”

    The Romantic by Madeline Hunter is an example of this. The heroine fled her abusive husband and was estranged from him for many years (more than 10) but couldn’t get a divorce. She hoped that flaunting her affair with the hero would force her husband to finally give her a divorce, but even that didn’t work.

    In contemporaries, I agree though — it’s hard to find an excuse for adultery when divorce is an option.

  20. Elyssa Papa
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:43:22

    I agree with Jane’s comment at the end of the blog: “To me, infidelity and adultery is something that is a flaw that must be overcome in a romance.” It sums up how I feel perfectly.

  21. Moth
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:43:31

    @Scarlett:

    “Chuck them” sounds like a great plan . . . but divorce wasn't an option for women in most of history, except on specific grounds and even then it was difficult. It usually wasn't possible for a woman to obtain a divorce on the ground that the husband was “abusive” or “evil.”

    Oh, I know, but we’re in Romancelandia here, so if the heroine is dissatisfied with her lot in life she can run away and be a Pirate Queen or something, right? ;P

    The point I was trying to get at is usually I feel like there are other/better ways to deal with a crummy relationship besides getting a little some-some on the side. I think the characters’ energies are probably better spent working towards a solution to the problem, rather than having lots of extramarital sexx00ring.

  22. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:49:30

    I thought about clicking the “estranged,” “invalid” and “evil” buttons, but in the end I clicked “Never.”

    Here's why:
    If your spouse is abusive: chuck them
    If your spouse is evil: chuck them.
    If you are estranged (and don't want to reconcile): chuck them.

    This is certainly true for me in contemps, but historicals have their own set of rules (due the difficulty of obtaining a divorce, or even a separation). Depending on the setup I can buy adultery in historicals, but I do prefer it when it’s double sided (irks me when it’s just the guy).

    The point I was trying to get at is usually I feel like there are other/better ways to deal with a crummy relationship besides getting a little some-some on the side. I think the characters' energies are probably better spent working towards a solution to the problem, rather than having lots of extramarital sexx00ring.

    It also depends if it’s a reconciliation story, or if the lover is the hero/heroine. I’m much happier with reconciliation stories, which may be why I also have a preference for both parties having erred.

  23. what was I saying?
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:55:16

    Maybe unfaithfulness would be a better term to use? (Than adultery.) It has the sense (IMO) of disloyalty in a committed relationship, whether married or not.

    I assume we’ve all read the historicals where adultery was common, where fidelity was never expected of the husband and straying was allowed for the wife, as long as she first presented her hubs with an heir and a spare – and was somewhat discreet. Maybe we’re numb as to what that behavior actually meant on a personal level, it’s so common in historicals that someone in the (periphery of a) story is usually acting in that manner, even if the h/h don’t happen to stray in a particular book.

    Whatever I was trying to say with that, I’ve always had a problem with the h/h cheating on each other. (I don’t care so much how they behaved before they met each other. Character growth, ya know. *g*)

    Also, what exactly is meant with the term adultery? Yes, I know it’s the breaking of marriage vows, so the spouse that cheats is committing adultery, but what about the person they are doing the cheating with? Even if said person is unmarried, is s/he committing adultery? S/he’s breaking someone’s marriage vows! And if you’re into strict interpretation of the commandments, an unmarried person having sex is betraying their future spouse…

    *Ducking for cover and searching for anthill to poke with stick. Lol.*

  24. Lori
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 15:30:54

    I don’t read historicals. I like contemporaries only and in that case then my answer was Never. A hero that cheats isn’t heroic to me and a heroine that cheats isn’t very heroic either.

    On the other hand… a good writer can probably make it work. It just wouldn’t be my personal cup of tea for a romance.

  25. LauraB
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 15:35:02

    I think there is a semantic issue here for me: acceptable vs understandable.

    By acceptable, I see it as behavior I would endorse or wouldn’t blink at. Adultery isn’t one of those. If by understandable, I can understand the whys and hows without approving. An example is Eloisa James’ Duchess series. The most recent installment: This Duchess of Mine has at its core the couple’s initially seeking a way to resolve conflict centered upon infidelity. Once that is settled there are other problems to handle, so in the context of the story, the adultery becomes a more minor matter once dealt with.

    So, I’ve a problem with adultery that is presented as acceptable (i.e., the rakish hero only sleeping with married women), but not when it’s understandable (i.e., the rakish hero was stupid drunk and regretted every minute of it).

    Again, like others in the thread, it is much easier to swallow in the context of a historical romance than contemporary.

  26. cs
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 15:45:46

    I agree with Lori, no author can make it work for me. Everything else is just an excuse to me, especially in contemporaries.

  27. hapax
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 15:48:37

    I pretty much echo everything LauraB said @25.

    But while reading these comments, it occurred to me that even in historicals, I am much more open to the estranged/abused victim *killing* the abuser, than cheating on them.

    (In Romancelandia, that is. Not in real life!)

    I’m not sure what that says about me, or my taste in fantasies…

  28. Lexie C.
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 15:50:52

    I had this discussion with a writer over a review I wrote actually. I really enjoyed the book and characters–except for how the Hero/Heroine began their ‘romance’. The heroine was married and I felt she took advantage of the Hero’s youth and vulnerability (she was older and he was a virgin). I understood her [the heroine's] reasons for it, but I didn’t really agree with them so it tainted the book for me.

    I know its an extremely black or white viewpoint to hold, but I can’t enjoy a Hero or Heroine who is unfaithful to their spouse, no matter the circumstances. I understand if there is abuse, or their spouse is cheating as well or the marriage was a business arrangement or they’re estranged or any number of things. I understand that intellectually, but not emotionally I suppose.

    I think the only time I’m not upset by it is when the spouse is supposed dead for a number of years (for whatever reason). Then I understand. He/She is dead, you grieved, you moved on, its not really cheating since technically you had no idea they still were around.

    It goes into the gray area for me when the Hero or Heroine is not have a sexual relationship outside of their marriage vows, but an emotional one. They’re not really cheating, because they’re remaining faithful to their spouse physically. Those I tend to be more okay with, but only so long as they don’t venture into the sex range. I haven’t read many where the Heroine (and ordinarily it seems to be the woman who is having a non-sex relationship outside of marriage vows) is being treated perfectly fine by her husband–is loved, cherished, adored…and she still needs emotional support.

  29. CupK8
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 15:59:33

    @Moth:

    But what if, character-wise, the h/h needs the affair to get the courage to leave their current relationship? Speaking from a real-world viewpoint, there are women in abusive relationships who won’t leave. There are women in plain unhappy marriages who won’t leave – for a variety of reasons. If they met someone outside of their marriage who did it for them, I would want them to pursue what makes them happy. Sometimes it takes some convincing, and the knowledge that the other person involved in the affair will support you and commit themselves to you after the fact. The same would go for a man in an unhappy marital situation.

    I’m trying not to get too personal, but I like it when my romance novels have gray areas. It makes it more interesting.

    Speaking of gray areas, does swinging/menage count as adultery? What about open relationships?

  30. DS
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 16:00:47

    Not an issue at all if well written and appropriate to the story. I didn’t choose an answer because that one wasn’t available.

  31. Lexie C.
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 16:04:19

    @CupK8:

    I don’t consider a menage/swinging as adultery since its typically the Hero, Heroine and a mutually agreed upon other partner (or partners). Then its less about the Hero/Heroine needing something from that third person individually and more about what they need jointly from that person (for whatever reason).

    Though to be honest I haven’t read too many romances where its an issue (I read Bianca D’Arc, but that’s the society/structure and I’m reading Prince of Frogs by Annaliese Evans right now where the idea has come up…).

  32. Moth
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 16:19:57

    @CupK8:

    But what if, character-wise, the h/h needs the affair to get the courage to leave their current relationship?

    For me, I can understand a character falling in love with or being drawn to someone else even if they’re married/committed, especially if they’re not happy in their current relationship. But I firmly, firmly believe that they should end the previous relationship before embarking in a physical relationship with the new person.

    So, yeah, fine, let the new man be your impetus or motivation to get out, but don’t jump him until you’re gone.

  33. Tracy Grant
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 16:35:44

    Fascinating discussion! I’m particularly intrigued because I recently blogged on “Infidelity – the dark side of romance?” on both my own website and History Hoydens. As I said there, I find it a fascinating paradox that this hot button issue is also at the core of the conflict in a number of love stories, from “Anna Karenina” to “Casablanca” to even a few with happy endings, like “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “Notorious.”

    Adultery is a deeply uncomfortable issue, but uncomfortable issues can make for fascinating conflict, and as a reader and a writer I like good conflict. I think for me whether or not it works in the context of a happy ending has to do with the terms and expectations of the relationship when the adultery was committed (for instance, an arranged society marriage in which both partners assumed they were free to pursue other interests if different from a love match). It also has to do with how well the characters are shown working out their differences. Unlike others who posted I loved “The Slightest Provocation” and definitely believed Kit and Mary’s happy ending would last.

    Cheers,
    Tracy

  34. willaful
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 16:40:16

    You really need a “if the writer is good enough to make it work” button.

  35. CupK8
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 16:50:33

    @Moth:

    So you’re okay with an emotional commitment outside of marriage, but draw the line at sex, or any physical contact? It’s difficult for me to draw the line, especially when there are so many people who just get a little on the side physically with no emotional attachment – I tend to frown upon those more than the ones who get carried away with a genuine sense of happiness and completeness and make a mistake (much like, in historicals, losing one’s virginity in such a manner would be a horrifying mistake to a heroine).

    @Tracy Grant:

    Adultery is a deeply uncomfortable issue, but uncomfortable issues can make for fascinating conflict, and as a reader and a writer I like good conflict.

    Yes! Conflict is the essence of drama and all that. The gray area is fascinating. I must be a little drawn to the dark side of Romance, I think. ;)

  36. Mireya
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 16:52:06

    I tend to see infidelity in real life not as a black and white issue but rather one cast in different shades of gray. I would actually be able to accept some cases of infidelity in real life. In my reading material, I just can’t handle it. Period. I know I probably am sounding hypocritical to some extent, but that is exactly the way I feel.

  37. Tracy Grant
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 17:07:36

    @CupK8:

    “The gray area is fascinating. I must be a little drawn to the dark side of Romance, I think. ;)”

    Oh, me too. As I writer, I tend to paint in shades of gray.

  38. Pamela Turner
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 18:01:12

    For those who said they couldn’t vote multiple choice: Try holding the ctrl key down (Windows) and then selecting your choices. It worked for me.

    Note: I don’t know what key that would be on the Mac, though.

  39. Tiffany Clare
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 18:08:53

    This is an excellent topic. I answered ‘If hero or heroine is estranged from spouse/SO’ and a topic that is very touchy for so many people. I think the reason it’s a taboo topic and not generally covered in romance is because most women reading romances believe in the HEA and the vows of marriage where you honour and cherish your partner.

    That being said, I think there are many reason man or woman might choose to have extramarital affairs. And I would love more books that cover this issue. It’s a great deal about self discovery for the character cheating on the spouse. And a realization that people aren’t perfect, we make mistakes, learn from our mistakes, and become better people from those mistakes.

    Lady Chatterley is my all time favourite book. Connie had every right to find love and companionship outside of her marriage. Not only did her husband nearly demand it but he was unconscionably verbally abusive toward Connie every time they did a scene together in that book. I wanted to pull a Jasper Fforde, climb into the pages and strangle him for his impudence and holier than thou attitude.

  40. Tiffany Clare
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 18:11:18

    @Pamela Turner: On a Mac it’s the apple/command button.

    I didn’t realize you could that. If I had, I would have chosen multiples!

  41. Amber Green
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 19:48:55

    I hope it works. Emotional and physical infidelity–and the consequences–are providing a lot of grist for my writing mill right now.

  42. Sue T
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 20:43:35

    Nope, wouldn’t/doesn’t work for me. I’d probably be more lenient in historicals if I read them – due to all the reasons stated above – but only as a last resort.

    But contemporary – nope, to me it points to a lack of morals issue and I’m sorry – my husband cheats on me – he just needs to pack up. Same thing goes for me. I’ve been married 18 years and never have I had a desire to betray my marriage that way. Nowadays, I just don’t see how it could be acceptable no matter how “well” the author does it.

    And I’m sorry, I’ve never subscribed to the fact that women stay with abusive husbands. Yes, I know it happens. No, I’ve not experienced it – just my opinion. There is no reason to stay – not when there are so many options for escape.

    And you want to see the ill affects of infidelity and adultry – watch daytime TV. How’s any of THAT romantic and you know all their reasons are “good” reasons for cheating. Tell that to the person they cheated on.

    I’m with Jane 100% on this – infidelity and adultry, especially adultry must be overcome. I will toss an otherwise great book if the hero or heroine cheats on the “other” even if they cheat with each other and are in luv. Kill off the “other”! That’s how it works for me. In Romancelandia of course! :D

  43. Leigh Court
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 21:21:22

    Gosh, what a provocative topic! (Provocative in the ‘stimulating, thought provoking’ sense…) I’m flattered that Diana Peterfreund cited my historical novella ‘The Disciplinarian’ in Secrets Volume 15 as an example of acceptable/understandable adultery, although personally I never thought what Jared and Clarissa did was adultery. I suppose we have to define exactly what ‘adultery’ is… Sexual? Emotional? What line does one have to cross before things become adulterous?

    Fascinating topic tonight!
    Leigh

    BTW, my answer was ‘If spouse was evil to h/h’

  44. Suze
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 23:03:49

    But contemporary – nope, to me it points to a lack of morals issue and I'm sorry – my husband cheats on me – he just needs to pack up. Same thing goes for me. I've been married 18 years and never have I had a desire to betray my marriage that way. Nowadays, I just don't see how it could be acceptable no matter how “well” the author does it.

    And I'm sorry, I've never subscribed to the fact that women stay with abusive husbands. Yes, I know it happens. No, I've not experienced it – just my opinion. There is no reason to stay – not when there are so many options for escape.

    Don’t be sorry. I used to feel that way, but then I learned that life isn’t as binary as all that, and people do things they know are stupid and bad for them. A very close friend of mine cheated on her husband (with his complicity) with an abusive boyfriend, and it was years before she saw through the boyfriend’s crap. It was really, really difficult to watch, but there was no stopping it. All I could do was be compassionate toward somebody I love, and help her heal at the end of it all.

    It would be hard to write a good ROMANCE that involved infidelity. I think it’s easier to get my head around in real life, or in general fiction which is all about depression, betrayal, angst, and inarticulate cries for help. Infidelity is pretty much the antithesis of romance, and it would take a deft, skillful hand to pull it off and keep the characters sympathetic.

  45. Moth
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 23:18:25

    @CupK8

    So you're okay with an emotional commitment outside of marriage, but draw the line at sex, or any physical contact?

    No. The point I keep trying to make is that, for me, if AT ALL possible get out of the relationship before you start looking for someone else. BUT if you meet someone or you need a new relationship to provide impetus to get out of the crap abusive one, well, then at the very least don’t jump the new dude’s bones before the corpse of your last relationship is cold. Really, for me, bottom line: Get out of one relationship before you start pursuing another one. Period.

    Again, I have yet to read a single book that I can recall that I felt like the author handled the adultery in a satisfactory manner. It is not something I really want to read about hero/heroines participating in because, as I’ve probably made clear by now: I really think there is always a way to get out of the other relationship first. Adultery is never OK for me.

  46. reader
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 23:19:31

    I don’t like adultery in romance. Romance is a fantasy, an escape from reality I don’t want to deal with pesky little (depressing) things like adultery or rape for that matter in the midst of my happy fantasy. YMMV.

    I’ll reluctantly accept adultery if the spouse is abusive or evil. I remember reading a short story on the harlequin site where the heroine cheated on the hero at a christmas party. Everyone knew. This book dealt with the fallout a year later, they were about to get divorced and the heroine was desperate to get the hero back. He eventually took her back but I could never feel any sympathy for her. The hero didn’t treat her badly, maybe they weren’t communicating but I still can’t get over it. I don’t want to read books that make me feel like that.

  47. JenD
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 02:25:36

    I just can’t do it. Well written or no, it just doesn’t work for me in the slightest.

    I either end up feeling like jumping in the book and banging some heads, or throwing the book out the nearest window.

    I don’t cotton to it in real life and I sure as hell don’t want it in my fiction. If I feel that the h/h doesn’t have the guts to do what’s right- then I have a really hard time feeling an emotional connection to them and their story.

  48. Edie
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 04:19:22

    This is a difficult one for me, I am a firm believer in getting your arse out of an abusive relationship etc, and I really hate those books where one of the leads is in a relationship, no matter how casual while pissfarting around with someone else, no matter how obvious it is that they don’t really belong with them (ie the boring accountant bloke, or the tarty socialite hanger on)..
    But I also hate those books where the heroine is so freaking pure she behaves immaculately no matter how bad the husband she is stuck with is behaving.. and also get completely peeved at the ones where she remains chaste for ten odd years or whatever waiting for her OTL to come back into her life.. buh humbug!

    Is there an option for sitting on the fence??

    And can I just ask, no offence intended, but why is it some have said they can accept the bloke cheating easier than the woman?

  49. Lori
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 06:58:18

    This discussion also makes me want to say that what I feel/believe for real life is not what I’m looking for in my reading materials. I read romances to escape and right now, where I am in my life, I’m not interested in angst.

    So where my best friend could come to me and say she was cheating on her husband, I wouldn’t condemn her or throw her against the wall (**heh heh** my BFF the wallbanger) I might actually understand her choice and why she made it.

    But when I choose a book nowadays, I’m looking for escapist pleasure and good writing. So therefore if infidelity was part of the plot, that book would not be satisfying my primary need in reading it and therefore would be unappealing.

  50. Jody Wallace
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 07:49:58

    Hubby and I watched a tv show the other day, kind of a pilot / movie deal, where two of the main characters whom it felt like we were supposed to root for were involved — but she was “happily” married to a man who loved her. We both agreed it decreased our interest in the whole show quite a bit since those characters would have been central ones.

    A good writer can pull just about anything off, but for me it would take a lot for me to pick up a **romance genre** book that I knew going in had the main characters cheating on each other (especially a contemporary) or perhaps even the main characters cheating on a spouse. In alternate cultures, fantasies or historicals where characters aren’t going to follow the mores of standard contemp culture, as per the worldbuilding, I’d allow for more leeway.

    If I picked up a book not knowing there was cheating going on and running into it… There are a LOT of books I want to read in this world. It had better be amazingly stupendously good for me to keep reading.

    But cheating/adultery isn’t the only thing that will turn me off a book, so it’s not like I’m constantly going around thinking how much I hate books with cheaters in them.

  51. Christine Rimmer
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 08:20:51

    What pretty much everybody said already. It can work and it’s a great conflict, a really strong impossible moral choice: love vs loyalty to sacred vows. But there have to be really good reasons why they put their vows aside and they must be truly sympathetic–reader aches for them and understands their action–when they do it.

  52. DS
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 08:30:12

    It’s not a genre romance, but I kept thinking of Jane Eyre as I read the comments. Jane would have innocent of adulterous intent, but she would have committed adultery as well as bigamy if she had not found out about Rochester’s wife prior to their wedding. We are so used to thinking of intent to commit adultery that we forget that adultery is a status “offense.”

  53. Randi
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 08:37:17

    Jody brings up a good point about alternative worlds, which hasn’t been mentioned yet. If the paranormal romance worldbuilding includes areas where having a relationship with more than one person is acceptable (I’m thinking Keri Arthur here), then I can buy into that. So my addendum would be:

    Historicals) acceptable depending on storyline
    straight contemps) not acceptable
    paranormals/urban fantasy) acceptable depending on worldbuilding rules

  54. I believe in happily ever after even though Time Magazine doest « Lusty Reader
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 08:40:10

    [...] after even though Time Magazine doest Posted on July 10, 2009 by Lusty Reader Yesterday Dear Author’s poll on adultery in romance novels yielded a super interesting discussion in the comments. Yes people, [...]

  55. Gwen Hayes
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 10:50:49

    If the author can pull it off–I say go for it.

    I wouldn’t want to read it in every book, but the characters I like the best are the ones who are most like real people. Real people are sometimes confused about feelings. And real people do stupid things. And then real people have to figure out a way to fix what they’ve done.

    The Jane Eyre example is a perfect one. Who didn’t sigh with relief to find out the crazy woman died? But what if she hadn’t? Should Jane and Rochester never have been able to be together? And why should we be happy a poor tortured soul had to die in order for anyone to have a happy ending?

  56. K. Z. Snow
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 10:51:17

    I can’t believe so many people voted “never.” This is another one of those issues where a multitude of factors can come into play and, if adroitly handled by the author, can result in richer, more multidimensional characters and a more engaging storyline.

    I love layered, thought-provoking fiction. Don’t care what genre it is. I think one of the reasons romance is so often maligned is its reputation for dodging real-life issues in favor of unrealistic, superficial depictions of relationships.

    Let’s face it — the road to fulfillment is full of bumps and detours. I’d rather see them explored than ignored.

  57. Janine
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 11:11:47

    Let's face it -’ the road to fulfillment is full of bumps and detours. I'd rather see them explored than ignored.

    Yeah, me too. For me it’s all in how the author approaches it. As long as there are circumstances that mitigate in some way, or make it possible to understand and sympathize with the characters, I can enjoy this type of storyline.

  58. MaryK
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 12:02:13

    @Suze:

    It would be hard to write a good ROMANCE that involved infidelity. I think it's easier to get my head around in real life, or in general fiction which is all about depression, betrayal, angst, and inarticulate cries for help. Infidelity is pretty much the antithesis of romance, and it would take a deft, skillful hand to pull it off and keep the characters sympathetic.

    Yep. I actually voted Never, If spouse/SO is evil to h/h, AND If spouse/SO is evil to others . How’s that for complicated? :)

    I can only think of one “adultery” book that I’ve read and liked – Jo Beverley’s The Shattered Rose. The plot is all about the consequences of adultery, and a lot of people didn’t like the book.

  59. Jennifer McKenzie
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 14:00:19

    I didn’t answer the poll. Here’s why.
    Once upon a time I would have answered “NEVER”. Unacceptable.
    But then, I read “Lonely Places” by A.L. Debran (Cobblestone-Press)
    That book made me realize I wasn’t as firm as I thought.
    I’ve also said I “must” have a HEA…until I saw the movie “Wanted”.
    I still don’t like adultery. From my own close calls, I can say at some point, the “cheater” has a choice. Like anything else in romance, if the choice is well depicted, it can make me sympathetic.
    I will say that I’m less likely to buy a book that features it. But that’s just me.

  60. joanne
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 14:22:38

    (**heh heh** my BFF the wallbanger)

    @Lori: LMAO …Oh that’s a book I would buy without hesitation!

  61. CupK8
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 14:25:38

    @Moth:

    Fair enough. Thank you for clarifying. :)

    @K. Z. Snow:

    I love layered, thought-provoking fiction. Don't care what genre it is. I think one of the reasons romance is so often maligned is its reputation for dodging real-life issues in favor of unrealistic, superficial depictions of relationships.

    I think you’ve hit at what I was clumsily trying to say. I agree completely! Not to say I don’t love other kinds of romance, but in all of my fiction, I adore good, complex relationships. Maybe it’s the actor in me? ;)

    True story: I started reading James’ Desperate Duchesses last night, rife with infidelity, accepted though it was as part of the time and culture, and thought of this discussion the whole way through.

  62. Rose Lerner
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 19:21:30

    I mostly read historicals, where divorce generally isn’t an option. In that case, I think if the married relationship is basically at an end and both parties know that (or if both parties THINK the relationship is at an end), and/or the spouse is so abusive that asking to separate would put the h/h in danger, I could be fine with adultery from a hero or heroine. I could also see it if the cheating was a youthful indiscretion and now the person is sorry. But I’m still pretty squeamish about it and it has to be done right. Avoidable cheating is a dealbreaker for me. I don’t like it in romance, I don’t like it on TV…I just don’t like it.

  63. Angelia Sparrow
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 03:56:12

    I can’t answer the poll.

    Most of my novel-length fiction has some level of infidelity, whether it’s a sexually open relationship, a character giving consent to avoid being raped or having a former lover take advantage of a weak moment.

    I’m actually starting the current novel with infidelity. Our hero is in a funk, having nightmares and war flashbacks. His beloved secretary is out of town. His former lover and wingman, now his enemy, turns up. Former Lover is the only one who ever made the nightmares stop. So, Hero goes with it, despite hating FL. And yes, he pays.

    Frankly, it doesn’t bother me in fiction, probably because I’m a voracious reader of all genres and don’t demand all the romance tropes be followed. Circumstantial infidelity (you’re in love with the pirate, but the sheik shoves you in his harem and demands/your captor is going to have you and you have a choice of being raped or consenting to it) especially does not bother me.

  64. Cauterize
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 19:48:15

    I also wish there had been an additional button for “Doesn’t bother me if it’s written well”. Cheating is something that happens in life and can happen in great romances and I don’t think that romance authors should have to avoid it as a plot device. But then, I’m not a reader who expects perfect heroes and heroines (despise them, actually). Think about it, if a writer was going to create something along the lines of the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton relationship, there would be some epic cheating, epic fights, but theirs was a great romance and it would be interesting to read a book that explored something like that.

  65. Alexandra
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 21:53:12

    The only instance I can think of of adultery in a romance novel (that I’ve read, anyway) is in one of Jana DeLeon’s novels. The heroine is not divorced, but only because the husband took a hike and she can’t find him at all (turns out he was being paid by his mother to stay away). Once I might have said that adultery is never appropriate, but ultimately there is no black and white in any situation.

  66. Suze
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 22:57:02

    Jo Beverley's The Shattered Rose. The plot is all about the consequences of adultery, and a lot of people didn't like the book.

    I LOVE the Shattered Rose. My first Jo Beverly, and it totally hooked me. And it showcased exactly the kind of infidelity that was real and heartbreaking, and kept the characters sympathetic.

  67. DeeCee
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 23:49:54

    It depends.

    Historical cheating doesn’t bother me as much b/c as others have stated, marriages back then had a different set of rules.

    Contemporary cheating is a wallbanger. I read an old politically incorrect romance awhile back where the heroine cheats after becoming seriously involved with the hero for no reason other than attraction, and finds out soon after that the person she had slept with possibly had HIV. Complete 100% wallbanger.

    Paranormal cheating….kind of a whole new ballpark. Since the new trend is menage and multiples, its hard to hold them to the same level especially if the relationship is equal. Ex. The Darkness series by Delilah Devlin…all the relationships are a little open ended, but it still bothers me a great deal. I absolutely hated the Larrissa Ione demon paranormal where the hero cheated b/c of a heat thing. That drives me apeshit-using sexual chemistry, and only sexual chemistry as the basis for infidelity. Forget emotional bonds, let’s just let the hero go hog wild. I gave up on that one when the cheating was revealed. I’m very much for the mating thing, but like wolves, there should be only one that gets your body, heart and soul.

    Rant off..

  68. MaryK
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 00:22:52

    @Alexandra:

    The only instance I can think of of adultery in a romance novel (that I've read, anyway) is in one of Jana DeLeon's novels. The heroine is not divorced, but only because the husband took a hike and she can't find him at all (turns out he was being paid by his mother to stay away).

    I could probably accept that since desertion is grounds for divorce anyway. It’s hard to say “absolutely never.” It’s more like “never, unless the author is very deft.”

  69. hapax
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 08:47:35

    @Angelia Sparrow:

    your captor is going to have you and you have a choice of being raped or consenting to it

    Err. I haven’t read any of your writing that I know of, and maybe I’m missing something, or this is shorthand for something, but you mentioned this scenario twice, and…

    HOW THE HECK IS THAT A CHOICE?

    I mean, “Okay, I’ll let you have sex with me if you take that knife away from my throat” *is* rape, in my understanding. And if it’s something that you show the victim enjoying, that is the biggest Do Not Want EVAH for me.

  70. Angelia Sparrow
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 10:14:31

    @hapax

    It is a choice to save your dignity, essentially. I know a number of women who have been put in that position. They gave consent so it wouldn’t be rape. They felt they could live through sex they didn’t really want but consented to.

    One example of mine: Chuck is under arrest and being transported to execution for the crime of being gay (actually, the crime of being non-white and having something a white man wanted). The deputy transporting him takes him off the delivery route, wanting gay sex with someone who can’t tell and get the deputy executed. Chuck assesses the situation, messes with the deputy’s head and does a blow job he’s not really wanting, but can endure by thinking about his own lover. Because Chuck has taken control of the situation and turned it around on his captor, getting an upper hand psychologically, I am hesitant to consider it rape.

    The one with the pirate and the sheik is an 80s thing I can’t remember the title of. (it’s been 25 years) I’m not sure, but I think our heroine thinks her pirate is dead when she’s dumped in the harem. Angelique in Barbary by Sergeanne Golon has the same notion: Angelique believes her husband is dead when she gets captured into Ismail Bay’s harem. Harem stories tend to be dubious on the consent issues anyway.

  71. hapax
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 10:31:12

    Thanks for the answering! (Sorry I didn’t respond earlier, no net, so sad, long story)

    Okay, the longer explanation does make it much less of an instinctive Ewww. I probably still wouldn’t like it, not because of the m/m, but because I have HUGE issues with non-con — the seventies-style rapemances make me physically ill, and older categories with blackmailed brides and punishing kisses etc. are not much better. Harem “romances” — would never pick one up.

    But that’s just my thing. I get the psychological distinction you’re trying to make.

  72. kate
    Jul 20, 2009 @ 11:11:03

    Do the rules apply exactly the same if the cheating partner is not actually married? ie., no “sacred vows” ever taken, therefore, not broken. Is a live-in relationship identical to marriage when it comes to fidelity even if it is quite distinct from marriage in terms of pooled financial support (every man for himself), expectations of children (none) and long-term promises (none)?

    BTW, anyone who thinks “arrangements” are a thing of the past, must not live below the poverty line like I do. Over the past 10 years I have stayed (faithfully) within my (nonmarital) romantic relationships mostly for financial/stability reasons. If I had had the means I would have lived alone and carried on a non-exclusive dating relationship with the boyfriend in question. I believe they would have been happier with this arrangement as well. As it was, both of our survival necessities, forced us to assume a more serious, interdependent status. The one time I did have to move out (because my partner of 5 years was interested in dating someone else and thought it would be “inconvenient” to have his ex-girlfriend still house-mating with him when he brought the new girl over to bang her), was extremely hard – not because I loved him so deeply, but because I had suddenly become homeless.

    To this day, I still kick myself for showing a relationship that I knew to be mediocre the same level of loyalty and fidelity I would have shown a marriage. It didn’t seem to occur to my boyfriend that I had deliberately steered myself clear of many a burgeoning flirtation in the years leading up to his casual dumping of convenience. Because of this, it would be a very satisfying fantasy for me, personally, to read about a heroine who DOESN’T waste her life and her love being a “good girl”, but takes what she’s given when it’s offered and damn the consequences! I agree that romances are about escapism and fantasy. Just keep in mind that some of us may be living a life that is lawful to a fault. (I even manage to avoid cheating in my DREAMS – only to wake up and same damn! I could have let myself enjoy that, it was just a dream!)

    I suppose because I am a goodie-two-shoes, myself, Goodie-two-shoes romances with HEA marriage proposals at the end make me gag. I’d rather escape vicariously into the hot, forbidden sex I have never and will never experience in real life.

  73. Prakash
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 16:33:18

    To me, adultery involves secrecy and whenever a woman is trying to hide the adulterous relation from husband or the society members, the fear is not a conducive feeling to experience romance. Well, abusive husband is a cliche’. Women involve in extramarital affairs more for the sake of sexual fulfilment. When the motive is only the physical satisfaction there can’t be romance because romance is much more than only physical attraction. There are many more women who have affairs in spite of having a good husband than the few whose husband is abusive. If a man is having an affair he generally doesn’t have it with a 16 year unmarried girl but with a married woman. So we can’t say only the man has an affair. I believe the proper way to get out of an unhappy marriage is to seek divorce first and then seek out your love. Indulging in an affair while staying married is playing it safe, that’s what women do.

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