Sure, it’s a deal breaker for some marital partners, but is it a deal-breaker for those who read m/m romance? Are there situations or storylines where the act of cheating on a spouse, or even entertaining such thoughts, can be acceptable, even–dare I say it?–interesting and compelling?
I’ve been thinking about this lately because I recently got a note from a reader who had just read my novel Tricks an opposites-attract tale of a nerdish thirty-something who falls for a hot male stripper and the twisted path their love takes, which includes a chance at a kind of infidelity. This “chance” and I don’t want spoil the plot by posting details here, is a major turning point in the plot, but also in my two main characters’ relationship.
The reader said: “Women for the most part expect commitment and want to see it in their romances regardless of the characters’ sexuality….I liked that you had two totally different characters, both with flaws, both with enough redeeming features to make you root for them. I struggled to understand why Arliss, having come from an abusive background, would view being involved with porn as his ‘dream’. While this is a different perspective and wonderful plot to work with, part of me put on the brakes…”
Now, I understand where this reader was coming from, and why she wanted to “put on the brakes” when Arliss, one half of my loving couple, wanted to do a porn movie.
What I don’t understand, though, is what she would have wanted instead. The conflict in the story, the threat of infidelity, made for dramatic tension. It forced the characters to take an emotional journey, coming out stronger on the other side. It tested their bond.
And this is why I think that infidelity can make for wonderful, fertile grounds for exploring romantic relationships in fiction. People are tempted and some succumb to it. That’s real life.
I know some readers might say they read to escape real life. They want their romance to always come with a happy ending. They want their love interests in those books to always remain faithful to one another…and in many instances do not even want that fidelity tested.
For me, I like reading and writing about people who are real, people with flaws, people who don’t always do the right thing. I like reading and writing about characters who struggle with their choices and sometimes do the wrong thing, in spite of their best intentions. I like characters who, like real people, do or say stupid things, especially if they learn something from it.
I guess my bottom line is that infidelity has a place in romantic fiction. It’s a great way to test characters’ commitment to one another. It’s a way to see if the couple in question is truly meant for the other. I believe it can be handled in a compelling, honest way that can still be romantic.
Getting back to Tricks, I will say that the specter of infidelity does test the relationship, but it also does not win out in the end. In the end, I think our couple is stronger for having weathered the storm. Personally, I never lost my sympathy for Arliss, my main character, because he wanted to do something that went against the grain of conventional relationships. I actually admire someone who goes through conflict, turmoil, and upheaval and comes down more enlightened on the other side. And in this case, his enlightenment led to a new sense of commitment to his partner.
But we would never have seen that if I hadn’t, as a storyteller, tested the waters of fidelity and temptation.
What do you think? How do you feel about romantic characters being unfaithful? Can you forgive them? Can you forgive them, maybe, for lusting only in their hearts for another?
I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts…
********* **************** **********
Rick R. Reed is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a two-time EPIC eBook Award winner. His work has caught the attention of Unzipped magazine, “The Stephen King of gay horror,”; Lambda Literary, “A writer that doesn’t disappoint,”; and Dark Scribe magazine, “an established brand – perhaps the most reliable contemporary author for thrillers that cross over between the gay fiction market and speculative fiction.” He lives in Seattle.
Rick has generously donated a PDF copy of Tricks to a random blogger who comments on this post.
Visit Rick on the web at: www.rickrreed.com