When Is It Cheating? By L.A. Witt

The very touchy topic of cheating has been discussed on this site a few times because so many romance readers abhor the very idea of cheating, regardless of the circumstances, and the opinions have ranged from no cheating to ….. absolutely no cheating. 🙂 So this post by L.A. Witt is very timely not only in light of her upcoming release Where There’s Smoke, but also as it relates to hundreds of other books you all hate because one or both of the MCs have cheated on their partner(s).

Here’s L.A. Witt’s perspective and she would like to hear from you AFTER you have read her essay:


The issue of cheating in romance novels has been discussed here before, but after talking with Marie Sexton about the issue a few times lately, I wanted to approach it from a slightly different angle. Specifically, when is it cheating?  I’m quite curious how readers feel about this, so I want to put it out there for people to discuss.

I think we can all agree that if one person tells another, “I’m with you and only you,” and then they sleep with someone else, that’s cheating. Pretty safe bet.  But… after that, it gets a little gray. If two guys hook up for a one night stand, and then hook up again, is it cheating if one of them goes off and sleeps with someone else? After all, they haven’t established a relationship, right?

This is also where real-world and romance novel rules might not completely jive. After all, when we pick up a romance novel, we know the main characters will end up together eventually. So do we necessarily want to see them, for better or worse, hooking up with someone else between the beginning and the happily ever after? There’s a (Written? Unwritten? Set in stone?) rule in romance that once the characters meet, that’s it. No hooking up with anyone else. But… does that work for every story?  Is there wiggle room, a gray area, times when characters should be given a pass?  And if they do hook up with someone else, is the author breaking a rule of the genre, or is the character cheating?

In Marie’s book, Between Sinners and Saints, Levi is fairly promiscuous before he meets Jaime, and he continues to be even after they meet (while they’re still just friends). In my book, Rules of Engagement, Dustin sleeps with someone else after he and Brandon break up.  Matt and Jared from Marie’s Promises both have sex with other people during the course of the book, but not after committing to being monogamous with each other. Obviously in the real world these wouldn’t be considered cheating since there isn’t (or is no longer) an established relationship. But do the same rules apply within the confines of a romance novel?

Then, of course, there’s the touchy issue of adultery. Technically, sex outside of marriage is adultery. Period. But then you have open marriages, swingers, sham marriages, things like that.  If a spouse sleeps with someone else, it’s defined as adultery, but is it always cheating? For example, if it’s done with the other spouse’s knowledge and consent?

This is a timely question for me. In my upcoming release, Where There’s Smoke, Jesse is married, but the marriage exists on paper only. Jesse and Simone publicly portray themselves as a happy couple for the purpose of furthering Jesse’s political career, but they’re both miserable. And lonely. When Jesse meets Anthony, Simone practically shoves them together. Adultery? Yes. Cheating? Myself, I don’t believe it is, but I’m curious how readers feel about this sort of thing.

So, readers, sound off! 😀  How do you feel about characters hooking up with other people after meeting the one with whom they will eventually get their HEA?  Is it cheating if those characters haven’t declared themselves monogamous? If they’ve split up, even temporarily? If the characters are married, regardless of the state of the marriage?  Is cheating about getting into bed or otherwise involved with someone else, or is it about lies and deceit?  And do the rules and definitions apply differently to characters than they would in real life?

Where do you draw the line?


L.A. Witt Contact Information

email: thethinker42@gmail.com
twitter: GallagherWitt




  • I came up against this reader reaction to Barging In, which really shocked me at first as I didn’t consider Dan’s behaviour to be real cheating. The first time it happens he hasn’t yet agreed to exclusivity, and the second time is only a drunken snog with his friend that he regrets in a big way.

    For me, as I was writing a character who had always been promiscuous and didn’t want to settle down, it would have felt wrong to have him settle down into cosy exclusivity straight away.

    It would have been a much shorter novel, too… 😉

    So, to sum up, I’m very happy to read stories about flawed characters, and that includes cheaters. Just make sure they suffer the consequences and learn from the experience!


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