Infidelity

One of the first stories I posted online is a short one called “Guilt.” I’m not sure where the idea came from, but it was a short romance (with no sex) about a guy who had cheated on his girlfriend and regretted it. The feedback on it has always been interesting. People are torn about it; they want to like it, or they do, but they are really pissed at the guy in the story, Kevin, for his cheating.

Overall, it seems that infidelity is the one topic that gets a huge reaction out of people. Incest might be second, or non-consent. I generally don’t read in those areas, but a few times I have, and I have seen comments wishing all kinds of awful things on the authors, as though these stories are advocating the behavior in the story, as opposed to just writing about it. No one thinks Bret Easton Ellis is advocating serial murder when they read American Psycho, do they? (Maybe I don’t want the answer to that.)

I recently received a comment on “Guilt,” which is what brought this to mind. The comment said:

Would I give someone a second chance in a relationship that was not declared open?
Curious if this character learned his lesson about knowing how to treat people you love.
Thanks for a story that made me ponder.

Personally, I do not care for stories about infidelity when the infidelity is the point of the story; that is to say, I do not enjoy reading about wives who cheat on their husbands or husbands who cheat on their wives. Some people may enjoy the illicit or somewhat taboo aspect of such a thing, but I don’t. To me, if you married someone, you made promises; if you can’t keep those promises, then be honest and get out.

I also dislike the humiliation aspect that accompanies most of those stories, such as the woman cheating on her husband (this is how it usually happens in a story; if a man is with a woman in front of his wife, it generally seems to be a threesome, with the wife willing if in fact not the instigator).

That said, I admit I would accept “cheating” in certain circumstances; well, two situations I can think of. One, if an abused spouse escapes a relationship and falls in love with someone else before the marriage is dissolved. To me, the abuse means that Spouse A has abrogated the marriage contract, and Spouse B is entitled to find happiness even if the marriage has not been officially ended. Second, if a marriage is in fact over but for the formalities, and the parties have moved on.

But stories about women who humiliate their husbands, or vice versa, have absolutely no appeal to me.

(I suppose I should also say that I personally have never been involved in a relationship that involved infidelity on either side. So whatever’s in my story is, like most stories, my conjecture of what certain people might do.)

I guess I hit a chord with my story, perhaps because it is not about the infidelity itself but the aftermath of it. In the story, the cheating is over before the story opened. Kevin (I never got around to last names in that one) cheated on his girlfriend (not wife, which might be important to some people), for reasons I imagine some people might. He sorely regretted it. The girlfriend, Lana,  wonders if she drove him to it.

That felt right to me, that there would be questions, that infidelity would not be this cut-and-dried issue that makes or breaks a relationship. A lot of people probably say it would be, and many of them may be right. On the whole, though, I suspect it doesn’t work that way.

When you have built a life with someone — marriage, living together, etc. — it is not so easy to throw it away. You have invested yourself in both the person and the life you’ve made and just ditching it isn’t always an option. When you are sharing a house, and live hours from family (let’s say), where do you go if you leave? Add children in, and the matter is complicated even more. So for everyone that says, “Oh, I’d be out of there like a shot,” I have a feeling the reality would be different.

Another reaction from the story is this:

Cheaters deserve no second chances.

You’re writing is beautiful, but I hate him. He doesn’t deserve her or the happiness she offers. She is weak for taking him back.

One suspects a comment like this is borne of someone experiencing infidelity either first-hand (such as by a spouse) or second-hand (perhaps someone whose parent cheated and that broke up the family). Even if not, they are certainly entitled to their opinion.

When I wrote it, though, I was sympathetic to both characters. Surely people are fallible and even with egregious errors such as cheating, can feel remorse and genuinely regret what they’ve done and want to right things. I felt it was important in my story that Kevin realize that he could apologize, but he couldn’t force Lana to take him back, and that’s how he acted.

It was also important for Lana to realize that it was not her fault that Kevin cheated — he could always have said no, obviously — and for her to see that one mistake could be forgiven. The commenter above says that she is “weak” for forgiving him, but she lays down terms: if he does it again, she could forgive him again, but the relationship is over. He agrees.

What more can you do? There are only two basic options I see in cases like this: either you forgive, but not forget, and both agree to move forward; or, you end it. There isn’t much middle ground. But I do think it’s a gray area when it comes to arriving at those decisions, and that none of us should judge the decisions someone else arrives at, even if they aren’t the ones we (think we) would make or that we think are good for the person in question.

Admittedly, I like happy endings, and so my story worked out to one. That was also because so many don’t and I wanted something different. Because sometimes there is a happy, or at least not so sad, ending.

*****

I just wanted to reiterate that there is an unofficial contest going on over at Literotica, in which I participated. Everyone was given four “ingredients” for a story. The stories are in various categories, and you won’t know which until you start reading. I hope you stop by and check out a few. As I said before, if you can guess which one is mine, I’ll send you a PDF file of a story that is currently not available online.

 

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