Sep 8 2011 3:00pm

Their Cheatin’ Hearts: Infidelity in Women’s Fiction

Hope She Was Worth It image via FlickrIt’s the oldest cliché known to man—and probably the first. It’s also the cliché that’s truer to life than most of us wives care to think about. We’ve all seen the Lifetime movie of the week, and we’ve all read this storyline like a bazillion-times in books and seen it on the big screen: That tired, old, beaten to death, sad-sad tale of the hubby cheating on the wifey with the younger co-worker.

Yawn. Yawn. Yawn.

I’m not yawning so much at it in principle. Hey, it happens. There are husbands out there with the shallowest of egos and feel that the only way to keep the said ego erect—oops, I mean in check—is to have it literally stroked by someone younger than the woman he actually stood before some all powerful entity and swore an oath to honor until death did they part. Some guys forget that there is such a thing as ’til divorce do us part. That little one-eyed ego never thinks about those pesky details, does he?

(And by the way, I’m not speaking from experience. I told the hubby that there is only one D in our future and it’s NOT Divorce. And how he chooses to leave this Earth is entirely up to him, be it of natural causes, or, um, well, you get the point).

But I am sick and tired of reading about sappy ass women who stay with these chumps. You know the stories. The one where the woman finds herself faced with a divorce or a cheating spouse and goes off on some adventure to find herself…to find the woman he once loved and would never think of betraying. This said trip always includes an older, wiser friend with lose morals and a trail of ex-husbands, copious amounts of cocktails, and inner dialogue that makes me want to reach into the pages and slap the ever living crap out of her.

Secrets of Paris by Luanne Rice(Spoiler Alert here) I’ve read a few Luanne Rice novels and I’ve really enjoyed them. All but one—Secrets of Paris. This tale left me with the sudden urge to kick-box. I seemed to be more hurt by the husband’s infidelity than the heroine was.

Lydie’s father committed murder-suicide. He killed himself and his lover, leaving her mother brokenhearted and mortified. It leaves Lydie broken, period. So much so Michael, her devoted hubby, is feeling like a red-headed step child in their marriage. So Michael thinks a year in Paris is a great idea to reignite the spark.

Number one here, Mike—you big douche-nozzle—your wife is grieving. It’s not all about you and your little bruised ego not getting enough attention.

Poor Lydie is still distraught in not-so-gay-Paree. And Mikey’s one-eyed buddy can no longer stand the silent treatment. So he falls for a little French trollop with a severe mental disorder. She’s a wee bit crazy. She thinks she’s the historical women she researches.

Michael starts to fantasize about being with this woman. Okay, daydreaming is one thing. But when Michael pounces on the chance to make his fantasy become reality, I thought about calling a fictional hit-man to whack the guy.

First of all, this guy is completely heartless. He actually makes statements like how stiff making love to his wife had been over the past year. How she crawls into herself and not him. 

What made the story worse for me is that after Lydie learns of the affair, she kicks him out and hangs out with an older couple while searching for why Michael strayed in the first place. Alone, she finds the woman he once loved and forgives him. Gag me with a divorce decree already!

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s the inner-city chick that’s had to fight for everything in her life. Maybe it’s me seeing people I love forever scarred by infidelity. Maybe it’s that my momma didn’t raise a doormat. Maybe I’m just wired differently—I’m not the turn the other cheek type of gal, but I’d never throw the first punch. 

My man cheats. It’s done. Over.

If for some crazy reason I was still so in love with the guy that I thought I could work it out, no way I’m showing up to the reconciliation party without my own tales of debauchery to speak of. We’d have to level the playing field. Which means if he played the field, then I need to as well.

For me, betrayal is the hardest to ever get over and you never really, truly, get over it. If I’m going to be miserable for the rest of my marriage thinking from time to time about the time my man dropped his dipstick into someone else’s fun-dip, you better believe I want him thinking the same thing. Even-Steven in my book.

Why do the hubbies get to have all the fun?

On Mystic Lake by Kristin HannahWell, I have read some novels where the wifey gets hers and it made me wanna fist tap the author for having the cajones to write such a tale. Kristin Hannah’s On Mystic Lake started out with a sappy ass heroine getting dumped for a newer model but she goes out and finds love. I’ll take that. Sarah Jio’s Violets of March also has the same cliché starter, but she too goes out to find what’s missing from her life and even finds some old family drama and secrets along the way. Dori Ostermiller’s Outside the Ordinary World takes place in the years between 1978 and 2008. It’s about a woman contemplating an affair while recalling the one her mother had and how it destroyed their family. Gut-wrenching and poignant through and through. Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping A Beat is a unique plot and a super jaw-dropping twist on the trope of hubby schtoopin’ the assistant: A woman believes her husband cheated and probably still is cheating but never confronted him. She had her own affair and never told a soul. As she is ready to file for divorce, hubby has a near-death experience and wakes up to be the best man on the entire planet, thus making her fall in love with him again. And the truth about their affairs may not exactly set them free.

All the above reads take the tried-and-true cheating trope and turn them upside down. I didn’t feel the need to cyber slap anyone. And that’s a good thing, since I have one helluva pimp hand.

Hope she was worth it image courtesy of via Twitter’s denharsh


Philly native Charli Mac is an aspiring author, mother, wife, friend, and part-time clown. Come find lost love along the Jersey Shore at Twitter her @CharliMacs

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1. jsmom2
infidelity is an automatic DNF for me... right there, not another page read
2. Mo
Just an observation. Infidelity is not always just some jerk getting his ego stroked, as you put it. Sometimes there are deep, underlying issues that cause it. Any marriage is a 2 way street and almost all marriages break up because both people did or failed to something. So, a woman going off to find herself and who "he loved" is totally not outside the realm of possibility or realism. Same the other way around.

Second, which is worse - emotional or physical infidelity? Because one can happen without the other.
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
I've seen different takes on this theme and don't know what's right or wrong; just what I would do for myself. I'm with you: cheating is cause for justifiable homicide! But I've seen the wife try to work things out and proceed to torture herself and hubby with bad feelings. I've also seen a woman who put up with it because she 'LOVED' her man and was perfectly happy as long as he came back to her.

In books, this is a hot-button issue for me and I tend to avoid it at all cost.
Charli Mac
4. CharliMac
@jsmom2 I don't mind reading about infidelity, hey, it happens. I just hate reading about a woman being a doormat.

@mo I agree, cheating is not all about the ego. But in the novels I discuss here, the hubby cheating with a younger woman at work, it's about ego, IMHO. The character I speak of specifically made his cheating all about him and nothing about helping his wife. Either way, for me, cheating is the lowest of the low. The cheating spouse has zero respect for the other. You can leave before you cheat, try to work things out before you cheat. There are a million things one can do before they cross the line. Period. It bugs me to no end that the victim of infidelity could sit and try to fix themselves while the other sits, waits, and has fun. In Secrets of Paris, Michael did just that. Again, IMHO. And for me cheating is cheating, emotionally and physically. But the latter- all parties are in control of preventing it.

@bungluna It's a hot button issue because its the oldest one in the books. Women's Fiction especially deals with this topic more than most and certain apects of how authors deal with it truly drive me nuts.
5. lady trudy
i wouldn't wish a cheatin hub on anyone. when I read one of the 'he comes crawlin back' books, i usually laugh. because most times these slugs don't come back, they just go on their merry way. i have had this experience - worst betrayal of my life. revenge is such a fantasy. if it happens in real life, it usually doesn't happen fast enough. but until it happens to you, you really don't know how you will respond. i wanted to go louisville slugger but i didn't. one thing i do know, once a cheater, always a cheater.
6. jsmom2
@ CharliMac... you bet it happens, I just don't have to invite it into my living room and curl up with it on my sofa with a nice cup of hot chocolate :)
7. ChristinaRae
It's definitely not just your inner city chick, it's also my inner redneck country chick. No, no, no, no putting up with any crap. Pull up your big girl panties, kick him out, learn to love yourself, then find some nice hot guy and have fun!

And never, never, think that some dude who cheats on his wife with you will ever be faithful to you. I think I may hate that storyline worse than the cheating hubby one!
8. Liz Flaherty
Slipping in on the other side...great post, but not every infidelity has to be a marriage-breaker, and marriages can gain strength from the most godawful crises, including that one. I don't like doormats, either, but forgiving doesn't necessarily equal lying down and begging him/her to do it again.
9. Liz Allen
IMHO, forgiving the cheating spouse does two things: condones the action as "forgiveable" and says to him ( albeit unconsciously) "it's okay if you do it again...I'll forgive you."
Mira Moskva
10. MiraMoskva
Don't forget Molly Harper's "And One Last Thing..."! It's hilarious!
romance reader
11. bookstorecat
I can't sympathize with characters who cheat. I have rarely abandoned books once I've started reading them, but in the case of a main character cheating on their spouse, or sleeping with a married person who's cheating on their spouse...definitely DNF.
Jami Gold
12. jamigold
Oh man, I was getting all upset even reading your summary of the plot of that story. I wouldn't throw the book against the wall. I'd shred it and burn it. :)

That said, as others have mentioned, there are different reasons and approaches to the infidelity issue. I actually have one in a story of mine, and believe me, I have gone above and beyond to show how things got so out of control and yet it still worries me. :)
13. katalina
There's no cause for cheating if the relationship is falling apart you know ie: thinking about doing someone else.(emotional cheating is just as bad as physical to me). And it 's time to call quits or go to a marriage shrink. If you think about banging someone else , then go and do it instead of talking /getting help or breaking up,then your a UNCARING F@#$ and there's NO EXCUSE as far as I'm concerned.
14. Nell
In romance novels; it depends on the circumstance let me give you an example: their is a Catherine Coulter novel I don't remember the name; where the hero cheats on the wife, and while I did not think it was ok I did understand. Here is the reasons, see the hero and heroine were forced to marry because they were caught in a room together alone, so they had to marry. They did not a have relationship, this just happened. He married her then put her in his "country house" then went back to the "city" and acted like he was still single. Before to long a friend told he to go be a husband basically, and quit being an a**. He was not happy but went to "meet" his wife. When they did get to know each other and fell in love there was no cheating for by time he only saw her, to him there was no other woman, once he fell in love with her.
Now I have also read another one this one I don't remember who the author was and I don't want to guess and say the wrong author. But in this novel I did not agree at all and thought it was WRONG. Here is why; the story starts out with the hero and heroine already married(I think like 15-20 years), after several years their business gets really big and both have to travel. Well at some point they were apart for 6 months and because of this they cheated. Now I can not tell what happened after that I put the book down and gave it away to Goodwill.
I thought you have got to be kidding me 6 months, really. And I have personal experience with being away from my husband of 22 years. The most we have ever been away from each other strait is 4-5 months but the most we have had to live without each other has been almost 2 years. Not to mention all of our military they are away from there families for far longer then that and many do not cheat.

Now for personal; I DON'T THINK SO NOT AT ALL.
Me and my husband feel this same way, if one cheats then said person has already walked away from the marriage, the divorce just seals the deal. I have seen what this does to people, I had a friend of mine have her husband cheat on her. She was very depressed for a long time, it was very hard to watch. I just tried to be there for her, and tried not to take a 2by4 to his head. In the end I did not hit him in the head and she went back to him, there was drinking involved but to me that was never made it better that was just an excuse to me.
15. I'm_just_me
I hope you don't mind me posting on here as I'm a guy. Maybe I'm just being really naive here as I'm only 22 and not married but surely if you wife was upset or going through a difficult time you would be there for her and comfort her in any way you could? whether she needs a cuddle, a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to you should be there for her when ever she needs you whether your at work, out with your friends (if she suddenly needs you as you would be with her if she was greiving) or if its 3am, if your wife (or girlfriend) needs you your there for her no matter what.

I personally could never read a book where a character cheats or watch a tv programme or a film if one of the characters or one of the actors cheats and if any of my friends ever cheat I will never talk to them again I f****** hate cheaters and I always have and always will. -Aaron
16. Jude
The only book that I felt like I could understand why the wife cheated was The Shattered Rose by Jo Beverley. It's during the middle ages and the husband comes back from his crusade to find out that his wife has a baby...oops not his. But the reason she had an affair was nothing to do with attraction or romance. Their baby died while he was off fighting and she just lost it. Grieving, lonely and miserable she had a one night stand (I's been a while). Still as much as I hate cheating, as a mother I could empathize how lost she would be when her child died.
It was a powerful story and in the end the hero who loves her, forgives her.
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