Why Infidelity?

Thanks so much to bookworm2bookworm (Melanie) for having me on the blog today as I continue the celebration of my latest release, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS!

When Melanie invited me to write a post for the blog, she suggested the topic of infidelity. Specifically, why do I write about it, as it seems that each of my currently published works (SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, ROMANCING LADY CECILY, and ROMANCING THE COUNTESS) each feature infidelity in some way.

In SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, the story starts with the Duke of Rutherford abducting his wife, Charlotte, in an attempt to woo her back to loving him. However, the story behind the story is that he married her for revenge and they’ve been leading separate lives (although still living in the same house) for three years. He had a mistress before he realized he loved her, and she’s rumored to have had at least a dozen lovers in that time period.

In ROMANCING LADY CECILY, Cecily is engaged to a man she’s never met—for an arranged marriage set up by her father—and yet she can’t stay away from Baron Sedgwick, a man who seduces her heart and teaches her about her body’s desires. As a result, she is both emotionally and physically unfaithful to her betrothed.

In ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, both Leah and Sebastian are victims of their respective spouses’ affair. Although Leah knew of the affair for nearly a year and hid it from everyone, Sebastian doesn’t find out until the night their spouses die. Their love story unfolds as they each try to move on with their lives in different ways, but still find themselves draw them together.

First, a few things you must know.

1) I have never cheated on my spouse, nor has my husband cheated on me.

2) As far as I know my parents never cheated on each other. (Thankfully on both accounts, and by which I mean to say, there is no psychological basis for writing about infidelity.)

3) What has been published so far are stories that were proposed to my publisher and accepted. I have had at least 3 other stories that had nothing to do with infidelity that were pitched but rejected. And in fact, my third book from NAL Penguin, MY LADY RIVAL (which releases 5/1/12), does not feature the topic of infidelity.

But obviously, I touched on infidelity in each of these three stories. What was the reason behind this and why do I seem to be drawn to telling such stories?

Let me say that when I began writing SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, I was a new-ish writer. Yes, I’ve read romance for many years, but only after I became published did I become aware of infidelity as a taboo subject in Romancelandia. Apparently, the topic is a sensitive one not only because it doesn’t seem to fit in well with the HEA, but also because many romance readers have themselves been the victim of infidelity in the past. When I began writing SD, I knew none of this; I was only interested in one thing: how could I redeem a man who seemed to the outside eye thoroughly unlikable? I’ve always liked challenges, and this seemed a terrific challenge. To be honest, the fact that Philip had a mistress during part of the three years (he dismissed her after he realized he was in love with Charlotte) didn’t seem that big of a deal to me.

1) He wasn’t in love with her when he had a mistress, so he wasn’t being emotionally careless;

2) Most men who could afford them had mistresses.

The subject of infidelity came up in Charlotte’s storyline because she was trying to force Philip’s hand in petitioning for a divorce, and she was certain that he wouldn’t be able to stand the embarrassment of a wife who had taken dozens of lovers. But in truth, these were just part of the story to me. The biggest concern was how Philip ruthlessly made Charlotte fall in love with him, married her, and then broke her heart by telling her the truth the day after their wedding. (Again, the story actually starts out three years after the wedding, so these aren’t really spoilers.) How could he win back the love of his wife after acting like such a bastard? And did he truly deserve her love? And how much had he changed? Would she truly be able to ever forgive him? These were the subjects of interest to me in SEDUCING THE DUCHESS.

In ROMANCING LADY CECILY (which is a digital short story of 15,000 words), I explored the heroine’s internal conflict of choosing the man she desires most and the man her father (whom she loves) has arranged for her to marry as a means of saving his reputation. Does she choose love or family? To me, the conflict wouldn’t have been as powerful if I didn’t show how strong of a hold the Baron Sedgwick actually held over her. I can tell you this, though: no matter whom she might have chosen, Cecily would never have cheated on her husband after their marriage, even if she didn’t love him. (Fortunately, she does have a splendid happy-ever-after.)

The idea for ROMANCING THE COUNTESS actually came to me at least a year before I started writing StD. And the idea didn’t so much as focus on the topic of infidelity as much as how the widow and widower of these unfaithful spouses would have their own romance, and whether they would try to be proper in their mourning or not care at all since they’d been betrayed and felt it their right to behave however they wished. I never got any further with the idea than this basic concept, though, and only three years later did I finally figure out where I wanted the story to go.

As you can see, it’s not that I wished to write about infidelity with each of these works; it’s only that infidelity became part of the background storyline. With that being said, I can tell you that I believe that writing and reading about infidelity has its place in romance novels, and here’s why: I believe in hope. And I believe that love gives us hope. One of the main reasons romance readers cite for reading romance (myself included) is that they want the escape and they want the HEAs. Some people believe that infidelity has no place in a romance novel, but in my opinion (and this is only my opinion), I think it does because I like to read and write about people whose emotions and conflicts could be real.

I DO think that a married couple that deals with infidelity can forgive and move on and have a wonderful HEA (though this isn’t really what StD is about).

I DO think that people are able to make mistakes (such as Cecily’s weakness for the baron in RLC) and are able to recover from those mistakes and have a great HEA.

I DO believe that love is powerful enough to help those who have been victims of infidelity to move on—and yes, perhaps one day forgive—so that they are able to find a new HEA with someone else (note, in RtC, the spouses of the hero and heroine died).

I could also tell you that while I believe in hope, and I believe in love, and I believe in forgiveness, I will also never write a romance where the hero or heroine is or has been in love with the other and then is unfaithful simply because they lust after someone else. Certainly, I believe this can happen in real life and I believe this, too, can be forgiven and the relationship repaired, but even in my mind this is not something I’m willing to write about. As powerful as love is, I also believe in its sanctity. If a hero or heroine pledges their love, it is not something to be dealt with lightly. Some readers have refused to read SEDUCING THE DUCHESS because they heard that the duke was unfaithful to the duchess. And while I realize I walk a thin line here, the most important part of this to me was that he didn’t love her. As soon as he realized he loved her, he dismissed his mistress and was faithful to her from that day on.

Will I write more romances that include infidelity—in one way or another—in the future? Perhaps. I don’t have any in my head right now, but it’s certainly a topic that is relevant to our culture today (unfortunately) and a topic which immediately involves a depth of emotion and conflict, which account for a huge romance fave: angst.

But the most important thing to me—always, no matter what sort of love story I write—is that in the end, love wins. As the tag on my website says: Choose to love. Hope in love. Believe in love. 

I promise there is no right or wrong answer, for everyone deserves an opinion.

What place (if any) do you think infidelity has in a romance novel?

One random commenter will be chosen to win a copy of my newest book, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS (open internationally)! Also, find out how to win the ROMANCING THE COUNTESS Book Tour Grand Prize of 50+ romance novels by visiting www.ashleymarch.com!  

Ashley, I’ve been looking forward to your visit for quite some time now, and I’m so glad you stopped by. As always, you’ve been such a Lady and I’ve been Blessed to have ‘met’ you! 

 Ashley March in her own words:

“I was born and raised in East Texas, moved to Colorado after getting married eight years ago, and have been craving snow-free winters ever since. I have a husband who just keeps getting better and better over time and two beautiful daughters. Life is simply…fantastic.”

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49 comments on “Why Infidelity?

  1. Ashley–lovely post. I had to chuckle over the 3 things we needed to know. I swear, while my dad was alive, the first thing he demanded I say at any signing was that I was not writing about my own family. I told him that I wouldn’t write about us, because we’re too boring. We’d put people to sleep. Best of luck with RtC. I can’t wait to read it.

    • Lol. Well, I have to admit that if I were the reader I would also be wondering if the author had personal hangups with the issue, so I wanted to get that answer out of the way. ;) As for my family–none of them have said anything about not basing a story on them, which is probably a good thing–they’re very good research subjects! =D

  2. Only a blackguard should be connected with any infidelity. The hero must be above such dishonorable conduct.

    I LOVE YOUR BOOKS!!

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

    • OUCH!

      Mary,

      Don’t you like our hero’s to be at least given the chance of redemption?! Heroines, for that matter as well?

      • Funny you should mention heroines, too, Melanie. I’ve recently fallen in love with the idea of a cutthroat debutante heroine who is willing to do anything to get her way (sounds like Scarlett O’Hara, doesn’t it? ;).

    • Hi Mary! Thanks for visiting with me today! I know we also read certain romances at different times depending on how we’re feeling. For me, there are times when I absolutely do not want to read about a hero who needs to be redeemed–and then there are others where I’m willing to let the author guide me down that path. =) Thanks for your comment!

  3. Great post:)
    I enjoyed reading it!
    Your books look wonderful,I have been craving a book just like them.
    Thank you for the chance to win
    elliott2668(at) yahoo(dot) com

  4. Terrific analysis of infidelity. :) Yes… I wouldn’t normally like infidelity in a romance book as you said… but if it’s handled well and there are extenuating circumstances, it’s acceptable… Just like I didn’t consider Phillip as a cheater in your book….

    • Thanks for stopping by May!

      I’m with you and I just loved Phillip! I thought his ‘acceptance’ of her ‘many lovers’ was very admiring, for the lack of a better word. All he wanted to do is start over, and I loved the way he went about it ;)
      Good luck in the giveway!

      • Hi Mel:

        I have to say that my initial response as an author writing Philip is: he dang well better not have held those lovers against her!!! =) I think that would have been pretty unforgivable for me, since in the story he was the one who drove her to such. He might have been a jerk in the past, but he darn well better take responsibility for the consequences of his actions!

  5. Ashley, this is a brave post, and you strike the right note of explaining rather than apologizing–there is nothing to apologize for. Your characters are historically accurate for their age and station, infidelity being MORE common among upper class Regency marriages than it is now (from what we can tell) and less disapproved of. For a man of means to neglect the care of his bastards was the shameful behavior, not that he’d been unfaithful.

    I love your books, I like the risks you take and the credibility with which your characters travel that arc to arrive to a deserved HEA. I come down in exactly the same place you do: Infidelity is unbecoming in any character, but it only approaches irredeemable when it’s a betrayal of love as well as vows. As your characters reach that conclusion for themselves, they become wonderfully appropriate for a romantic tale.

    • Grace,

      I just love it when you stop by and comment :)

      I agree with you about Ashley’s post and her books. What struck me about her work, beside the prose, is how ‘grown up’ they are. The emotions of her characters were so real to me. As for infidelity in books as well as in real life, it’s a subject that is never ‘back & white’. It all depends on ones character and circumstances, to be sure. It should never happen, yet it does, and the reasons behind it are many.

      • Thank you, Mel. =) And I just have to add that I agree with you–I don’t know of many things in life that are exactly black and white (this is especially true after sitting on a jury today!).

    • Hi Grace! I have to echo Melanie’s reply–I love it when you comment! =) Thank you so much for reading my books, and I’m really glad to hear that you enjoy them! I tried for something a little different in my third book (May 2012) just to see if I *could* write differently, but I think in general the authenticity of character emotions is what appeals to me most both as a romance reader and writer. And discovering those emotions–even if they’re sometimes hidden behind the masks we all carry–is what draws me to what has been seen in SD and RtC as “different” storylines. There’s a depth and challenge that can’t be accomplished with all plots and all characters–infidelity as part of the plot is definitely something that brings out a hero or heroine’s character.

      Look–now you’ve made me all philosophical and introspective in regards to my own work. ;)

  6. I think Sherry Thomas dealt nicely with infidelity in a hero and heroine. Her characters in Private Arrangements were as good as not married for ten years. I think I remember her saying that OF COURSE they would take lovers during that time. And I think it worked beautifully. There was even a scene with the wife’s former lover to show they were still friends (which is very true in my world where exes all stay friends with each other, strange, but true).

    In the real world, I would say it’s justified for the exact reasons Dan Savage says it’s okay (partner very sick or disabled, parter withholding without cause, outsourcing a kink, living together as strangers), but outside of those bounds, it’s despicable.

    I am excited to see how you handle the topic. I do agree it’s something that people can get over, but I would have to say that I would not be one of those people because too much trust is broken.

    (For the record, I was happy when Miranda took Steve back in the SATC movie, but I was also like, *really*?)

    • Hey Anna!

      I never read ‘Private Arrangements’ by Sherry Thomas, but I’ll put it on my wish list for sure now.
      You will love RtC, because of the way that Ashley handled the subject matter. I thought she did such an outstanding job. There was no judgement nor blame, just pure pain from both Hero and heroine’s POV. I put out links to Google books for all of her work so you can get the feel of Ashley’s prose. Here’s an Excerpt of ‘SEDUCING the DUCHESS’:

      “She was exquisite, a sin to be indulged in and never repented.

      The sound of her laughter, rich and full, a siren’s song, caught at his soul. It lured him to the edge of his seat until his nose was nearly pressed against the carriage window.

      She did not walk like a lady; she didn’t walk like any other woman he had ever known. Every move was calculated to draw masculine eyes to the voluptuous lines of her body—the taunting sway of her hips, the subtle arch of her spine, the inviting tilt of her head. Even the moon desired to be her lover, its long fingers caressing her face and throat in admiring regard before she disappeared into the gambling den.

      She was stunning. A beautiful harlot.”

      For such a young woman, she ‘gets’ it! She infuses that ‘emotion’ into her characters and gets into their skin…

      I do understand your ‘not getting over it’…me I think I could forgive, but it all depends on so many factors that unless the moment is upon you, you just don’t even want to ‘go there’.

      • Agree completely — you never know until the moment is upon you.

        You MUST MUST MUST read Private Arrangements. Do. Not. Wait.

        That is some excerpt. I think I have a Do. Not. Wait. of my own now. ;)

      • Hi Mel–I agree with Anna. In fact, I would even go so far as to say you must read ALL of Sherry Thomas’ books NOW. Simply a-MA-zing. And I would also add Meredith Duran and Anne Mallory. All authors on my “I want to be you when I grow up” list. =)

    • Hi Anna! First of all, I ADORE Sherry Thomas. Isn’t she absolutely amazing? =) And I have to admit that when I first started writing SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, I had every intent of writing it so that Charlotte had taken at least one lover. But as I wrote her character, I just couldn’t do it–it didn’t seem to be something organic to her. But I do agree that there are certain circumstances of infidelity where it can be understood–even if not liked–and more easily forgiven than others. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for visiting with me today. =)

  7. I agree with Grace, as I usually do, that infidelity was an accepted product of it’s time. Thank you for your thoughtful post and for stepping outside the box with what sounds like a very innovative book for our romance genre. It is definitely on the Must Acquire list. I like unconventional stories and characters that make you think a little more or examine how you feel. There are times I want “popcorn for the mind,” but times I’m hungry for a little more substance.

    Congratulations and wishes for your continued success!

    • Hello Julee!

      I’m just fascinated with the opinions on this topic. I started reading romance ‘late’ in life (I was about 25, stay at home mom with kids in school and my friend gave me ‘A ROSE IN WINTER’ by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss book, and I was hooked), and I noticed that we ‘accept’ the infidelity easier if committed by the male of the species. Myself included. I’ve grown since then, and these days it doesn’t bother me so much, and if it’s given an adequate explanation within the story, I can ‘dig’ it.

      I love your ‘popcorn’ reference and I’m w/you 100%!
      BTW: You don’t need to include your email addy. I have it every time you comment :)
      Thanks for stopping by and giving us your take on this subject.

      Good luck in the giveaway!

      • Hi Mel: I think our society is still perpetrating the belief (which may in fact be true generally, but is certainly not true for all) that men are by far more sexual creatures than women. Men can’t “control” themselves, whereas women are expected to honor virtue over desires. My belief is that it’s just as difficult for women to resist temptation as it is for men, but our emotional connection with our partners plays an entirely different role in the resistance than what men experience. JMO. =)

    • Hi Julee! Thank you for your comment–I’m so glad to hear your thoughts on the subject. I think popcorn and substance are both good for different reasons. ;) With that being said, I recently finished A LADY’S LESSON IN SCANDAL by Meredith Duran, and that is DEFINITELY substance worth the sacrifice of popcorn. I highly recommend it. =)

  8. I don’t enjoy reading about current infidelity between the hero and the heroine, especially if they had an emotional connection at the time. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened very often. Prior infidelities, especially not between the couple, seems to be much more common & acceptable, as long as they end up with their HEA.

  9. Hi Ashley, I am so glad you tackled this subject. I do realize the taboo nature regarding infidelity in romance novels and for me I do wince whenever I encounter them. However, I don’t shy away from in fact I may even look forward to reading it more. Sometimes I am not clued in to this aspect as the blurb won’t show it and come across as I read a story. I don’t mind. I believe in love but I know everyone has a different journey. Some are harder, darker and requires more obstacles to overcome and to me it may mean a love worth keeping. It may mean an HEA that is earned. I lke to connect emotionally with a story and betrayals like this does this. I don’t think an author should include infideility for the sake or it or to NOT included it. If the story calls for it, then it does. I’m interested in the characters and their story and I would rather experience every aspect of it -the lows and highs.

    • Oh, Na, I could not have said it better. This is exactly what I think, too. Don’t include infidelity because you want to teach me a lesson about morality–I already have my own judgments–but if you need to include it as part of the story because of who the characters are, I’m willing to take that trip with you as long as you reward me with a satisfactory HEA in the end. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I’m glad to see that other readers who might not be comfortable with the subject are still willing to try such stories. =)

  10. I’m so glad I came back to read the discussion. I loved the post, because I think infidelity is one of those very delicate areas that are most difficult to tread. I’ve used it, but only with extenuating circumstances, and lots of redemption. So much of its understanding is in the hands of the author. IF you have a great author like Sherry Thomas(yes, I loved Private Arrangements) or Ashley, then you can understand the delicate balance. For me, though, once love has been declared, infidelity is unacceptable as a casual choice(I have used it under duress). My characters must be honorable to each other. And once the real commitment has been made(in historicals, the legal commitment doesn’t necessarily hold the weight it does now, because of dynastic marriages), then the commitment must be true and binding.

    • Hi Eileen! Can I just say how grateful I am that we have all different kinds of romance readers and writers who have differing opinions on what works and what doesn’t? I know that not everyone will read romances with infidelity as part of them (and that’s okay!), but I’m so glad for those who are willing to take that part of the journey with a couple for their HEA. It’s hard for me also to think of infidelity as a casual choice–truly, can it really ever be casual? If sex is meant to be a symbolic joining of a couple’s hearts and their commitment to each other, then it seems like sex–even if it’s just the act of giving into temptation–with another person HAS to be an act where the partner’s feelings are disregarded deliberately. You can’t think: “Oh, it didn’t mean anything.” Because it always means something, even if the significance which you attribute to the act is little. THAT means something.

      I feel like I’m talking myself in circles–and it might be because I’m tired –but I think the most important thing to me in reading or writing about infidelity in romances is that there is always a decision, and there is always a consequence. How the hero and heroine handle each of these is what makes it interesting to me.

      • You may be tired, but I think you put it as succinctly as I’ve seen.
        “but I think the most important thing to me in reading or writing about infidelity in romances is that there is always a decision, and there is always a consequence. How the hero and heroine handle each of these is what makes it interesting to me.”
        I think that says it all.

  11. Hello everyone! I just wanted to send a general thank you real quick for visiting with me today (individual replies soon)! I was selected for jury duty today, so this is my first opportunity to hop on the blog. So excited to read everyone’s comments! =)

  12. Have to say I am against infidelity no matter what. Has to be some way out. Although they aren’t my favorite books I will not read a book because of it.

    • Hi Tammy! Thank you for your honest feedback! I know that this is a hot button issue, just like domestic abuse or rape can be a hot button issue for other readers. It’s one reason why I’m glad we have so many great romance authors and romance books to choose from out there. =)

  13. I think it needs to be written about BECAUSE so many readers have experienced it in real life — me among them. There’s something cathartic in getting the happy ending. Please continue, Ashley!

    • Thank you so much, Maureen. I’m so sorry to hear that you had to deal with this in your life, but I’m glad to know that reading romances that include infidelity helps. As I said in the post, I didn’t write my books because I wanted to write about infidelity–just because they fit into the storyline. And after one reader mentioned that perhaps some people didn’t like reading about infidelity because they had experienced it, I felt very bad. But if it helps anyone, then this encourages me. I will now keep my mind open to more stories that include the topic. =)

  14. In each of our previous marriages, both me and my husband were victims of infidelity and we can both attest to the pain and and destruction of trust that goes along with the act. On the flip side of the coin however, if our spouses HAD stayed faithful then we would never had cause to meet so we both got our HEA BECAUSE of that infidelity. I would never condone infidelity as a reason to destroy an already unhappy relationship or to make up for being “lonely”, if you are unhappy in your relationship, find a way to fix it or end it before moving on to your next, if you are “lonely” then inform your spouse about it and make sure they are even aware of that fact. I am a firm believer that even if someone has been cheated on, you should NEVER judge every romantic interest after that by that person’s actions and that even those who have had their heart broken by such a vile, vicious act can still go on to have a healthy, fulfilling and loving relationship! So there are many, many ways to work infidelity into a story without it coming across as a condoned activity or as an encouragement to those who are unfulfilled.

  15. I had a whole big comment written yesterday but it got eaten by the interwebs :(

    Hi Ashley – I’ve been following your blog tour and have commented on so many posts, I’m feeling a bit like a stalker!!

    As for infidelity, I too believe in forgiveness and I think a talented writer can pull this storyline off. I do think that the cheating rat bastard/cow needs to be truly remorseful and there has to be much grovelling. Also, I need to be convinced that the CRB/C will never do it again. But I love an angsty read, so a clever writer can definitely take me there!

    hankts AT internode DOT on DOT net

    • kaetrin!

      I hate when that happens! Glad you tried again :)

      I don’t think Ashley minds, though!You totally cracked me up, Chick! I agree w/u 100%!

  16. I don’t like the idea of infidelity but I have read some books with it that I still loved. I think it depends a lot on how the author does it, and the characters. Thanks!

    • Hey Jess!

      I’m like you. I’m not actively looking for the novel that has it, but if I stumble onto one, then I hope that the author took good care of telling it right. Like Ashley did :)

      Good luck in the giveaway :)

  17. Wow, after reading this I really really want to go find Seducing the Duchess! Yes a touchy subject, and yes it is rare to find in a romance book. But kudos to you for writing it the way it needed to be written!

  18. Thank you for this post. It gave me some things to think about.

    Just for fun, I’m writing a story. I’ve been reading a bunch of cheap werewolf romances and one of the tropes for this genre seems to be the idea of a predestined mate. Well, the idea lodged in my head of what if the human woman in the predestined pair didn’t have any idea that she was destined to mate a wolf. This is reasonable, since most people in these worlds have no idea werewolves are real. Well, let’s go one step farther. What if she got married before the wolf finds her? Then, in order for the wolf to claim his mate, he’d have to get her out of her marriage in some way. Since she’s destined to be his, then the marriage should not be perfect since she really shouldn’t have married her husband, but I don’t want it to be a train-wreck of a relationship or else she wouldn’t have any reason to resist the wolf when he comes for her.

    Aaa-nyhow, I was wondering if you had any recommendations for traditional romance novels that handle the topic of a cheating wife who ends up finding happiness with her lover instead of sticking with her husband. Seeing how traditional romances handle the situation might give me a better idea of how to handle my werewolf story.

    Thank you! :)

    • Hey Karen!

      Have you read OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon? It is a time-travel historical romance and in it the heroine commits adultery (bigamy), and it worked for the story only because of the circumstances (time-travel), so maybe it might work for you as well. Another example is SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY by Nancy Price (book was so much better than the Julia Roberts movie) and she commits adultery as well (she was abused).

      It will be hard to pull it off (we romance lovers are not so much tolerant of the act) but not impossible if handled realistically, honestly and with care.

      If you haven’t read Ashley’s book, you need to :D

      Mel

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