Those of you who read my blog often know that I have a hard time with cheating in books. It doesn’t automatically make a book unreadable for me (for instance, Maybe Someday deals with cheating and is one of my all-time favorite books), but it has to be handled really well for me to accept it, and even then, it’s sort of a niggling feeling at the back of my mind that won’t go away – a feeling of discomfort that makes me sort of cringe. This is especially true when I’m supposed to be rooting for the cheaters to get together. It just sits wrong with me.
This has made me think a lot about how our personal experiences affect the way we read. Some of you probably assume from my aversion to cheating in books that I’ve been cheated on – it makes sense, right? But that actually isn’t it. In fact, quite the opposite – I’ve been with my husband since high school (we’ve been together over 22 years) and there’s been no cheating involved. So, why do I have such strong feelings about the subject?
I think the fact that I’ve been in a strong, long-lasting relationship actually makes me more averse to cheating in books because I know how hard relationships can be, but I also know how rewarding it can be to stick the hard times through and get to the other side. My husband and I dated for seven years before we got married – many of those years were long distance because we went to different colleges. Trust me, I know what it’s like to feel tempted by someone who’s right there when the person you love is far away or when things get tough and this other person seems so fun and sweet and fresh and new.
And we see that so often in books – the main character just doesn’t feel that spark with the person they’re with anymore and they meet someone new who ignites them and makes them feel alive! And we root for them, right? I mean, it’s hard not to when this new couple is the focus of the book and the “old” relationship is just background noise. But, for me, this is when my “real life” filter starts to kick in – I start to think about how this fresh, new relationship, this soul mate, is going to feel just like the background noise in a few years. Of course this new relationship feels amazing – it’s brand new!
But that feeling of absolute “in loveness” and adoration can’t last forever. Even when you have a fantastic relationship that newness wears off, and everything looks a little less shiny. You have days where you just want to shake your head and walk away because it would be so much easier than dealing with the fact that your relationship is no longer all unicorns and rainbows. And the fact is that, if you did walk away, you could probably find something that felt better – for a little while – but that doesn’t mean it would be better.
So, that little “real life” filter in my brain keeps whispering to the characters – But you have someone who you love, who loves you, who you share history with. You should put forth every effort to fix that relationship before you go off and start another one. You should think hard about the person that you’re hurting and the happiness that you’re giving up before you go searching out new happiness. Because the hard days will pass, and you’ll find yourselves stronger on the other side, and you’ll feel something deeper than that puppy dog adoration if you let yourself get there. (I guess I should point out here that I’m talking about people who had good relationships going in the first place, not really dysfunctional relationships – obviously I’m not a proponent of sticking with someone just because you’re with them, no matter what happens. There are plenty of circumstances where a couple should break up – I’m just talking about situations where the new, shiny romance seems more appealing than the old one.)
But obviously all of that is based on my own life experience. Other people have had contradicting experiences, and their internal voices could be telling them something altogether different. I certainly don’t judge anyone who holds another opinion because their life has taught them different lessons. This is why reading is so personal, why each story means something slightly different to all of us. We are made up of our own life experiences, and no one else has lived in the same way.
Anyway, this is where my personal feelings about cheating come from (at least partially – I do also have people close to me who were cheated on, and that informs my feelings as well). This is why this feels like a hot button topic for me.