Discussion

What is the Problem With Cheating (in books)?

//This post was inspired from this post.

So, I think 99% of the bookish community stands united and steadfast in this one opinion : cheating sucks. Any form of cheating, be it cheating on your one true love, or cheating for your one true love is a bad bad bad thing to do, and of course we end up hating books which portray cheating!

So now, my question is : exactly why do we despise cheating so much?

In a community where we encourage ‘realistic’ books and appreciate books which can truly refelct and portray human beings and human emotions and all such human shenanigans, why is cheating so intolerable?

Okay, before you launch into a 100 kmph rant about how cheating is unacceptable, and immoral, and wrong – let me clarify that I AGREE. I know that cheating, as a thing, as an activity, as a behaviour, is wrong and amoral and unforgivable. And cheating not just in a romantic relationship, but in each and every facet of life. But I’m talking about a specific kind of people.

The first time I started noticing this issue was with the book Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Now, I read this book way too long ago to actually remember what kind of cheating or behaviour is portrayed in this book; so I’m not going to comment on that. I’m just going to say that back when I read this, I never had any such ‘cheating-related’ problems. So anyway, I first noticed this issue with this book. I heard and read so many people say that the only reason they hated the book was because it included cheating. (I personally loved the book though I do respect your individual opinions). What irked and baffled me was how so many people hated the book because of one basic factor – cheating.

I’ve read in so many reviews and in general, so many people’s opinions that in a book they were normally enjoying, as soon as a certain character (especially the main character) cheated, they ended up hating the book. Basically, this ‘cheating’ was the only factor which led them to hate a book. And my question is, WHY?

Cheating is something which happens in real life. Real human beings do that, and it happens all over the world, in all different ages, in all forms, in all shapes. Then why shouldn’t we portray it in books? When MCs are off killing people and behaving obnoxiously and passing snarky comments (ahem, Will Herondale) – that is encouraged and swooned over. That is accepted, and people fall in love with MCs who are snarky, or dominant, or stupid, or murderers, or thieves, or criminals, or kidnappers, or thugs, or street-fighters. Everything is accepted. But the moment the MC cheats, the book suddenly becomes THE MOST HATED BOOK IN THE WORLD. Of course, because something as human and realistic as cheating cannot be accepted unlike murdering and being arrogant because of that is so romantic and hot.

You probably are bursting into a protest and the words ‘cheating is amoral’ is springing from your lips. (For which my answer is murdering and stealing is also amoral). But there is another point I want to lay stress on. There’s this thing with cheating. There’s the situation when you meticulously plan hiding your affair, when you continue to cheat on someone over a considerable period of time, when you continue having an affair and lying over a certain period of time. And then there’s the accidental kiss, when you’re stuck in a relationship you’re not sure about, and then you meet the person who makes your soul sing (yeah okay I know that’s dramatic I’m rolling my eyes too but still) and in one moment of desperation, you give in to your desire and BOOM that’s it the readers are put off and the book becomes a BAD BOOK just because a character gave in to his/her true feelings and probably ended up with his #onetruelove!

Yes, both situations are cheating, but both are also human. Both happen in real life, then why do they need to be shunned in books? And out of the two situations I just described in the previous paragraph, though the first one is wrong and immoral, I honestly don’t find anything wrong with the second situation. Sometimes these accidental kisses are the ones which make you realise what a wrong relationship you’re in and what your heart truly wants. Then how can this be considered so ‘dsigraceful’? Of course, when these incidents continue for a longer period of time, and the person keeps lying and cheating on his/her partner, that’s wrong and should be discouraged. But we’re not here to discuss that, are we? (I just needed to throw in some relationship pep-talk :D)

The whole point I’m trying to make is that something which is so regular and so common in real life has no reason to be such a turn off in books. Of course, books can be used to set an example of how wrong cheating is, but to declare a book ‘horrible’ or ‘bad’ or hating the book just because it has cheating is (to me) ridiculous.

Honestly, I’ve never understood this. I’ve never been able to synchronise with people who declare a book to be terrible because it has cheating, or who specifically mention in their review policies to not request them to reveiw any book which has cheating in it. I don’t even understand why cheating is such a ‘big thing’ (in books ofc). In real life, it’s a huge drama but when we’re talking about books? Come on. When characters in the books I read cheat, I usually try to judge the situation by looking at the original relationship, the person with whom the MC cheated, and whether this cheating is based on true feelings or just a fling.

So anyway, that’s just me. How I read and how I judge. I repeat, cheating is wrong. But portraying cheating in books isn’t. 


What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you get turned off when you read about your MC cheating? Do cheating characters annoy you? What is your take on this? Share your thoughts!

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26 thoughts on “What is the Problem With Cheating (in books)?

  1. I think as readers we want to care about the characters, but when they cheat (on whatever) they are tarnished in the reader’s eyes. Untrustworthy, and then readers lose the ability to care about that particular character and what happens to them. That doesn’t mean they stop caring about other characters in the book, but it’s too close to real life and people want something extraordinary.

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    1. Well yep I do agree that when a character cheats, he might be tarnished in the reader’s eyes but that I feel depends on individual differences. Something which I feel is wrong, someone else might not have any problem with. But, declaring the entire book as terrible just because one character cheated seems weird to me. Or maybe, it’s just me, because I’ve never really hated a book because it involved cheating. Sure, I’ve looked down upon characters who cheat and continue lying, but cheating isn’t a big enough issue for me to alter the entire experience of reading the book.

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      1. I agree. I don’t see how that should ruin the whole thing. I watched The Words last night and from the beginning I hated the MC for what he did (stole a manuscript from a man that wrote it after WWII and used it as his own). Now plagiarism is a big thing and what he did was wrong, but even though I had a strong distaste for him, the old man that wrote it and confronted him and forgave him, despite the mistake. That redeemed the MC a little in my eyes and I found I still cared about what happened despite the huge mistake.

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        1. Yes exactly. There are redeeming incidents which can often reduce our distaste toward the character who has done something wrong. Even more so, hating the book because of one mistake of the character seems unfair to the book.

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  2. I agree with you. While I haven’t read that many books with cheating in it, I don’t really understand it when people condemn a character or a book viciously because of it. Like most of us, I dislike cheating and I don’t intend to condone it in any manner, but characters and circumstances are often complex in books, and it doesn’t make sense to hold them to a really strict moral standard. Personally I feel there are loads of things in books way more problematic than cheating.

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    1. Yes exactly. There are things more problematic than cheating, and I hate that people love reading that. MCs in so many books (especially fantasy) are often either assassins, thieves, murderes etc and people love all that. If you look into contemporary, you’ll find a good share of MCs who aren’t exactly ‘moral’. Then why the hype about cheating, of all things? For me, if a character cheats, I look down upon that but that doesn’t mean that I’ll start hating an otherwise good book.

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  3. This is a really interesting post! Of course, I don’t agree with cheating, and it can definitely put you off someone if you know they’ve cheated on their partner. However, like you said, it’s human and it happens all the time! It’s something that should be shown in books. I’ve read a lot of adult novels that have included cheating, and whilst I might feel disappointed in the MC for a while, I get over it because they either have redeeming qualities or their partner is nasty or they’re meant to be a horrible person and so we’re not meant to like them anyway. I’ve never read about cheating in YA, at least not in the normal sense. However, YA favours love triangles, and so many of these centre around a girl who has feelings for two guys and usually kisses both of them. But, you know, she’s just “finding herself”, she’s young, she isn’t really cheating. But she is leading these boys on! Some people in YA seem to think this is okay, like the accidental kiss that you described, even though it is a form of cheating. I think it’s quite hypocritical of YA really. Sorry this was a long comment haha but you made some great points!

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    1. Exactly, it is human and it happens everywhere so it shouldn’t be shunned upon in books. That’s my entire point. What an individual personally feels about cheating is subjective, but hating a book because a character cheated is unfair to the book. And I too often dislike characters who cheat, but if they have redeeming qualities, I often find myself warming up to them.
      Like you said, I know how hypocritical it sounds and (maybe) I am hypocritical but somehow in my head there are strict boundaries about every situation. The love triangle situation you mentioned in YA, I genuinely hate that. I hate Bella swan and every manifestation of her in a book. I don’t like it when a girl leads on both guys. For me, there’s a strict division between what’s wrong and what’s not so wrong. I think if you continue to cheat or ‘lead on’ someone and fail to recognize your feelings soon enough, you’re playing with others and that’s wrong. But the the accident kiss thing, I feel that if such accidents can help the individual realize his true feelings and he can work on that, then that’s not so wrong. And by working on that, I mean breaking off the previous relationship and starting this new one. But if you keep playing with both people, then that’s a serious issues.
      And haha no problem! I don’t mind long comments😂 And this reply of mine is probably the longest reply I’ve ever typed on this blog .

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      1. Yeah exactly! Loads of bad things happen in books like murder, but we never seem to hate a protagonist for that, like you said. So if murder is being represented in books, why can’t cheating be? It’s definitely the lesser of the two evils! Yeah I remember really disliking Bella because she was with Edward but she’d be constantly trying it on with Jacob, even when Edward was there, like that whole thing in Breaking Dawn with Jacob keeping her warm in a tent.
        I totally agree though, accidental kisses happen and if it makes you realise your relationship isn’t working then that’s fine, as long as you end the relationship before going any further with this new person. Too often in YA there are girls leading on boys and no one seems to mind, but that’s actually almost as bad as cheating on a partner.
        Haha I’m glad! I feel honoured that I got such a long reply too! 😂

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  4. For me, the problem with Anna Anna the French Kiss wasn’t that there was cheating, but how it was treated. I felt it was handled poorly and dismissed because it was fueled by girl hate. Etienne’s girlfriend was competition to Anna and even though she didn’t know a thing about her, Anna dismissed it as acceptable because maybe she deserved it if they weren’t happy together. Like I can understand developing feelings for someone when you’re in a relationship, but I feel in that case, regardless of how the relationship was, the decent thing is to be honest and break up with them. It’s a lot better to break up because you weren’t working out than to have that used as an excuse to cheat. It was hard to get past it because Etienne was made to seem like such a nice guy, but that’s such a shitty thing to do. It was like neither Etienne or Anna ever even thought about what they were doing. It does happen, yeah, but I couldn’t stand that it happened under the guise of “fluffy contemporary.”

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    1. Yeah well I do agree on that. Like I said, I honestly don’t remember enough about the book to actually pass a comment on that. I just mentioned it because this book is in great controversy over this. I think yep, he should’ve broken up with his girlfriend. Of course you can develop feelings for another person when you’re in a relationship with someone, and the only decent thing to do is break up. And for this, I feel that YA books need to portray such things in a correct way and make sure that they’re not promoting the wrong message. Personally, if I were to read something like this again, I’d be super annoyed with the character, but I don’t think I’d hate the book like some people passionately seem to in such situations. If the book promotes the wrong message, and dismisses the cheating as a trivial matter, then that’s wrong but otherwise, there’s no reason to hate the book. I totally agree with you on how you had a problem with how cheating was treated in the book. I’d have a problem with that too.

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  5. Cheating is wrong from a logical viewpoint- it’s a betrayal of trust and shows that the character (or person) is disloyal. It makes it really hard (and sometimes impossible) to have a relationship with a person who is a cheater, because it shows they do not have a sense of loyalty and cannot be trusted (for example- if someone cheats on their boyfriend with their best friend’s fiance- which is the title of a video I watched the other day- it shows that person cannot be trusted as a friend or in a relationship) There is a logical reason why we recoil from this- forming good relationships with people are fundamental to human existence- we are sociable animals and need to be able to relate to other people. If someone violates trust it’s a sign that they would not be someone we would want as a close confidante. That said- in life, situations are complex and we’re not always directly affected and it is possible to form a relationship or forgive someone for something that they have done in this regard. In books, however, which offer a more idealised view of the world and encourage cathartic release, we tend to feel more strongly if a character does something that we don’t agree with (and in some cases take it personally)
    That said- I also liked Anna and the French Kiss- though I was uncomfortable with the cheating, I felt it was realistic and I was invested enough in the characters to forgive them anything. It also didn’t really justify it and the heartbreak between the cheated on character wasn’t that strong- which is also something that happens in real life- and makes people more sympathetic. I didn’t actually see Tessa getting with Will as cheating at that point- partly cos I felt a little like Jem stole her from will- and secondly cos Jem was technically dead at that point.
    I would never say outright that all books with cheating in them are wrong- but if a book tries to justify cheating in any way or has characters that are unlikable because of this behaviour, then I will definitely not criticise the book because of it (99 days is a good example of this) sorry for the rambly comment- your post was just so thought-provoking!

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    1. Cheating is immoral, yes, but showing it in books isn’t. Of course it’s a betrayal of trust and even though books offer a more idealised view of the world, i feel that as long as the correct message is promoted, books shouldn’t be hated for having a character who cheats. So long as the the book doesn’t promote cheating in a good way, I have no problem with cheating in a book. It’s all about how it is treated in the book.
      As for Anna and the French kiss, like I said I do not really remember what the exactly happened, but this book is in quite a controversy because of this cheating issue.
      With Infernal Devices, the point I was trying to make is that a character like Will (whom I don’t like) who’s snarky and arrogant just plain mean (in spite of the deep dark past which I don’t think justifies his present behavior) – characters like him are swooner over and loved and made fictional boyfriends and role models. And my point with this whole example was that murderes and thieves and thugs and assassins are all SO loved and encouraged where cheating makes a book ‘the worst book’. I mean, sure, it’s all fantasy but if you can put up with these other things which are far worse than cheating, then why is the reaction to cheating so volatile? As for Tessa and Will’s relationship, I’ve got very negative views about the whole thing and that’s for another time :)
      And thanks!

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      1. No, I don’t consider showing anything in books as immoral- I just think it’s useful to bear in mind why people might have a visceral reaction.
        I think it depends on the book- for me it’s less about promoting cheating, because few books do (though the book I mentioned, 99 days, borders on doing that)- but for me it’s the issue of making the character unlikeable. If I’m supposed to sympathise with a main character, or see them as a good person, and all I can see is that they’re a douchy cheater, then I will criticise the book, because that means the author has done a bad job with the characterisation. With Anna, I still liked the main character and related to her, despite her actions- which is why I was ok with it.
        That makes sense for sure- but again, it depends on the context whether we like/forgive murderers (aka we can’t forgive Humbert Humbert in Lolita) Oh really? How come? I’m curious now! You’re welcome!

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  6. Yes! I totally agree with you. But you probably knew that already :)

    It is so odd to me that cheating is the one thing that we won’t accept from characters. Incest, we deal with (Mortal Instruments, ahem), but cheating? Too far! It is very funny to me.

    Also honestly if fictional characters always did the right thing books would be a lot more boring…

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    1. Yes exactly, we seem to accept so many other things which are far worse than cheating but when it comes to cheating, the reaction is way too volatile. I think a part of the reason why we accept such bad things is because they’re in fantasy books, but be it characters in a fantasy book or characters in a contemporary book, they’re characters after all and shouldn’t be treated differently. It shouldn’t be that just because a character is in a fantasy book, he’s allowed to murder and perform incest but the moment it is a contemporary book showing cheating, it’s looked down upon!

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  7. I agree with this so much. Too often the main characters of YA are expected to be perfect and moral, or else the book is bad. It’s why I’ve started expanding into adult fiction more – for example, The Girl On The Train. I believe when no character is ‘right’ and no character is ‘wrong’, the interesting story begins.

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    1. Yep exactly! It shouldn’t be that black and white, and perfectly moral characters would be boring and unrealistic. If we as readers are people who encourage ‘realistic books’ then cheating shouldn’t be so shunned. Especially if the book portrays it in the right way, then there’s no problem with it.

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  8. I completely agree with your main point about how strange it is that this is such a hated thing in books. Cheating in real life is terrible and I don’t think it’s ok, but I don’t understand why everyone gets into such an uproar about it when it comes to books. There are so many people out there who won’t even read a book if there’s cheating in it. I can understand not liking or wanting to read a book if it portrays cheating as being ok—I wouldn’t like that kind of book either because it’s not something I can agree with. But if the person just makes a mistake, there are consequences, it’s acknowledged, etc., then I can probably be ok with a book having cheating in it. I did read one book in which the MC kissed another character but finally realized he was making a mistake and told his boyfriend, and they’re working on things, and I still loved that book. I mean, as you said, we all love characters who murder and kidnap and all that, so why is cheating so much worse? Your list of all the terrible things was actually quite comical lol because it shows just how minuscule cheating is compared to all that. And there’s also a difference between liking a character and liking a book. So yeah, I don’t understand why people like books that have all other sorts of terrible things, but cheating is out of the question.

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  9. I definitely agree that it’s not immoral to write about cheating, but I will admit that cheating will often make me dislike a book, depending on how it’s portrayed. I was actually mostly okay with Anna and the French Kiss. One example of a book that I was really torn about because of the cheating was Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover, but in the end my love for the book and the way everything was handled won out. I agree that it makes a big difference how the cheating comes about and how long it goes on for.

    I think that cheating is a hot-button issue for a lot of people because it IS so real. Many people have either been cheated on or they have someone close to them who has been. That makes people respond more negatively to cheating in books.

    And the idea that it’s okay to cheat on someone if you meet your “true love” makes me a little bit frustrated sometimes, especially if the character has been in a long-term relationship. Let’s face it, once you’ve been with someone for awhile the relationship can’t feel as new and shiny as it did when you first met – that shine of “true love” could very easily just be “new love.” I get frustrated when characters don’t even try to mend their current relationships – the same way I do with people in real life. So, I don’t automatically hate books with cheating, but they have a much tougher job when it comes to winning me over.

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    1. Maybe Someday irked me too, but the book made it clear how difficult it was for the cheater and how he was struggling between the two and finally gave in to one girl in the end. I loved that the character himself was suffering and thus overall I loved the book. Had they shown a character who was frivolous and didn’t care about whether he was cheating or not, I would probably have disliked the book but for me, the message and the story and the background everything matters before I make the decision of whether I like the book or not. I usually feel disturbed how some people just flat-out portray their hatred for books which involve cheating, without really exploring the context and other factors.
      It’s not okay to cheat on someone because you found your one true love, but if one small something (like I said, an accidental kiss) or even developing feelings for someone can make you realize that your relationship is wrong AND you act upon it immediately, instead of going on cheating, then it works out for the best. Sometimes you may have feelings for someone outside your relationship and may not even know it, and if by chance you do cheat on your relationship AND that helps you realize your true feelings AND you act upon it by breaking off the relationship, then that may not be ‘right’ in a moral sense but it is the best possible outcome of such a situation.

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