As both a writer and a reader of erotic stories I have watched the arguments rage back and forth at the stories, at the public comments, on the bulletin boards and in emails. When a spouse strays, when should forgiveness be offered and when should it be withheld? Its pretty easy to make one general observation. No matter what how any given story handles the situation, its certain to offend someone.
First, let's define "Infidelity". It's not as easy as it might appear at first glance. Does the term require the partner have sex with someone else? Does it encompass flirting, or necking, or making out in the back seat of a 64 Dodge Dart? Where is the line in the sand that the crossing of moves the action from innocence to betrayal?
Originally, I was going to automatically rule out any action that took place in an open relationship. I'm not sure that I can do that. Even in those relationships, there is often an agreed upon set of limits. When those limits are crossed, when the agreements are broken, isn't it the same as cheating? I recall a very interesting story where a couple joined a swing club. As it turned out, one of the partners was doing it to reopen an affair with a lover from before the marriage. To me that's cheating. Why? Because its deceitful. One person is doing something behind the other's back.
Is it cheating if it doesn't include sex? Please, no discussion of what goes on in the White House. Oral sex is sex. Anal sex is sex. Sex between two women or two men is still sex. Is there such a thing as emotional infidelity? Cyber sex, phone sex, girls confessing, guys bragging, or heck, girls bragging and guys confessing. Am I cheating if I confess to a close friend my fantasy of sex with Sean Connery? Or with a VERY close friend my fantasy of Faith Hill?
No, of course not. The line can be very fine though. For the purposes of this discussion let's confine the definition of cheating to physical contact of the closest kind. Real, one on one (or more than one) sex involving lots of sweating, intimate contact and probably orgasms. If that isn't a clear enough definition for you, I'm sorry. Why are you on an erotic website?
Once a spouse, partner, or boyfriend/girlfriend has indeed cheated, or perhaps been fortuitously interrupted as they were getting undressed in bed together, AND the partner is aware of what has transpired (no flag, no foul), what happens next?
From my review of a lot of stories and a lot of comments at Lit, I find two extreme schools of thought on forgiveness. The first school holds that any crossing of the fidelity line is unacceptable. For example, I once received a condemnation of a character in one of my stories because when she was kissed by a long ago lover, she kissed the lover back before regaining control of herself. This school of thought considers adultery unforgivable, plain and simple. The usual response seems to be "Kick the offender out and with luck they'll catch AIDS and die a horrible death. That'll teach 'em!"
The difficulty I have with this view is that there is no margin for error. A college girl gets drunk at the same party her boyfriend passes out at and ends up screwing with the star quarterback. Is she in the same classification as the mild-mannered father of three who bangs the 18 year old babysitter every Saturday night on the pretense of taking her home or the soccer mom who takes on the entire starting defensive squad of the Pittsburgh Steelers?
I don't think so. Among anything else this makes me think of the old "hung for a sheep as a lamb" chestnut. This seems to mean that when the girlfriend sobers up she might as well do the rest of the fraternity and perhaps the girl's field hockey team while she's at it. What's done can never be undone.
The second school holds the complete opposite opinion. With love and understanding, nothing is impossible. Indeed the farthest edge of this group holds that no offense has even been committed. All boundaries and agreements are artificial and only stifle the happiness that comes from complete freedom to act solely as one chooses. Indeed, the partner should be happy that they have the fortune to be with someone who is so open and free.
Here my problem is that liberty becomes license. Then the person really is doing the basketball coaching staff and the entire secretarial pool at the office. It doesn't matter that they are abandoning their children, their job and creating heartache for the one that they supposedly love. As far as I'm concerned, it has to work both ways. Generally I see most of those type stories as having one person who loves too much and the other who doesn't care for anything past the moment.
Generally there is a lot of shouting that goes on between these opinions. One accuses the other of being "wimps". The second tells the first that they're "Nazis".
Then in the middle, we have the dreaded moderates, of which I confess myself to be one. When we are asked if an affair can be forgiven we answer firmly and with great conviction, "It depends". I believe that some errors are forgivable, and some are not. I've written stories with both types of endings. To my mind, its not just the length of an affair, nor the deep the involvement is that is the key, although certainly I want to discuss those issues. What matters to me when I'm trying to decide on one of my stories or on one that I'm reading is a myriad of factors.
It is said that men look at affairs from the physical side, women from the emotional side. I doubt that its that easy but perhaps it does shed some light on the subject. When confronted with an erring spouse a woman is more likely to wonder "Do you love her?" A man, whether he vocalizes it or not, wants to know "Was he better than me in bed?" In both cases the actual words are likely "How could you DO this to me?"
First of all, how did the affair happen? Was it planned or did it suddenly and unexpectedly take place? A husband gets sloshed at an out-of-town business meeting and ended up in bed with some stranger. Compare this with a girlfriend who plans for weeks how she is going to spend the weekend with her old flame at a reunion that she has made sure her current boyfriend is not going to be at. The more effort and planning that goes into an affair the deeper the transgression and therefore the harder it will be to forgive.
Second, what overt harm did it do to the partner? I'm not just talking about being brazen about the whole affair, although the more and the harder one rubs their partner's nose into what is happening the slimmer the chances of forgiveness are. Other factors include; is the cheater denying the partner anything, be it sex, affection or time spent together? Although we are on an erotic site and therefore tend to think of the denial, lessening or quality of sex being the biggest injury, often its not. Intimacy means a lot more than just sex, and not just for women either. The withdrawal of the cheater from the partner whether caused by guilt, indifference or simply lack of time to balance everything going on is as damaging as the physical actions themselves.
Is anyone else caught up in this? Are children involved and are they suffering because of the actions of the cheater or the reactions of the other person? The more devoted a parent is, the harder they will probably find to forgive when the kids have been affected. At the same time, the consequences of a divorce, especially a bitter one, have to be taken into consideration. I'm not saying "stay together for the sake of the kids", but it is a strong consideration.
Third, where other factors at work here? Was there alcohol, drugs or blackmail involved? Particularly in the case of being drunk, that's an excuse, not a reason. An adult who doesn't know when to stop drinking shouldn't be drinking at all. That college girlfriend up above has a better excuse than a 40 year old married woman for getting drunk. Drugged unwittingly is rape, not cheating. And blackmail, especially as used most often here, comes from making a voluntary misstep, the compromising pictures of the wife with the boss for example. If the first time didn't happen then the blackmail wouldn't exist. It does however, tend to make further offenses more understandable.
Fourth, and perhaps the most important factor of all, how does the cheater react when caught? Some things are almost certain to happen. As long as possible the cheater is going to deny what has happened. When confronted with proof, the next instinct is to attempt to minimize the damage as much as possible. These actions; coupled with the standard "I can explain", "This is the only time its happened", and the most famous "I just love you, it was only about sex" are panic reactions. They spill out in a desperate attempt to soften the situation, make it appear not as bad as it is, make the cheater appear less wrong.
Now there are those stories we find here where the cheater simply shrugs and basically says "Its all your fault and I'm not going to stop." Assuming this isn't revenge sex or something like that, then the partner is going to have to take a really hard look to see if they can get live with the situation as its presented to them. I'm not talking about the "willing cuckold" type stories. No forgiveness is needed when the partner willingly acquiesces to the affair. This is about people who are hurt and want the affair to stop. Can they live with the cheater's ultimatum? Some will. Some people will be so in love that they'll suffer the hurts in silence to keep that partner. Most won't. It certainly isn't a good starting place.
Most people though, unless they were planning on heading out the door already when they were caught, will try to salvage the relationship they were in. They may have been cheating but there had to be something of core value with the partner they were slipping around on. Otherwise they would have simply packed up and gone long before. Eliminate money and status reasons, cheaters like that are simply quieter cases of "I'm not stopping". We're talking about the people who didn't think of the consequences, didn't consciously admit they were really jeopardizing their marriage. These are the people who want to be forgiven, hope to be forgiven.
Can they be? I can only decide for myself. Maybe yes, maybe no. You will have to choose for the stories you read or write and the characters you encounter or create.