Trope Thursday: Cheating [6]

Trope Thursdays: A monthly feature where I look at various reading tropes. Each month I will pick a trope and examine all aspects of it. I’ll discuss the classic features of the trope, what I love (or hate) about it and share some books that use the trope in their plots.

For me, this trope is almost always a “no-go”. I just don’t want to read about it when I escape to my “happy place” of reading because it depresses the hell out of me. Sure, it can add to the story in a way tat can be positive (I’ll talk about that below), but most of the time, it brings up unpleasant drama that I would rather not read…

July’s Trope: Cheating


Cheating is the receiving of a reward for ability or finding an easy way out of an unpleasant situation by dishonest means.

~Wikipedia (“Cheating“)

Unfortunately, cheating cannot always simply be defined as having sex with someone outside of your relationship. Cheating comes in a variety of shapes and forms, but they are all equally devastating. (“Different Forms of Cheating in a Relationship“)

For the sake of this post, I’m classifying cheating as a situation in a book where a person in a committed relationship either has an emotional or physical relationship outside of that partnership. I’m not including books where the lead was cheated on in the past by a previous partner as that happened prior to the current story.

Simply put, physical cheating is the act of being sexually intimate with someone other than your spouse or significant other.

Emotional cheating may include physical intimacy but not necessarily so. Emotional cheating may begin as an innocent friendship. Eventually, an emotional cheater finds himself intimately confiding in the person, sharing thoughts, dreams and an emotional closeness that would normally be reserved for his mate. (“Different Forms of Cheating in a Relationship“)

Common Features:

  • Unfaithfulness
  • Love triangles
  • Possibility for Forbidden/Taboo Love
  • Torn between two friends/brothers/sisters
  • Unrequited love for a best friend
  • Character dating someone else when they meet

What I Love Like About The “Cheating” Trope:

I will admit that there is a certain suspense that can come about from a cheating situation–depending on the book. You start asking yourself, what will the fallout be when the truth is revealed? (See Avoiding Commitment). And if there is a love triangle involved, who will be with who in the end? (See Something Borrowed). If done well, it can add this anticipation and tension that can suck you in as a reader.

I think the biggest aspect of including unfaithfulness in a book is the potential to grow the characters. One of the first books I ever read with the cheating trope was Emily Griffin’s Love the One You’re With. Yes, I read it probably 20 years too early when I was 14 but the whole novel explored Ellen’s affair shortly after her first year of marriage with the guy she considers to be “the one that got away”. And while this book didn’t work for me in any way, the idea of using the affair to grow Ellen as a character is something I can appreciate as a reader. (Though it definitely does happen in that book). It tests the character’s spirit, morals and emotions which can really help to evolve them as a leading character.

What I Dislike About The “Cheating” Trope:

I’m not even a fan of reading sex scenes between characters who aren’t our two leads before they even meet. Icky. I’m one of those people who likes the “no cheating” disclaimer at the bottom of some of my contemporary romance synopses.

Perhaps this is the wrong view to have, but I view affairs as a mostly negative thing so I don’t want to read about them in my downtime. I don’t mind darker stories at all, I just find cheating to be a turn off.

I guess I don’t like how the characters can make decisions that aren’t logical to me. I get that emotions are high and so impulses can take control, but I often don’t like what those motivations turn the characters into. I just hate the dishonesty that comes about.

And more often than not, these situations involve a love triangle and I don’t enjoy books that have our cheater lamenting on and on about how torn they are between these two great people…

Books that Use the “Cheating” Trope Well:

I dunno if it helps that Darcy is such an unlikeable character that you can’t help but root for Dax to see why Rachel is the better option but this was a case where I didn’t mind the cheating. I think the other thing that helps is that Rachel has great personal growth from the affair. While  I would never condone cheating with your best friend’s fiance, Rachel does learn to become more assured in herself and fight for what she wants instead of being the doormat she has been her entire life.

>>Series Review: Darcy and Rachel


This is one of the only books I have ever read that has a “true love triangle” element to it (ie all three characters are in love with each other). The heart of this novel is Laney’s identity crisis and her relationships with both Armin and Blythe play crucial roles in that. The love triangle here provides an interesting dynamic to the story and one that keeps the reader on their toes as they watch Laney’s plan for revenge unfold.

>>Series Review: Avoiding


Others: No One Needs to Know

Books that Didn’t Use the “Cheating” Trope Well:

To be fair to this novel, it was originally published as a series of parts that was eventually combined into one novel so it does lack some of the depth you want. I was drawn in by the taboo nature of a girl falling in love with her mother’s boyfriend but I was never really sold on why these two would risk everything to be together.

>>Standalone Review: Illicit


This is a case of emotional cheating more than anything–which was interesting to read about for sure. However, I didn’t like how the situation made me dislike like Cami because her reasoning for stringing two guys along isn’t really explained. Sure, we get a good twist at the end that helps us understand her torn nature but I hated her reasoning throughout the novel about why she should stay in a long-distance relationship that clearly wasn’t working…


Others: The Vincent Boys

Do you enjoy books with the “cheating” Trope?

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Comments 2

  • Though there have been a book or two that involved cheating that I liked, it usually ruins a book for me. I think there’s just no excuse for it and I have a hard time staying objective.

    • I struggle being objective too! I need to see the bigger picture (ie how it contributes to the plot) for it early on. Thinking about it, I guess that’s usually the case in thrillers where you have the one party of the affair in a more villainous role…

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