Grey areas and hard lines: What most people consider cheating

By Lea Rose Emery

When it comes to cheating, there’s a lot of grey area. In fact, the rise of terms like ‘micro-cheating’ — little sketchy moves like saving someone under a different name in your phone to avoid suspicion — demonstrates that there are a lot of things people can do that may not exactly describe cheating but somehow just feel... wrong. And often, cheaters will exploit that loophole. They may be caught doing things that you feel uncomfortable with, but they’ll convince you that you’re the problem, rather than what they’re doing. Ambiguity can be a dangerous thing. 

And part of the problem is just the lack of black and white definitions when it comes to cheating. There are some things that are obvious— like if you have sex with another person when you’re in full understanding of the consequences. Or if you’re dating two people at once while claiming to be monogamous. Those things are definitely cheating. They are outside the boundaries of your relationship. But often we don’t sit down and may out exactly where boundaries are for every tiny interaction that might come up, meaning that some behaviors fall through the crack. 

It would be nice to use a common sense rule — what do most people think counts as cheating, but, the truth is, even that can get confusing because people have a lot of different opinions. 

There’s a lot of grey area 

A survey by Elite Daily shows just how all over the place we are about what counts as cheating. They asked 100 people what they thought counted and, spoiler alert, there were a lot of inconsistencies. For example, if your partner was regularly hanging out with another person for whom they had feelings, I would think that was definitely a problem — but only 62 percent said that counted as cheating, while 38 percent disagreed. That’s not exactly an overwhelming consensus. Unsurprisingly though, nearly everyone said that having sober sex or even making out with someone while sober was cheating, so there is some agreement. 

Emotional cheating is a real thing 

I think part of the problem in finding obvious guidelines is that emotional cheating is a real thing— although sometimes difficult to define. For example, in the last case, only 61 percent of people said having those feelings for someone else in the first place counted as cheating, which is a majority— but not by that much. But in reality, you can have a huge amount of disloyalty, even an affair, without ever having a lot of physical touching. 

Emotional infidelity is any situation that creates or causes some degree of emotional unavailability on the part of one partner that interferes with one particular aspect of the relationship, along with the quality of the relationship as a whole,” Psychology Today explains. “Regardless of the rationalization behind it, emotional infidelity is an expression of either the need or the desire to absent oneself from one's primary relationship, without actually leaving that relationship. Therein lies the core of the issue, and it is what defines emotional infidelity as, if not exactly the same, at least the social equivalent of sexual infidelity.” But it’s still a huge problem. And it’s one of those things that you can’t always put your finger on— you sense that your partner has an inappropriate relationship with someone else, but they can genuinely claim that nothing has happened. 

Phones make things even more complicated

Another complicating issue is social media and phone use— constant communication in today’s society means it’s easier to walk the boundary between cheating and non-cheating. For example, 70 percent of people thought that using a flirty emoji with someone else wasn’t cheating and only 30 percent thought it was. But then consider the fact that 75 percent said that full-on flirting over text definitely counted as being unfaithful. So the changing from a flirting emoji to actual flirting was enough to change 45 percent of people’s minds about whether it counted as cheating... but is there really a difference? What counts as a flirty emoji? Or a flirty text? It’s confusing enough already — and cell phones just muddy the water. 

So really, you should talk it out 

With all of the different communication methods available to us and so many different variations of sketchy behavior that may or may not count as cheating, it’s really important that you talk things out with your partner. Because cheating is all about the two of you— like I said, it’s about doing something outside of the boundaries of your relationship. That means you set the boundaries. There’s no objective right and wrong; you need to work out what feels right for you. Is there a big difference between a sober mistake and a drunk one? Is secret communication a problem— or does it feel forced to tell each other everything all the time? Should you tell each other if you grow close to someone else? These are all questions you have to answer, because, ultimately, it's all about how the two of you feel. 

Working out what counts as cheating can be difficult— but you know when something’s off. So set some boundaries with your partner and trust your instincts. Because, the truth is, there is no objective list of cheating rules that we can all agree on. People are far too different and what feels wrong to one person may not feel wrong to another. Instead, just focus on what you think is unacceptable and, when in doubt, trust your gut. You know when you’re not being treated in a way you’re comfortable with. And that’s the bottom line. 

Image source: Coucou Suzette

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