What is Cheating?

guy checking out girl while with his girlfriend


Certain themes come up frequently around here and this is one of them.

What IS cheating? Where do you draw the line? Is it purely physical? Is it emotional? Can you be a cheater just for thinking about someone but never acting on it?

Many debate this but I don’t think it’s much of a debate.

Cheating is based on intention and interaction.  

  • Talking with a woman at a party. Not cheating.
  • Asking for that same woman’s number? Cheating.
  • Watching online porn. Not cheating.
  • Communicating with a woman via live webcam. Cheating.
  • Having lunch with your ex. Not cheating.
  • Having sex with your ex. Cheating.
  • Liking an Instagram model’s photo. Not cheating.
  • Direct messaging the same Instagram model to sit on your face. Cheating.

There’s really not that much grey area, people.

That said, I’m only one man and reasonable people can disagree. Author Ty Tashiro is one of them: “Though micro-cheating does not involve physical contact with someone outside the committed relationship, it’s important to avoid the temptation to overemphasize the ‘micro’ part of the phrase and remember that ‘cheating’ is the operative word,” he says. “When one betrays a partner’s trust there are always emotional consequences for the partner’s well-being and the integrity of the relationship.”

That brings us back to what part is actually betraying a partner’s trust. To me, it requires the aforementioned action and intention – followed by lying about it.

“After all,   solid relationships are based on trust– and micro-cheating isn’t exactly a trustworthy behavior if you’re keeping your interactions on the downlow  “What is lost on many people who cheat is that their interpretation or rationalization of the cheating behavior does not matter, it’s the interpretation of their partner and their partner’s feelings that matter,” says Tashiro. “There’s an old saying in social psychology, ‘What’s perceived as real is real in its consequences,’ and that certainly applies to micro-cheating. When someone feels that there has been an infidelity, there is a sense that an agreed upon standard has been intentionally violated and it’s human to respond to deception with anger, distrust and  loss of affection,” he says.

However, to play devil’s advocate here, what if a man is perfectly comfortable with the aforementioned behaviors – talking to a woman at a party, liking a photo online, masturbating in private, staying friends with an ex – and his partner is not?

He is then faced with two unpleasant choices: stop engaging in behavior that is clearly not cheating because his girlfriend is insecure or jealous, or lie to the girlfriend because she can’t handle the truth. Flip the genders and you’ve got the same exact story.

I’m not the lying type – I’d sooner to break up with someone who forbids me to be myself – but many men (and women) are not as direct and are more likely to hide their behavior.

Not because they are incorrigible liars who are trying to “betray” their partners, but because they are conflict-averse and they neither want to change their habits nor face the possibility of blowing up their relationship.

Being in a relationship does not mean you never notice anyone other than your partner

Personally, I think Dr. Robert Weiss has it right.

It’s somewhat normal to find other people attractive within a committed relationship – just not to act on it. ‘Being in a relationship does not mean you never notice anyone other than your partner,” says Weiss. “It also doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it when someone flirts with you regardless of whether you respond in kind. Nor does this type of behavior automatically reflect poorly on the strength of your relationship or how attractive you find your partner or how good your sex life is” he says.

This is a nuanced view that doesn’t make either party “wrong.” If anything, it may just mean that two people who can’t see eye-to-eye on this are incompatible.

Your thoughts, both on microcheating  and how you navigate this minefield, are greatly appreciated.

Join our conversation (7 Comments).
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  1. 1

    Whether one cheats or not is clear 99% of the time. People only become confused when they engage in the behavior and are trying to justify it.

    However, there are grey areas that are dependent on the people involved. For example, if one person thinks that watching porn and gratifying oneself in the process (same with strip clubs) is demeaning/cheating/dishonest, that person is not wrong to expect that from her partner if she is upfront about the issue and if her partner agrees to not engage in the behavior.   The verbal contract defines whether it is cheating or not.

    While I do not care if my man goes to strip clubs or watches porn as long as it’s not ‘reasonably excessive’, I would not automatically write off someone who has the beliefs opposite to mine (nor would I automatically assume that person is insecure) – as long as the consensus exists in the relationship where the two people agree.

  2. 2

    Having dated a lot, I definitely think that where people draw the line varies from person to person.

    I don’t have the slightest problem with a guy I’m in a relationship with masturbating, watching porn, thinking other women are attractive, even going to a strip club or having lunch with an ex are behaviours I’d be ok with as long as they only happened every once in a while.

    I tend to operate on the principle that it is best not to forbid anyone from doing anything. It’s much better to have a conversation early on in the relationship to discuss what you each think are acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. I say “early on,” because that sense of betrayal can come in if you have it later in the relationship and find you are not on the same page as far as these things are concerned.

    I would not want a relationship in which I felt in any way controlled. I’d 100 times prefer that my partner saw what kind of character I had and trusted me to do the right thing. That would make my attraction to him and the value I ascribe to the relationship increase exponentially. Likewise, I’d want to be in a relationship with a man who knew where the boundaries where, very clearly in his own mind, and did not need me to question or police his behaviour.

    I agree that there are a large number of people who might not engage in active, physical cheating, but who blur the lines constantly and make their partners feel uncomfortable. I had to have a conversation with a good female friend the other day whose former-friends with benefits has just got into a relationship with a girl. The new girlfriend was feeling uncomfortable with her boyfriend coming over to my friend’s house without her to sit on the couch and watch TV shows. My friend was up in arms about this, but I could not believe that she couldn’t see it from the girlfriend’s point of view. I reminded her that she needed to tread very carefully and try to put the new girlfriend at ease or she would lose both of them as friends.

    To me, it comes down to establishing boundaries that you both agree on, and having sensitivity to your partner, not control. Having experienced one extremely jealous ex-boyfriend, I would not go back to that. But I think you need to hear out your partner’s reasonable concerns. At the same time, you need to keep yourself grounded in reality and fact and common sense, rather than what you fear will happen.

    1. 2.1
      Yet Another Guy


      The new girlfriend was feeling uncomfortable with her boyfriend coming over to my friend’s house without her to sit on the couch and watch TV shows.

      Duh, I would be uncomfortable if my new woman was hanging out with her former FWB.   I was a woman’s non-exclusive FWB in the early nineties without knowing it.   I cut it off when she told me she was getting married.   This woman was engaged to one man and having sex with me.   That is messed up.

      1. 2.1.1


        Yeah, I thought this was pretty obvious. But it’s amazing how myopic people suddenly get when the feelings involved are not their own, and how these basic, common sense ideas get thrown out the window when they’re not convenient.

        All my friend cared about was not losing her friend, but she was not mature enough to see that this is the price you pay when you choose to have a friends-with-benefits in the first place. The chance that the guy will distance himself from you  a lot when he gets a new girlfriend is extremely high, and you have to accept that.

  3. 3

    Ok I have been cheated on in the past .not a great feeling. And Unfortunately left me with trust issues. Which I need to work on. I had recently had a huge fight with my boyfriend now ex after what I though was violation of trust. Maybe I’ve destroyed a connection because of jealousy and mistrust. We went out to a friend’s birthday and we met some of her friends. He spent time with this girl talking . Later I saw him stareing at her, saying she’s funny. Made me uncomfortable. The next day I check his facebook as I have a feeling he’s friend requested her on Facebook sure enough he has. He has a habit of friend requesting wormen he hardly knows. I challenge him about this friend request and he said he had msg her also asking how the night went all innocent he said. I ask him why didn’t he speak to my friend and ask how the night went as she is also a long time Facebook friend. Anyway he said I don’t trust him and he can’t be himself around me,as he’s a sociable guy and dumped me, by the way he told me a while ago he’s can be a flirty guy but has since denied it. I think what has triggered this because he crossed the boundary when he kissed a stranger in front of me but can’t remember that incident because he was drunk. Anyway yes I’m insecure and apologized but hey feel my boundaries have been violated .

  4. 4
    second choice

    i keep hearing the term not acting on it, speaking about attraction to other people. what exactly is acting on it? when a married man is attracted to a younger woman and frequents her place of employment on a regular basis so he can be near her as much as possible, playfully teases her,transfers her onto you( such as when she has an ass to die for and you don’t, but all of sudden he seems entralled with yours , and quits wanting to have sex with you suddenly. all the while denying the attraction to her. is this acting on it? and if it is, what do “I” do about it?

  5. 5

    Any form of cheating, including flirting and checking out the “competition” is letting the “devil” get a foot innthe door. Cheating is a slippery slope, and if you make a small allowance here, it could turn into something a little bigger later, and so on. It’s best not to open the door at all.

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