Dear Chump Lady,
How does one define cheating? Obviously having sex with someone not your partner without your partner’s consent is infidelity. But on Huffpost I’ve read about “emotional infidelity” where a man or woman bonds with someone not his or her spouse, usually at work. On Dear Prudence and Dear Abby I’ve read letters from people writing in about their spouse looking at porn.
Is sending sexy or nude photos to someone not your spouse cheating? What about a night a Chippendales? Looking at porn sites or receiving playboy in the mail? Is watching a movie with sex cheating if the person is aroused? What about fantasizing about having sex with the main character of a bodice ripper or erotica? Is this something that spouses need to discuss before they get married, or do most people know instinctively?
Interested what you think,
Good question. I would say whatever your partner considers cheating is a problem for your relationship, whether that is porn, or sexting, or expressing a fondness for Kim Kardashian’s rear end. Yeah, discuss it. Everyone is entitled to their deal breakers, find out what they are, for sure.
That said, if you want my opinion — and it may be an unpopular one — I define cheating as having sex outside the relationship. Period. Getting upset about porn I don’t really understand, unless it’s so habitual and freaky as to interfere with regular life and intimacy. Fantasizing about a fictional character? I really don’t think healthy marriages are patrolled by the Thought Police. Sexting? Skype sex? Icky. Boundary crossing. Probably a prelude to a physical affair — but not IMO the same thing.
Emotional affairs — sharing intimate details about one’s life with someone outside the relationship, complaining about one’s sex life, etc., yes these are emotional betrayals and horribly inappropriate, but I don’t give them the same weight as having a physical affair, although they are terribly painful, I’m sure.
I am made very uncomfortable by the position taken on places like SI that it’s ALL cheating. It’s all the same. I think that is nonsense. This one-size-fits-all approach to infidelity is useful if you’re reconciling because you can just lump the whole mess together and not get into the messy details. He says it was an EA? Okay, maybe it was a PA, but I don’t have to know that, because hey, it’s all cheating. It’s also a way to minimize the reckless endangerment aspect of a physical affair — if porn is cheating and fucking around is cheating, it’s all just cheating, right?
There is rightly a lot of skepticism around degrees of cheating, because cheaters tend to only cop to what they think you know. So if you discovered an emotional affair, then yes, they’ll say it never got physical. And if you discovered sexting, they’ll insist it never went any further… until you gather evidence that it did. So there is a tendency to think in short hand about cheating — oh EA? We know what THAT really is because cheater’s lie!
But I would argue that people can be all kinds of inappropriate without being in a physical affair. Wondering what else is out there. Oogling women at strip clubs, perusing dating sites, having a workplace crush or “work spouse.” Having a friend or outside hobby that drains energy away from the relationship.
Yes, it could all be a prelude to a physical affair. It is a slippery slope, but there is a SLOPE that transverses towards a LINE. And to me, a lot of people teeter on the slippery slope, dance around the edges of it, contemplate the descent, and maybe even set up a squatter’s shack on its periphery — but for whatever reason they do NOT cross that line. They don’t. And to me, that MATTERS.
To be embarrassed by your spouse, or even humiliated by their emotional affair, is a very different kettle of fish than being physically betrayed. To have a physical affair, there is plotting and planning and going through with it. It is crossing that line. Getting naked and intimate with someone is inherent with risks — STDs, pregnancy, and deeper intimacies, which I don’t think can be found on Skype chats. A physical affair exposes a chump to far greater lasting harm. A disease, a cancer risk, a child out of wedlock, a loss of income (if its prostitutes, or an expensive fuckbuddy adventure, or child support).
And it is the most intimate of betrayals. To pull it off — and do it time and time and time again — requires such a disconnect, such a lack of empathy and compassion for the betrayed partner — that to me it seems like a willful act of a aggression against the chump.
Now cheaters will say that they still loved you all the time, and I think that is bullshit. Or they may say that they were not thinking of you at all, which I do believe and I find creeptacular in its extreme narcissism. But it is the ability to have this darkness in yourself, that disconnect and entitlement, and physically ACT on it. And ENJOY it. And go back for seconds and thirds, that to me is the definition of cheating.
It’s not enough to think about it, or play act it — to cheat in my book, you have to do the deed. Fuck someone over. Not porn them over. Or inappropriately friend them over. FUCK them over.