You Asked: What Do I Consider Cheating?

There’s an old saying, “A man never introduces his wife to his mistress,” or vice versa. Last night’s episode of Boston Legal made for good breakfast fare this morning, and the closing line was that.
It reminded me of an email from a reader, to whom I’ve yet to respond (sorry about that, you), inquiring as to my opinion on what “cheating” means today. That email is excerpted here:

At what point do you consider someone to be cheating on another?
I’ve been poking a few friends with this one and been getting back some interesting answers, but outside of my older brother’s girlfriend, I’m getting generally 20-something’s answers. So I figure I should get an older woman’s view too 🙂
In case you’re curious this whole thing got started because a female friend (that’s an oxymoron when you’re a guy isn’t it?) was doing one of those Myspace surveys and the question, “Have you ever cheated on someone?” came up. And I just saw her freeze up for a second and give it some serious thought. So now I’m just randomly poking people for their opinions 🙂

Well, apart from the ass-kickin’ I wanna lay on this boy for calling me an “older woman” at the sweet age of 32, I found it an interesting question.
When this question came in nearly two weeks ago, I didn’t hesitate to bring it up with the Guy. It’s a great conversation for every couple to have, and soon. What is YOUR perception of cheating?
Does it matter only if it includes Bill Clinton’s definition of “sexual relations” or is it something more intrinsic, maybe even innocuous, than that?
Fidelity is a complicated web. Some women feel betrayed if their guy eyes an ass wiggling down the street. Some men feel betrayed if their girlfriend only watches sports and drinks beers with her best guy friend and never him. Who’s to say where the line is?
Every couple needs to set parameters. I’m in an interesting situation here, since I write this sex blog and about sexuality in general. That puts my man in a very interesting situation since he is constantly learning new things about my perspectives on relationships, sex, and everything else under the sun. It also means we’re often in the situation where we’re talking about things other new couples might be deliberately not discussing for a while, since there’s the chance of making it all seem more serious than things really are.
There’s that whole theory of push/pull when it comes to relationships. One partner becomes needier and pulls the other in closer than they should, sooner than they should, and the needed partner then becomes spooked and pulls back. Like rocking a boat, regaining balance (and FAST) is a major challenge, and if not met, the relationship will then be doomed. I did my “pulling” on this blog, and the Guy patiently let me.
In that time, we’ve talked about a great deal of “serious” issues, and nothing’s really spooked either of us, since we’ve confronted it. Cheating is just one of the many topics we’ve broached, but out of all of them, finding his stance on this topic was the thing that made me feel most comfortable about where we stood.
His response was that anything that smacked of intimacy (ie: beyond flirting) could be construed as “cheating,” with the stipulation being that you’ve declared “exclusivity” with your partner. I brought up the point that I occasionally receive sexual emails and I have been known to do semi-extreme flirting in one or two cases with correspondents, and I said that my role in those emails stopped as soon as I began seeing him, since I started to feel as though I would be betraying a trust.
I know my views on “cheating” are fairly old-fashioned; it’s anything that makes me feel like I should be saying or doing that with my Guy, not that other person. I have high standards for what I expect of friends, for what I expect of lovers, and even what I expect of myself. This time, we’re on the same page.
In this day and age of cyber worlds and information highways, “cheating” can take on a million different looks. You can engage in cybersex, have a long-distance literary love affair while still involved with a lover, you can ignore your sexual obligations in a relationship and spend all your time digesting porn and masturbating instead, or you can simply do the old-fashioned stalk-and-hunt of an extramarital lover via internet dating. It doesn’t matter. To me, if you’re in a relationship where you’ve vowed to be exclusive, there are things you unequivocally should not do – such as kissing someone else, exchanging love notes, or an afternoon rendezvous in a $49.99 motel. And you must, without a doubt, seek to have a strong and passionate sex life with your partner. It’s not called “roommates,” people.
But there are fine lines to what may or may not be construed as cheating, and the only way you’ll ever know what your lover would feel is a betrayal is if you ask.
Oh, and if you need to stop and deliberate as to whether the action could be construed as cheating? It’s cheating. I mean, use your fucking brain. Really. If you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it, baby.

But enough about me.
What do YOU think constitutes “cheating”?

18 thoughts on “You Asked: What Do I Consider Cheating?

  1. Hanh

    Ok, so “older” may have been a poor choice of words, but as I think about it, using the word “experienced” doesn’t exactly improve the situation. “Wiser” maybe? Then I’d have to make a whole new sentence 🙂
    I definitely appreciate the wisdom that a more experienced woman can bring to the situation though. My older brother’s girlfriend has been an invaluable source of insight.

    Still, I appreciate the thought you put into this rather than just giving me a straight out, hard and fast answer. And I know everyone who I send to read this will too. Even the one who’s now using me as a sketch pad 🙂

  2. scribe called steff

    Heh, I’m teasing you about the “older” thing. I don’t care too much. I find it amusing I’m now verging on being the older woman. Just call me Mrs. Robinson; my boyfriend does, and he’s older than me.

    Yeah, it’s a complicated topic because so many people have different views on it, and society’s changing quickly in its perceptions of what a standard relationship is. There is no hard and fast answer, and anyone who thinks there is, they’re kidding themselves. It’s now something that ought to be established clearly in relationships, before confusions and misunderstandings transpire.

    But yeah, if you need to ask if your behaviour constitutes cheating, then it does. Pretty simple there. I don’t think that can be argued. If you WONDER if you’re being unfaithful, and suspect you might be, then you are.

  3. Haaaaaaa

    Hi Steff,

    Before I answer, let me say that from 43, 32 is a great age. Old ehough to know your way around and young enough to do something about it.

    I am pretty close to your and the Guy’s thoughts on cheating. You know inside when you are cheating. Having said that, I think it is difficult to draw the line where friendships occur with someone of the opposite sex. I’ve had friendships with some pretty cool women both on-line an in reality. Friendships are naturally intimate – at least if they are worth a shit. Is talking about sex itself with a women other than your wife cheating? I don’t know. If so, my whole blog is an act of cheating.

    Talking about HAVING sex with another women is obviously cheating. I think cybering falls into the cheating category too.

  4. Haaaaaaa

    Oh by the way, have you watched “What About Brian?” There is a cuckolding situation in that show.

  5. scribe called steff

    I think talking about sex with women other than your wife is likely to be healthier to your relationship, since you might learn things you can use or do better in your own relationship. I see nothing wrong with that, but it kind of depends HOW you’re talking about it. Sitting on the couch and chatting’s a world different from lying on the floor side by side or something, you know? It can FEEL more intimate sometimes, and that’s what you need to watch out for, I’d say.

    Not sure which situation you mean in that show. Caught the first two episodes, but it’s a little too Melrose Place-perfect people for my tastes, so I dunno if I’ll really be getting too into it. I’m interested in the one storyline about swinging, though, since that’s a pretty widespread problem right now (swinging for the wrong reasons, I mean).

    I’ll probably tackle it soon.

  6. Knattyb

    Ok steph, I think I might have an aditional dilemma. Currently I remain happily relationship free. I’m pretty fucked up sometimes and I don’t feel the need to expose anyone else to my shit, also I don’t have the patience or inclination to deal with other peoples. However; in the past I have had many a problem on what constitutes cheating. The dilemma is derrived from two conflicting veiws on what constitutes cheating and which partners standards to adopt.

    personally I have a few close female friends. Very close. some of whom I kiss most of whom I feel comfortable sleeping with, with the emphasis on “sleeping”. But the main issue seems to be with spooning. I’m just a cuddleing whore, and I don’t see any problem with it. It’s just really nice.

    These things I don’t personally feel are cheating and obviously I’ve had some peopel steadfastly oppose this way of thinking. So the dilemma at hand is : should one partner have to adopt the others views on cheating?

    I stuck to my guns on this one. I have a pretty strong moral barometer and I simply don’t feel I was in the wrong, and I didn’t feel I should have to compromise my friendships for a relationship.

    Needless to say the crisis was never “really” resolved. So I just thought I’d get some other thoughts on the situation.

  7. scribe called steff

    I bet, if you ask, say, a hundred people who were in serious relationships if they had a problem with finding out their lover was “spooning” a friend, that probably, oh, 85-95% of them would say absolutely. This is excluding “alternative” relationships.

    Face it, not having a problem with it is atypical.

    Now, any relationship involves compromise, whether you want it to or not. There are times when you just gotta give in a little. And then there’s just logic. If your partner has more conservative ideas than you do, you have to accept that they’re going to have a hard time accepting your more liberal dalliances.

    I bet my ass that if my loverboy came over to find me “spooning” with a “friend” of mine, we’d be sorting through shit and giving back books and making changes in cellphones. I doubt it’d go over well. I know how intimate spooning feels, and you need to ask yourself if it’s really necessary you seek that intimacy everywhere else when you’re not with a lover. She doesn’t understand? Pfft, 80% of women wouldn’t understand, either. You say it yourself, you’re a cuddling whore. If you want to stay that way, you’re going to have to pick a partner who understands. It’s that simple.

    Fact is, when it comes to perceptions on things like cheating, the person who’s more conservative is always going to have more morality on their side, and often, for some pretty good reasons. If you have liberal differences with your lover and you’re not willing to concede to their view, you might find yourself in some pretty sticky scenarios.

    Me, I generally try to find someone with relatively similar moral precepts as I possess. It would seem I have. It makes for fewer hassles.

    Probably not what you wanted to hear, but really. You knew your behaviour is a little out of the norm. It is what it is, conventions exist for a reason. Most people would agree that you’re borderline with infidelity, at the very least. (shrug) You’ve got limited options…

  8. Haaaaaaa

    My use of cuckolding to describe what is happening on “What About Brian?” may not be perfect. I don’t think that swinging applies either. In the show, the wife tells the husband that she needs to have sex outside the marriage and bye the way if he wants to find someone that would be OK too. He consented to her having sex with someone and she is. He is nowhere with sex outside the marriage, so we have a husband who has consented to his wife having sex outside the marriage when he is not. To me swinging is a couples-oriented activity where the couple acts together with one or more people.

    You probably know more about this than I do, but that is where I’m coming from.

  9. jazz

    so i consider myself an expert, having been cheated on a few times (and having cheated once).

    without a doubt it’s cheating if they feel they have to lie to you about it. and frankly, the emotional cheating (the middle of the night “i still love you” phone calls to the ex) still scares me more than maybe a drunken one night stand with a nobody. you don’t have to touch another person to cheat!

  10. Jessie

    To me, cheating is emotional betrayal.

    I’d rather him have a one night stand than to hang out after work with female coworkers.

    Oh- and haaaa had an interesting note about cuckolding, something that my boyfriend and I have been exploring (though not “fully” acted on yet). To my boyfriend, the fact of me “cheating” – having sex with another man while he is either made to watch or while he’s absent is incredibly arousing. He would feel betrayed if I slept with another man and didn’t call to tell him and then tell him the details afterwards (so involving him in my “cheating”).

    On his end, he’s happy to be “faithful” and… it’s a whole ‘nother turn on, the consentual one-sided polygamy….

    …So, cheating is maybe best generalized as a form of deceit…

  11. figleaf

    The best definition of cheating I’ve heard, and the one I’ve used ever since, is “changing the rules without telling the other party(s).” I’d qualify that just a little bit these days by adding it’s *really* important to clarify the rules in a relationship rather than assume one’s partner really means the same thing you do when you say something like “flirting” or “penetration” or whatever. But that’s quibbling. Cheating is still changing the rules without telling the other party or parties.

    As for old, 32 is a very sweet age to be. There are plenty of other sweet ages, younger and older, but that’s a great age to be.


  12. Ashley Johnston

    Steff, I got the impression from this article that there are two stages to a relationship: not exclusive and exclusive. I’m not sure it was intentional but it seems a little unsophisticated. I tend to think there are more, probably lots more if I took the time, and each stage probably has its own understanding of cheating.

    I think I also have issues with:
    “if you need to stop and deliberate as to whether the action could be construed as cheating? It’s cheating”

    The market is the synthesis of supply AND demand. I can see expectation playing a role but there is also something missing, I want to call it inclination. And it is the synthesis of expectation and inclination that shapes cheating.

  13. scribe called steff

    Figleaf — I love 32. 🙂 I’m really digging it. I love who I’m becoming and the experiences I’ve had and how much more comfortable I’m getting as I age. Wouldn’t change a thing.

    Good rule, too, btw.

    Ashley — You’re complicating things. Yes, “EXCLUSIVE” and “NON-EXCLUSIVE” are the categories. Everything else is subtext. You are either exclusive or non-exclusive, and then there are the finer points for the aspects you subscribe to in that category — be it swinging, cyber-allowed, or whatever. Of course there are subtleties, but there are master categories — the two I’ve named.

    As to your last paragraph/line, I don’t actually understand what you’re saying, sorry. Come again?

    If you have guilt enough to wonder whether what you’re doing is cheating, then subconsciously, in your mind, you are being unfaithful. Given that you know the rules with your lover, you must then be feeling guilty with reason. It goes to logic, not just foo-foo girlie thinking here.

    And finally, “unsophisticated”? It’s not a be-all, end-all. Someone asked my take on fidelity or the lack thereof, and I wrote what is pretty much a simple, mainstream break-down of what *I* believe cheating is, not what the Grand Poobah’s diction from on high states that it is. Fidelity’s a bitch of a thing and a hard one to nail — it absolutely MUST be discussed in every relationship, before someone gets hurt. The definition of cheating is as complex as most moral issues; everyone’s got their spin.

    This was mine, whether you thought it sophisticated or not. My middle name ain’t Aristotle, baby. It’s Crash.

  14. Bill Wimpenney

    It’s nicd to read about a loyal gal! I’m now 65 – with “her” for 46 of these years. She has had strokes. It has been 5 years since we were able to enjoy sex. It’s been decades since I considered cheating with another human being.

    Is it better this way? I don’t have anything to compare it to, but it sure is re-confirming to hear (read) that you must feel the same way.

  15. Ashley Johnston

    I guess I rushed a couple of frankness checkpoints. Didn’t mean to offend your work. Sorry Steff.

  16. scribe called steff

    You didn’t offend me or my work — but with something like 2,000-4,000 page hits, there’s no way I’m going to please everyone, so I don’t even bother. I say what I think, my beliefs, my feelings, and nothing more. And I don’t sugarcoat it.

    I’m blunt, I say what I say, and chips fall where they may. Sometimes it’s perceived as me being bitchy, but really, it’s just me being me. 🙂

  17. Miss Knees

    Cheating, in general terms, to me has always been anything you wouldn’t tell your partner. I suppose I equate cheating with deceit, as someone else mentioned.

    But then there’s the more personal concept of cheating. What could MY significant other do that would be cheating? I’m in one of those sexually non-exclusive relationships. I have the man I’m in love with, and I have the friends I play with. There is still an aspect of cheating here. Even though we have both agreed that sex with others is okay, it would be cheating if we did it and didn’t tell each other about it. Additionally, I would consider it cheating if he or I began to develop an emotional (or should I say romantic?) relationship with one of our play-friends. My love is saved for him, but my body can be used and abused by all (safely, of course).

  18. A Scribe Called Steff

    Posted June 1, 2008 at 3:39 pm | Permalink | Edit
    what a great question. porn, checking out other women is just being human and I dont consider it cheating. I think you can cheat without having sex though… I think if you find yourself physically attracted to another and go out of your way to form a personal or emotional bond with that person you are putting yourself and your relationship on the line. No form of physical contact outside of a hug or kiss on the cheek is ok in a relationship…. but this is just me!

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