I remember being very clear in my mind about what it meant to be in a relationship – two people who had decided that they were attracted to each other and wanted to be together exclusively. Given this definition, cheating would therefore be when one partner engages in acts with another that should only take place within a relationship. That includes all the normal ‘relationship’ type things like hand-holding and kissing and sex, but also intimacy… the flirting, the familiarity, the feeling that the two of you share a world that no one else is part of.
Years ago, indulging in these things could only be done face-to-face, or on your home phone, which would probably be difficult to hide from your partner. Sure, it could be done, but it took a bit of time and effort to establish the familiarity required to get to the physical side of the cheating.
Today, everyone’s connected to everyone through smart phones and social media. It’s so simple for that girl who met your husband at a dinner party to add him on Facebook or for work colleagues to create social relationships online or even to end up being mates with your physiotherapist or the guy who grooms your dog. Now, that can be a wonderful thing, but has it also increased the likelihood of us becoming intimate with people that we perhaps shouldn’t be intimate with?
Let’s face it, it’s easy to pass off a brief sexual innuendo over text or a flirty Facebook chat as just a ‘fun conversation’, or ‘nothing’, or something that ‘isn’t real’. You tell yourself it’s harmless, no one needs to know. Perhaps you indulge because your partner isn’t being responsive to you or you’re going through a rough patch in your relationship and so you write it off as an ego boost, having someone to acknowledge that you are sexy, attractive and wanted amidst the stresses and routine of every day life. It’s exciting and, really, it’s nothing to do with the actual person you’re texting, it’s all about the thrill and the mystery and sexual desire that makes your heart beat fast and your mind race, and it’s all so far from reality, that it literally seems like fantasy.
In my time of being single, I have certainly indulged in a number of texting communications that have quickly filled with sexual innuendo, and even though I had no need to, I often thought about how easy it would be to hide them in a relationship. No one knows about them but you. They’re easily hidden so you can indulge in them, keep them secret from your partner and pretend they never happened, wiping away any guilty feelings you might have had with a swipe or click of the delete button.
With this invisible shield of online fantasy thrown over us, is it so surprising how quickly communication with someone of the opposite sex can turn from innocent to sexual? And that begs the question, if this sort of intimacy isn’t physical, is it still cheating? Has the line of cheating become so blurred that people are recklessly leaping over it while telling themselves that it’s no danger to their relationships?
I’ve thought about that question a lot.
When I discovered that my ex-partner, who is also the father of my then 15-month daughter, had a profile on a dating site, I immediately felt cheated on. When I discovered that his profile had led to him making contact with a girl whereby intimate and overwhelmingly sexual text messages had been sent and received, I was even more horrified and felt completely deceived. Within days of this discovery, I then found that he had contacted a number of models on Facebook who he’d been communicating with over private messages. If that wasn’t enough, he’d also gone on to meet them in real life too.
Of course, in my eyes all of this contact was classed as cheating. Not only was he creating intimacy with women other than me, it was secretive and deceitful and a brazen abuse of my trust. I was the naive partner assuming that he was on his phone working hard on building up his business, doing calculations, research, working toward building our little family a stronger future. He still claims that he was doing that but the evidence on his phone leaves me thinking otherwise and it’s now made me question so much more of our relationship.
I never did come to understand why he did what he did. He could offer me no explanation and the one time he did agree to speak about it, he told me that getting attention from girls and feeling good about himself was his release, and that in hindsight, he wished he’d taken up drinking instead.
His words go through my mind so often. Would I have left the relationship if he had chosen to drink instead? Can it be likened to a partner that can’t stop smoking? A partner who likes porn magazines? Is that all it is? Is it a release of pent-up energy and frustrations that, for whatever reason, he felt he couldn’t talk to me about? Or is it cheating, fair and square?
I certainly don’t excuse my ex-partner’s behaviour, of course I don’t, but it seems that what is considered cheating isn’t so cut and dry as pre-internet, pre-social media days. The ease of finding someone to chat to, speak sexually and intimately to, is amazing, and the most dangerous part is that because it can feel so far removed from reality, it’s easier to justify risking your relationship to indulge in it, and not take the very real damage it can do seriously until it starts to get out of control.
Perhaps it’s that the secrecy and abuse of trust hurts even more than the act of cheating itself, and perhaps cheating actually starts a long time before the physical act of betrayal occurs. Perhaps the real cheating starts when you create intimacy with a person other than your partner, whether in real life or online, and you hide that intimacy from your partner.
I still don’t have any clear answers about the definition of cheating in today’s technological age, but I do know that it leaves me feeling a little out of my depth. Mobile phones and social media will probably always be something that I’m sensitive about now, and the appropriate use of them in a relationship will be an area I will need to have clear boundaries about as I move on in my life and into future relationships.
What do you think? What is the definition of cheating in today’s technological age? And have you or would you lay down the law on any online/texting/smart phone expectations in a relationship? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
About the author – Karen Normanton
Karen is a 32 year-old mining engineer living in Brisbane and is a single mum of a gorgeous nearly 3 year-old girl. She is a recent yoga fan and loves getting out and about with her girl enjoying all that Brisbane has to offer young kids and their families.