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Staying Away from Temptation Island

What constitutes cheating? Is it a matter of the mind or the physical act? Our panel of love gurus chimes in.
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Dear 4-Way,
I know cheating is wrong, but I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten a good definition of what it actually is. Is it kissing someone else? Sleeping with someone else? Is it still considered cheating if you don’t do either of those things? I recently met a woman I’ve always been attracted to for lunch. I’ve fantasized about sleeping with her, but I’ve been dating someone for almost a year, so I’ve never done anything about it. I felt guilty after I had lunch with her, so I didn’t tell my girlfriend. Is what I did cheating? Can you tell me what types of behavior do constitute cheating, in your opinions? —JW, Nashville, Tennessee 

The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
According to Ask.com, cheating in a relationship is when one of the partners is dating on the side and is not being honest with his or her significant other so that he or she can see other people secretly. Given that clarity, you’re not technically cheating on your girlfriend, because you’re not “dating” anyone—you only had lunch. As long as there wasn’t any afternoon delight thrown in for dessert, you shouldn’t feel guilty. However, you did see someone secretly, so the possibility of future cheating is there. 

But you do bring up an interesting question here. I had someone tell me once that her boyfriend had emotionally cheated on her. While we can monitor our actions, I’m not sure how we can monitor (or avoid) our emotions. It’s only when we act on emotions that cheating becomes an issue, in my opinion. For example, you may see someone walking down the street whom you think is hot—and you may even be brave enough to tell your partner. But that is not cheating. On the other hand, you may see someone walking down the street whom you think is hot, be brave enough to approach her, and then bang her all afternoon in a cheap hotel. Clearly cheating. Let’s be honest here: You know when you’ve screwed up. If you’ve done something that you know would hurt your partner if she found out about it, chances are, you’ve cheated. 

The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
You sound like a savvy person. I like that you get that everyone holds his own line as to what constitutes cheating. Because I believe there’s not one all-purpose definition of cheating that will work for every person and every couple.  I once had a girlfriend who accused me of cheating because I was thinking about an ex. Seriously. I didn’t want to see her, or even call her; it was more of a walking-down-memory-lane experience for me. Her point was that thinking about it is putting that intention out into the universe, and that’s just as bad as acting on it.

I guess in my mind, there are two things you need to consider. One is your own comfort level. If you feel guilty about a thought, fantasy, or encounter, that’s your gut’s way of telling you that you’re not on the right side of the line.  Then there’s your girlfriend’s point of view and her feelings to consider. If you guys have been together for a year, I’m guessing you know her views on cheating. I’m not saying you have to conform to her rules, but you do have to consider them.  It’s time to talk with her and, together, work out a shared understanding on this. Don’t stew over this alone. If you value the relationship, start the conversation.

The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy

Cheating (verb): A physical action with another when you’re in an exclusive relationship with someone else.

Physical action (verb): An intimate act. Sexual or non-sexual (kissing). 

No, you did not cheat. Having lunch with someone of the opposite sex is not cheating. Fantasizing about cheating is not cheating.  That said, you are on a slippery slope, my friend. What are your intentions here? If you’re interested in this other woman but want to continue your relationship with your girlfriend, then let that be the last time you “do lunch” with this woman. If you’re no longer happy with your girlfriend and no longer want to be in the relationship, then break it off with her before you see this other woman again. 

Think long and hard about this, because you’re all in your head right now. What does this other woman want from you? You have a lot at stake here.   Only you can define where you want to go from here. No one else’s definitions—not mine, not the other 4-Wayers’, not even Merriam-Webster’s—matter. 

The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
Sometimes people bring delicious confections to my office, things like homemade cakes, cookies, and breads. It’s kind of a bitch, JW, since I’ve started a new diet with pretty much every sunrise of every day of my life. So it’s always a challenge for me not to go into the company kitchen and have my way with some saucy cream puff or devilish red-velvet cupcake. Because when I do go to the kitchen, I always end up cutting off a small, “harmless” piece of something and sampling it, or eyeballing an “uneven” edge of a cake that badly needs my help with evening it out. I’ve found that the best strategy for not partaking is to just avoid the kitchen altogether. Otherwise, I’ll end up with seventy-eight bites of buttercream-frosted cupcakes and at least five extra pounds. Very bad. 

Which brings me to asking you the obvious: why tempt fate by eating lunch with a woman you’ve fantasized about sleeping with? Is it cheating? No. Is it stupid? Yes. Think about how you’d feel if you found out your girlfriend was off lunching it up with some guy she secretly wanted to bang, but passed it off as a harmless lunch. Probably not so good.   I think cheating is all about the physical—and, yes, that includes kissing. But I also think it takes a lot of little mental steps to work yourself up to the physical act of cheating, so you have to be mindful of those—a lunch with someone you fantasize about here, a borderline-flirtatious text there. Pretty soon, you’re vibrating on some cheap bed at a local motel.

Rather than write to a bunch of advice columnists about what constitutes cheating (which smacks of looking for someone to give you approval to do it, by the way), why not sit down and have a chat with your girlfriend about your relationship when you have those questions? It’s normal to find other people attractive, especially once you’ve been with the same person for a long time. But there’s a fine line between appreciating someone attractive versus devoting a huge chunk of your brain space to fantasizing about that person. That’s a sign that something isn’t right in your relationship, if you ask me. Talk to your girlfriend—otherwise, your next lunch might lead to dessert at a Super 8 motel.

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