Emotional Cheating—Is It Really Cheating?
Let’s be honest here
If you ask different people what they count as cheating, you’re going to get different answers. In the traditional sense, cheating is being physical with someone other than the one you’re actually in a real relationship with. But as the years have passed and people have evolved, there’s been debate about emotional cheating and whether or not it’s worse than a physical affair.
Emotional cheating has been defined as an affair of the heart. It’s the kind of relationship that’s sparked by connection, fueled by chemistry and is kept alive by fantasy, inside jokes and secret text messages. Think Rose in Titanic before that iconic car scene with Jack. Think Sari in The Mistress before she took that road trip with JD.
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There’s tension, interest and entertainment, but there isn’t always intent. Emotional affairs can begin even if you don’t look for them, but they only happen when nurtured. They begin when you walk past your office crush and take a moment to chat with him or her. They start when you say good morning without actually having something to say. They initiate when you dance around the idea of dinner and drinks. They develop when your phone vibrates and you hide the notification from your SO.
But the question remains: Is this affair of the heart still considered cheating when flesh doesn’t touch?
The quick and simple answer? Yes, having an emotional affair is cheating. The thing is, we all know reality isn’t simple and that the real answer is far more complicated.
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According to Dr. Gail Saltz, a professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell School of Medicine, there are certain boundaries you shouldn’t cross. And if you do, this is when red flags begin to pop up.
Flag #1: Misplaced emotional energy
When you spend a lot of emotional energy on a person, you start sharing details of your life with them, whether mundane or otherwise. And while having friends is definitely not a bad thing, the line is crossed when you touch on things that you don’t reveal to your SO.
Flag #2: Dressing up for them
When you want someone to notice you, you dress up for them. It’s plain and simple. And when you want them to notice you—when you want to impress them—then there might be something there.
Flag #3: Going out of your way
Drinks with officemates are fine and can even be considered healthy, but if you find yourself going out of your way for one specific person, then you should put yourself in check. And if the time comes when you find yourself doing something out of the ordinary to see them, work with them or even be in their vicinity, then you need to check yourself.
Flag #4: An emotional high
We get emotional highs from the people that we care about. We’re calmer when we talk to them, we’re happy when we see their name light up our phone. And this is all well and good, because we do need people in our lives that can save us from the daily grind. But if you become depend on a high from one particular person who isn’t your SO, kill the addiction while you can.
Flag #5: The damn feeling
And if these aren’t clear enough, it all boils down to the feeling. If you’re consciously hiding exchanges and meet-ups because you know it would hurt the one you’re technically in a real relationship with, there’s no longer any gray area. If you aren’t sharing these exchanges and meet-ups with your SO, then there’s no room for doubt. If you would feel guilty about being seen sharing a meal, what are you even questioning?
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The line between platonic friendships and romantic relationships is not a blurry one, though polls suggest that more and more people are losing sight of this. Emotional infidelity is a real thing that some consider even more harmful than sleeping with someone else, touching lips with someone else and holding hands with someone else. It’s not just a question about consciously reaching out for even the most subtle touches; it’s about giving some real part of yourself to someone else and finding ways to fill the gaps of your relationship with someone outside of it. And—honestly—if you’re looking elsewhere, why bother even staying put?
Art Alexandra Lara