About the Author

Honey's main interests are online dating, long distance dating, and long term relationships. She met her boyfriend on MySpace and they have been exclusive since their first date over three years ago. Currently they live in Tempe, Arizona. Honey graduated with her PhD in Composition and Rhetoric in May 2009. You can contact Honey via email here or online here.

What Is Cheating, Anyway?

To add to the discussion about what’s great about monogamy versus some of the other systems out there, my interest was peaked when I came across this article called “Let’s Chat About Cheating.” Author Steve Penner not only references the Sex and the City movie and TV series (one of the most accurate commentaries on relationships EVER), he gives his perspective on AshleyMadison.com, a “dating” site for people who are…um, married, and interested in having an affair(s).  In fact, one of their slogans is, “Life is short.  Have an affair.”

(His life’ll be short all right, when his wife sees that collar…)

The aspect of this article that really made me think is Penner’s claim that most couples don’t think about what cheating is or come up with a common definition until one or the other of them cheats (and, presumably, is caught).  And we’ve all read the internet stories about how emotional cheating is different from physical cheating, which is different somehow from online cheating, etc.  This raises a TON of questions:

  • What is cheating for you?  Why is it bad?
  • Are certain kinds worse than others?  Is it ever forgivable within a relationship?
  • Have you ever thought about constructing a definition of what constitutes cheating with your partner, or do you just assume that they know what it means?
  • Have you ever found out that your partner had a different definition than you?
  • If you have cheated/been cheated on, how have you taken steps to avoid this in future relationships?

Both the BF and I have done our share of cheating (and being cheated on) in the past and agree that it’s a relationship-wrecker.  However, I don’t know that we’ve ever had a conversation about what cheating is exactly. I do know that I have never told a boyfriend that I cheated because it seemed irrelevant in the face of the breakup, I’ve never had “an affair,” and I haven’t cheated in over four years.  Because of these factors, I have a tendency to consider my own cheating not a character flaw but rather the stupidity of youth, which I hope I’ve overcome.

I think that for me, I always cheated because I felt alienated from my significant other at the time.  My pattern was that it always began as emotional cheating as a result of that alienation, which became a sort of gravity well that led to the physical cheating.  However, at that point I would wake up, smell the coffee, and break up with the boyfriend at the time.  Now my communication skills are developed enough (as are the BF’s) that I don’t think I’d be in that situation–and after all my experiences I think it’s easier to just break up than it is to cheat and break up.


  • Steve Penner

    Glad you enjoyed my column!

  • http://honeyandlance.com Honey

    What’s not to love? It reminds me of the oh-so-delightfully-seedy show “Cheaters.” Ah, the episode where the host Joey Grecko gets stabbed on a fishing boat! Awesome…

    Honeys last blog post..What Is Cheating, Anyway?

  • http://40ssingleness.blogspot.com/ lisaq

    I’ve never had a discussion in any of my relationships concerning a definition of cheating. It’s a good idea though. The more people I talk to, the more I realize everyone views, and defines, it differently.

    I have cheated in the past. Like you it began as emotional cheating due to alienation. Still I did it. Understanding my motivation and why I chose men who alienated me is one of the things I have done to ensure there’s no more cheating in my future. It was kind of a cycle. Chose a guy who treated me like crap, cheat, feel guilty and undeserving because I cheated which led me to chose another man who treated me like crap. Like a bad merry-go-round I couldn’t get off of. Ugh!

    lisaqs last blog post..Shouldn’t It Be About Respect Really?

  • Jeff

    I was cheated on while I was in Korea for a year serving my country. My wife of 10 years decided to get drunk every weekend and one night it ended up being in the sack with the next door neighbor. She would have never admitted it, but he told me. She couldn’t believe it and had to hear him say it before admitting to it. She lied straight to my face several times, yet we worked it out (basically I just let it all go) and we are still together with a newborn. It eats me up inside to know she needed to do that, but I guess I can take some of the blame because I didn’t supp ort her very well while I was deployed. I closed up all my emotions and got on her about everything she did every time we spoke. I guess that would get on my nerves too, but I would never cheat! I just wanted to put a males perspective on this situation.

  • http://undirvatntunglsljos.blogspot.com/ Jonsi

    I think we get lost when we try to define cheating. The better word is infidelity, or any action that threatens the fidelity of the relationship. If you do or say something that you wouldn’t do or say in front of your partner, it is treacherous territory. I have never cheated, but I have been cheated on, possibly because I was going to go away for a couple months and it alienated her, but she never expressed how she felt either. Cheating is essentially what the other person defines, not you, because if you wish to continue the relationship, they are the one who has to work through the hurt and breach of trust. So for me, it’s not actual cheating, it’s any action (or inaction) that threatens the fidelity of the relationship. If you naively put yourself in those situations, it disrespects me, and it hurts me.

    There is a spectrum of unhealthy relationship behavior of which cheating is one end point. Rather than define “what is cheating?” I think it is better to define “what to me, defines a healthy relationship?” And “is my partner treating me or behaving in a way that meets my definition of a healthy relationship?” For example, talking to an ex often but not telling that ex “I am in a new relationship” is not cheating, but it’s not healthy. Sure, you don’t want to rub it in, but if you can’t be honest, then it means it’s too soon to talk to that person or you aren’t yourself ready for a relationship, and it’s just not healthy.

    Jonsis last blog post..When I’m not striking out with chicks

  • http://honeyandlance.com/contact Lance

    Jonsi, that’s brilliant. You’ve actually given me a new way to think about this.

  • http://www.hotalphafemale.blogspot.com Hot Alpha Female

    This reminds me of one of my cousins, who has no problem cheating on her new husband.

    I mean she tells me this stuff and at first i was horrified, because cheating to me .. is something that i haven’t done and would ever consider doing.

    But after a while i realized why this was ok for HER because of the way in which she perceived marriage.

    I believe some of the things that she said before she got married was ” well he would make for a pretty good first husband”. I laughed because i thought she was joking, but at this rate who knows.

    So anyways, she kind of saw marriage as this relationship that you have as a fall back. As a dude you marry, who you know is always going to be there in case anything happens.

    N now she goes and has flings with all these other guys and comes running back to her husband when things turn to shite.

    So i guess what I’m trying to say, is somehow she has this distorted view on what a relationship is ABOUT and this makes it easy for her to cheat and not feel guilty about it.

    Hot Alpha Female

    Hot Alpha Females last blog post..Mr/Mrs Right – Aint What You Have In Mind

  • http://honeyandlance.com/contact Lance

    I like how Penner offers up gray areas that may or may not be cheating. I also like Jonsi’s take on not looking at it as cheating, but rather a threat to the fidelity of the relationship.

    Here are a couple more scenarios that I think are gray areas. Some of these thought experiments I used to figure out that an open relationship is probably the way to go:

    1. You’re in the military and overseas, away from your spouse for a year (or more). In this case, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for either party to make arrangements and have unattached sex, such as with a professional. Obviously, this happens all the time with military couples. I know a Navy guy right now who has done this (without his wife knowing). There’s nothing wrong with his marriage at all.

    2. Your spouse is completely disinterested in having sex for whatever reason (old age, hormones, sickness, etc). Again, the other spouse could see a prostitute or take on a FB.

    3. Student studying overseas for long period of time, SO is back home. Dude, it doesn’t count if it happens in another country. You’re basically just “dating other people.”

    4. Wife allows husband to do it with a high priced prostitute on birthday. There’s an NBA player who’s wife allows this.

    If it’s possible to have safe, unattached sex with FB’s, then it’s possible to have sex while in a relationship and not hurt your LTR. It’s a matter of perception, security, and maturity. I’m not saying it’s for everyone or it’s the best way to go, but I am saying “cheating” is relative. So I agree with Penner.

  • http://cheekiebacktalk.blogspot.com/ Cheekie

    Wow, great post.

    Now, I have never cheated, honest. In all my 30-teen years, I haven’t. Even when things were crappers with the ex husband for years, I didn’t. That being said, there was intent to cheat. I didn’t, but was tempted, and even made arrangements to, but chickened out(smartened up???).
    My bad relationship WASN’T because I didn’t respect him, it was for other reasons. So for my own self respect I had to respect his feelings.

    It’s the trust issue that’s the killer.
    Not what-where-who-when-why….
    Lying, emotional cheating, those things kill a relationship.

    If you told your wife that you got drunk with the guys in Vegas and paid for a blowjob as opposed to had an email/chat affair with an old high school gf who lives 3000 miles away, which one do you think she would be most HURT by???

    Such a grey area. And I would be VERY careful about defining cheating. VERY. Because there is always something unique to that situation that comes up, and you don’t want to have the mental torture of ‘well, we didn’t say THIS soooo….it must be ok, I just won’t get caught…’

    I think we all know damn well what is acceptable.

    If it makes you feel guilty, DON’T DO IT!!!

    Cheekies last blog post..CARP

  • http://undirvatntunglsljos.blogspot.com/ Jonsi

    Well Lance, gray areas are exactly that: shades of gray. I’d say that in a healthy relationship, your partner is visible and most aspects of their lives are transparent to you, especially any aspect which could otherwise give them information they feel is significant enough to evaluate the relationship. So with some of your examples, I feel allowing sexual freedom should be discussed early, not after the fact, because most people would be devastated if those things were sprung on them out of the blue.

    If a gf suddenly wanted to sleep with other guys, I’d be pissed. If we discussed over a series of conversations whether monogamy is viable long term and we were congruent philosophically, then it would be appropriate to state, before it happens, “I’d like to act on this.”

    I really like the idea of defining a healthy relationship and discussing with your partner what that means to both of you. Certainly, it’s possible to have extra-relationship sex and it not damage your primary relationship. I disagree saying maturity is needed to make it work, as that suggests you are immature if you are against such a thing. It’s a value. So if both people are cool with it, rock and roll. However, if one person hesitantly agrees, perhaps they are being manipulated by the other in some way too. Consent doesn’t make it a healthy relationship. Acceptance makes it healthy.

    Jonsis last blog post..When I’m not striking out with chicks

  • http://honeyandlance.com/contact Lance

    Brilliant as usual. Can’t disagree.

  • Laurie

    Was in an 18 yr marriage, he had an affair, lied about, ended it and told me about it. I never could trust him again and divorced 10 yrs later. He is now married to her and that’s ok. I realize I was most upset about him lying about it. My gut told me he was cheating I asked him and he said no. Recently I was dating a guy, FB shows up and I blow off the date. I didn’t realize I had it in me to do that and ended the dating relationship. I now set my dating standard as to whether I can be monogamous with this guy. I don’t like seeing more than one guy whether its a FB or a date. I have too many other things going on to be worried about dating as a social life, so FB works best. I don’t think I trust myself to be in a LTR right now.

  • http://honeyandlance.com/contact Lance

    I had an interesting conversation with my Indian (like from India) roommate last night. I discovered that her perspective is even more radical than mine, and she believes her ideal relationship is as the secondary woman in an open marriage with a guy and another girl. She wouldn’t even have to live in the same house as the couple, although she’s not against that. The women would be bi and and the “primary” wife would be the child bearer. She doesn’t want to have kids.

    She said when she grew up in India, it was not uncommon for husbands to have two wives and that polygamy was generally accepted. This is not the case these days as India has moved towards a more western perspective.

  • http://evilwoobie.com evilwoobie

    Cheating is when you do something that your partner specifically requested you not to do. Though the popular opinion seems to be “you should know what he doesn’t want you to do and don’t do it.” Some consider friendships with the opposite sex as cheating, while some consider sex as the only basis of cheating, and everything else is just connecting with other people. I consider commitment as the only basis of cheating, that is, when you commit to another while still in a relationship.

    evilwoobies last blog post..Time and the Things that Remind Us