What is cheating?

| Romance Columnist

This summer I lived with two roommates—Meg and Sarah. Meg has been my best friend since high school and while Sarah wasn’t my favorite person, I tried to like her for Meg’s sake. So when Sarah started going to happy hour a few times a week with her coworker, Rico, I tried to ignore how it made me feel, since Sarah had a boyfriend (Mike). Sarah would return late at night and insist to Meg that she had just stayed at the bar late with Rico. But one day, even Meg snapped.

“She’s been going out with Rico every night for two weeks and talks to him on the phone all the time. I can’t remember the last time she showed that kind of interest in Mike…” She shook her head. “I’d rather have my boyfriend make out with someone when he was drunk than him spend hours every evening, spilling his heart out to a girl that wasn’t me.”

Technically, Sarah wasn’t doing anything wrong (or at least that’s what she maintained). She didn’t hook up with Rico, she just confided in him constantly and spent long hours at his place watching TV and drinking wine. But can we define cheating as just the physical stuff? And if not, where do we draw the line?

Can we say that even looking at another person is cheating? As much as we might not want to admit it (and we all hate being the jealous type), everyone has eyes, and even if the person you’re dating is madly in love with you, it’s only natural to notice someone’s alluring smile or ridiculous six-pack. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you and what you’ve got—it’s just the way we’re programmed.

Can we say that making out with someone at a bar is cheating? While I’ve heard debates on this one, I’m going to say that this should pretty solidly be considered cheating.

But what about the gray area that Sarah was playing in?

Putting my general dislike for Sarah aside, I tried to be impartial: How could I judge what was going on between her and “just a friend?” The only fair way that I found to create boundaries was to consider what would make me upset if I knew my boyfriend was doing the same thing. And when I thought of Ben having long, intimate conversations with some sexy coworker, I was far more upset than if he were to confess to drunkenly making out with some random chick at a bar.

Emotional cheating is not a myth. It’s very real, and it tends to be even more damaging to relationships than actual cheating—Sarah dumped Mike after her “non-cheating” one day turned into “cheating.” So where do we draw the line? Use your judgment, and always consider your partner. I’m not sure how Sarah and Rico are doing these days, but something tells me she’s not the only one he’s romancing. But hey, according to Sarah, that’s not cheating.

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