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There’s a lot of debate (and very strong feelings) about whether flirting is cheating or just harmless interaction.
Many think if there’s no physical contact it’s not actually cheating.
I whole-heartedly disagree. Flirting is indeed a form of cheating. Below is a transcript of a video I posted on YouTube on the topic.
Check it out and see what you think.
Hey there, it's Kurt Smith. You know a few days ago on my Google Plus profile I posted about flirting, and I said that flirting is cheating.
Here's a little bit of what I wrote: Flirting is fine if you're not in any kind of relationship, the same goes for the person you're flirting with, but if you're married, or in a serious relationship, flirting with someone else is wrong.
Well, that got a lot of response. Some people agreed with me and quite a few people disagreed with me, some strongly both ways.
So, is flirting cheating? What do you think?
What Is Flirting?
Before we talk about it any further, let's be clear on some key definitions.
We’ll start with flirting. What is flirting actually?
Webster's Dictionary defines flirting as to behave amorously, which means with a sexual love, without serious intent. I would add to that having a relationship with another person that involves sexual chemistry.
In order to illustrate this further and bring into a relatable light, let's look at a couple of comments to get an idea of how other people define flirting.
- Walther M.M. says,
Flirting is generally seen as behaving in 'suggestively sexy' ways with other people, and is generally the first step towards developing romance, as this is what singles usually do to signal interest in others."
I would agree.
- MaLou Santos wrote,
Flirting is done to arouse sexual interest in another person. If it is a simple admiration without sexual connotation, then it is not flirting."
I would agree with that as well.
We all know what flirting is and how it feels. I don't think we need to debate that.
We could argue about the intentions behind flirting and whether or not they make a difference, but that's not the point.
The point is that we know when there is sexual chemistry -- we know when we are flirting.
But Is It Really Cheating?
Let's move on and clarify another definition – cheating.
How would we define cheating?
I would say that cheating is going out of the relationship to meet any needs that are supposed to be met in the relationship by your partner.
Nearly all of us would agree that having sex with somebody else when you're in a relationship is cheating. But cheating doesn't just happen around sex. It can take many other forms.
Let’s look another comment from a reader for illustration. This comes from Greta Piperkoska.
I'm gonna imagine myself as married. Me and my husband go into a restaurant. Some man closer to the door than my husband opens it for me. I throw him a sexy smile, because I'm a woman. Cheating? Haha."
Well, Greta, I would say yes, that may have not been your intent, but you did cross a line with the "sexy smile." Smiling is perfectly fine, but the fact that you know you’re giving a “sexy” smile is what creates the problem.
You've now crossed into the cheating waters. It may not have been your intent, but that's what's happened.
So, here's what I meant, and here's how I would explain why I believe flirting is cheating.
Flirting is cheating because it's breaking a boundary within a committed relationship.
- In a committed relationship we agree to give certain parts of ourselves to our partner.
- When we're flirting, we're expressing sexual interest and attention that only our partner should get.
Flirting with someone when we're in a relationship is unloving and it's disrespectful to our partner. That may not be our intention, but it's a result of flirting.
So how are we supposed to act?
Here's a question from Samantha H.,
So, because I'm married, I can't smile and say thank you to a man who holds the door open for me?"
Not cheating doesn’t mean you can't be friendly, nice, or engage with the opposite sex. There's just no flirting with anyone but our significant other.
So that sexy smile that Greta threw that man - not okay.
Samantha if you’re just smiling, you're fine.
As I was recording this video I considered the many couples I’ve counseled who’ve struggled with this topic.
The truth is that you don’t have to sleep with someone, or even kiss them, in order to cheat.
Emotional affairs can be just as damaging, if not more so, than physical ones.
And it doesn’t even have to go that far to fall into the category of cheating.
Micro-cheating is something that can happen easily and undermine a relationship. The danger here is that although both partners may sense something’s wrong about the behavior, micro-cheating can be hard to pin down and easily explained away.
Flirting falls into this category also.
Take Greta’s behavior above. A smile is fine, but a "sexy smile" is suggestive and effectively says,
I could be interested in you romantically and sexually and I’m not thinking about the impact on my partner.”
It can be challenging to recognize if you’re crossing the line.
You have to really think about the motivation for your behavior. Are you smiling as a friendly gesture or a suggestive one? This is a very blurry line.
Some people flirt without even realizing that’s what they’re doing. Others, like Greta, do and she justified it in her comment, “...because I’m a woman.” In her mind this is how she is supposed to behave, and she doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
It’s very likely, however, that her partner would disagree.
I would suggest that if you’re unsure of whether or not your behavior is crossing the line consider two things:
- How would you feel if your partner behaved in the same way? Would it bother you – even a little?
- What would your partner say if you asked if they are bothered by your behavior?
The answers to these questions can give you an idea if you’ve crossed the line from friendly to flirty and if it’s damaging to your relationship.
However, just because neither you or your partner are bothered or see a problem doesn’t mean it’s not there. So, another question to ask is:
- Is my behavior respectful of my partner?
Let me be clear. You can and should be responsive and polite when someone is courteous and friendly toward you. Smiling and a “thank you” is perfectly appropriate – when that’s all it is.
Unfortunately, there can be a lot of sexual innuendo when it comes to the way a smile and a “thank you” are offered. Being aware of the unspoken message you could be delivering when you speak is crucial to balancing polite behavior toward others with respectful behavior toward your partner.
If you're giving attention and energy to somebody else that should be reserved exclusively for your partners there’s a problem.
I wrapped up the video with the following:
So, yes, flirting is cheating.
What evidence is there to support this statement? All you got to do is look at our culture, and how many failed and broken relationships exist.
I work with people every day as a counselor, men and women, and I hear from hundreds and thousands everyday online, who are struggling in broken and failed relationships because they didn't respect boundaries in the relationship.
What To Take Away
Many people want to believe flirting is innocent.
It’s exciting, fun, and for a brief moment can allow us to feel the heat of a new connection. But that’s the problem.
What flirting gives us – even if you don’t want to admit it – is an idea and taste of something that’s outside our committed relationship.
So, that's why I firmly believe that flirting is cheating.
What do you think? Is flirting cheating? Agree or disagree??
Wherever you land on this topic, keep a few key things in mind.
- Respect. Would my partner feel I'm being respectful of him or her and our relationship?
- Emotional affairs often begin through what feels like friendly, non-threatening flirtatious behavior.
- Anything that draws you even a little bit romantically outside of your relationship can be considered cheating. So, yes. Flirting can be considered cheating.
The bottom line is that if you respect your partner and value your relationship - even if you don’t feel like your flirting is cheating - you need to be careful about how you communicate and the signals you send.
If you’re not, you may just end up jeopardizing something important.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published April 16, 2013, updated on April 2, 2019 and again for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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