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When Does Talking Becoming Cheating?

by Alex Iwashyna

in Cultural Norms (that are abnormal), Marriage

The Representative Weiner’s tweeting cheating fiasco is more than weiner jokes. Although those are clearly the best part.

Background (full timeline here):

Representative Weiner attempted to direct message a young woman on twitter on Friday, May 27th. Direct messages (DMs) are private communications similar to messaging someone on Facebook. However, he mixed up the DM and tweeting to EVERY SINGLE FOLLOWER a picture of his underwear and, well, weiner. Weiner claims his twitter was hacked and denies sending the tweet but has trouble denying his weiner picture (as I would expect with most men who think that their weiner is worth sending).  By Tuesday, June 7th, he admits to everything including five previous internet affairs. And no, he’s not stepping down as a government official. (Although if everyone who cheated quit their job, we’d REALLY have an economic crisis.)

I’m not interested in whether he keeps his job. I’m more intrigued by the hundreds of articles and posts asking Is Internet cheating really cheating? and the country responding with a resounding YES. Even in the news website comment sections where crazy is just another word for typing, 99% believed he cheated.

Over and over again, people write that cheating can be mental and emotional, and sending inappropriate pictures to someone, that isn’t a spouse, is infidelity.

And I agree. But I think that 15 years ago there would have be more debate. Before it was okay to find a soul mate on Facebook or Match.com — when it was just talking to anonymous and possibly dangerous losers.

But more so, our understanding of cheating has fundamentally changed.  It’s less “weiner-driven.”  And I wonder if it’s because we are more aware of what it means to care about another person.  That love means listening and talking and relating as much as it means touching and kissing and sexing.

Or is it because we have become more puritan?  Our cheating lines are broader because we are so uncomfortable with intimacy.  Intimacy must be sexual.  Or intimacy is sexual because we are bombarded with so many two-dimensional versions of sex that we confuse the two and look beyond the realities of sagging breasts and dirty dishes to find that spark.

So what constitutes cheating?  What about flirting?  Winking?  Staring?  Pornography?  Can we comment that someone is hot?  What if that someone is an actor? Is that different than a person in the coffee shop? Or on Facebook? Can we drool over Catherine Zeta Jones but not over a Twitter follower?

Because at some point, Representative Weiner’s six women were not receiving sexy pictures. They were talking.  Facebook-ing.  Would we care if they had just thought the other person was good-looking?  Tweeted that to each other?

One op-ed quote a husband saying: If you wouldn’t do it with your spouse looking over your shoulder, then it’s cheating.

That might make buying a $200 pair of shoes cheating. (They ARE sexy.)

But the sentiment is probably right. If we don’t want our spouse to know something and that something involves another person and sexy feelings, we are probably heading for trouble. Or maybe we are already in trouble.

Do I think there needs to be physical weiner contact to be cheating?  No. But I think there are gradations to infidelity. Some marriages make room for pornography and others do not.  Some couples can agree on an actress being sexy or a friend looking hot.  Some don’t care about the online flirting and some can’t have close friends of the opposite sex.

In my own marriage, we draw conservative lines on matters of sex and intimacy because we know ourselves well enough to admit what adds to our relationship and what takes away from it even when others cross those lines without consequence.  But I don’t know Anthony Weiner and Huma Abadin marriage.  What they wanted.  Where their lines were.

Yet these gradations are important even when we cross them.  I would not feel the same about catching my husband texting or even sexting a woman as I would if I found out that he was sleeping with another woman.

Yes, they are both cheating.

But only one could I see our marriage surviving.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison June 9, 2011 1

This is my favorite essay on Internet cheating so far. It takes the “if you wouldn’t do it with your spouse watching” bit and expands upon it.

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/06/08/how-to-know-if-youre-cheating/

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Jaime June 9, 2011 2

I’ve been thinking the same thing. I don’t know that I would call it cheating…although, with all the lying he’s done, the actual act of sleeping with a woman that wasn’t his wife would not suprise me.

But I agree with this statement, sort of: If you wouldn’t do it with your spouse looking over your shoulder, then it’s cheating.

Because I also see your point of “is buying an expensive pair of shoes cheating?”

You’re right, it’s all about personal preference and what you’re comfortable with in your relationship. I personally don’t want my husband “sexting” (side note: hate that word) with women or getting lap dances. But I’m not opposed to him going to a strip club for a bachelor party. I know some women who take issue with that…and I know some women who buy their husband’s lap dances.

To each their own I guess.
Jaime recently posted..According to Ainsley 7 – Shyness is Not a Choice

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Stephanie June 12, 2011 3

I’m right right you on this! Unlike many of my friends I do not mind my husband going to a strip club. But no private or lap dances. I also see no need for my husband to have any girls phone number. Neither of us have close friends of the opposite sex from before our relationship and I don’t think it would be appropriate to develop friendships like that now.

I also hate the word sexting!

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Sarah June 9, 2011 4

I’m glad you broached this subject, because I am still on the fence. There are a lot of things I do not mind, but I know others would. Then, I think to myself, perhaps I would mind it if it happened to me, in some form or fashion. I can’t tell you what is cheating and what is not, and it will change from couple to couple, but the whole situation makes it obvious that couples should have some semblance of a discussion on this very topic.
Sarah recently posted..Under Siege

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Miranda June 9, 2011 5

The basis of cheating is dishonesty. If there’s dishonesty in a marriage (hiding the tags/receipts from the purchase of those $200 shoes and saying “Oh, these? I’ve had these FOREVER” for example) then there are bound to be other problems that need serious addressing.

I’m not sure if that adds anything at all to this discussion other than to say that I don’t think there’s room for most types of dishonesty in a marriage at all.

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Marge Wood June 9, 2011 6

When you are too emotionally involved with something and you don’t want anyone in the room with you, whether it is shoes or sexy emails, it may be cheating. But sometimes you just need to talk to someone. I don’t think that is cheating. This could go on for a long time……but yes people should think about what they do/say/think. As Jesus said, as a man (person) thinks in his heart, so is he.
mw

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Suzanne H June 9, 2011 7

I like your point about all relationships being different and the things some people feel are okay are not okay to others such as pornography. I do think you need to know those lines in your own marriage (and you’re foolish if you don’t). I also agree with the “if you wouldn’t do it with your spouse looking over your shoulder…” although I would add that if a solid majority of people think it’s wrong, you’re probably wrong! I’m not saying anyone should live their lives according to what other’s think but in general, there’s a reason for majority rules. The majority of people think doing X constitutes a crime and is, therefore, wrong. That principal allows us to have a sane (relatively – LOL) society. My point is, if 99% of people are calling it cheating then IT’S CHEATING!!!

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Skye June 9, 2011 8

Oh man, I can’t decide where I consider the line to be. I used to think only physical intimacy (including just a kiss) were cheating. Now I’m not so sure. But you (and commenters) are right about agreeing upon specific boundaries with your partner (which I haven’t done- but we’re not married, so it’s not as bad, right? hmm…).
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Lady Jennie June 9, 2011 9

Interesting point. I wasn’t sure what you thought until the end. I definitely believe cheating is being intimate with someone else, even if it doesn’t involve sex. I guess there is no line for me – if my husband were texting (sexting) it seems there is only time before an affair is bound to happen. So I don’t know that marriage would survive either.

Fortunately our couple boundaries are happily agreed to by both.

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Abby June 9, 2011 10

This one really made me think, Alex. Anyone who reads my blog knows about my obsession with Donnie Wahlberg (of New Kids fame). My husband knows of my obsession, and he isn’t threatened by it. But there is a fine line that can be difficult to see until you’ve already stepped over it. Thanks for the food for thought.
Abby recently posted..I Am So Smart S-M-R-T

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Beth June 9, 2011 11

Your last few lines summed it up for me. I don’t think I’d be happy about my husband talking the way Rep. Weiner (I still can’t believe that’s how it’s pronounced) did with those women. But in the case of the congressman, he probably COULD have cheated with actual, in-person women and he seems to have made a conscious decision not to. That, I think, would have to count for something.
Beth recently posted..At the risk of jinxing the crap out of this pun sort of intended

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KL June 9, 2011 12

Que interesante ….. Lying, cheating… The nuances therein. I appreciate your stance on fidelity within the context of a marriage…
K-L

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AKeo June 9, 2011 13

I completely agree with you.
If your spouse or significant other wouldn’t approve, then it is cheating in your relationship.
And you are right, some forms of cheating will break a marriage apart, while others will simply add strain and stress.
Of course, the real problem lies when the 2 in a relationship have differing opinions on what the definition is. It’s one of those conversations you really need to have before you get serious. Strange as it may seem.

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Gayle Schrier Smith MD June 9, 2011 14

Your strongest statement is “we know ourselves well enough to admit what adds to our relationship and what takes away from it…” I would argue that your children depend on your constant study of that feature of marriage.

We could write a book together someday. Except I would want all the royalties.

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Evin Cooper June 9, 2011 15

I’ve been with my guy 3 years, we have 3 kids, and we’re very stable. He goes to work every day and I stay home with the kids. He travels for work, and if I found out he’d banged some 22 year old he met in a bar while he was out of town, I’d be pissed as hell, but I think we’d survive. The kids, the house, all that isn’t worth give up because the little head got its way. Now… if I found out he’d been romantically chatting with some chick.. even if she lived in Zimbabwe and he’d never even met her face to face – that would end things.

His dick is his, to an extent – but his heart is all mine.

As for dirty pics, etc… a very old woman once told me, in regards to her hubby looking a dirty magazines.. “I don’t care where he gets his appetite, as long as he eats at home”
Evin Cooper recently posted..I am IN LOVE

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Katie June 9, 2011 16

i tell my students that when they cheat on a test they are lying to me about what they know. They are also calling me stupid. They would (probably) never lie or tell me I am stupid to my face…so cheating is the cowardly way to do it.

That is how I feel about cheating in a relationship. You can cheat on your spouse in more ways than just emotionally or sexually…you are cheating your spouse when you are dishonest with him/her. You are cheating them of a true relationship.

Weiner cheated.

I think the real question is what do we do once we’ve been cheated? How do we handle it? Is it forgivable? Why or why not?
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Tracie June 9, 2011 17

I think the lines of cheating (within those gradations you spoke of) are very blurry, but within my relationship with my husband, we have made our lines very clear. No understanding where your significant other would draw their line is a recipe for disaster.

There is a certain point when intimacy with another person becomes a betrayal of the intimacy you share with your spouse. I think if you arrive at that point, you have cheated.
Tracie recently posted..How to Have a Not Bummer Summer

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Amanda June 10, 2011 18

Personally, I don’t care what he was sending to whom. This and the Clinton affair, to me, was more about what blackmail/extortion he was opening himself and the country up to.
However, if this was my husband, I would consider this cheating. Crossing the lines of intimacy…..and I would never lie about shoes either….I’m too cheap to buy expensive ones, hehe.

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natalie June 10, 2011 19

Jason and I just had this conversation…I told him that sending pics of his “junk” over the internet to somebody is cheating. I wouldn’t do it, and would freak out if he did. I agree with you that there are different levels of cheating, and we’re pretty conservative with what we constitute as cheating, too.

That said, I’m posting next week about our “free pass list”…you know, the list of celebs you’d have a “free pass” to sleep with if you ever met them. It’s a joke for us, and under no circumstances would I EVER do it. Even with George Clooney. Probably wouldn’t do it. ;)

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Martha June 10, 2011 20

I don’t think what he did was cheating. But it was gross and probably led to some cheating. And even if what he did wasn’t cheating, it was lying and deceitful, which can be just as harmful to a marriage as cheating. I think that sexual intimacy with another person is hard on a marriage. So is deception. But they are two different things.
Martha recently posted..The Dilemma- Part II- Bridging a Gap

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Brook @ To Be Dancing June 10, 2011 21

I think that when you enter into a long term relational contract with someone there are things you agree not to do with other people. Whatever those things are is a matter decided between you. If you do something outside those boundaries then you have broken the contractual agreement that you have agreed upon. The contract will be changed; renegotiated, if not dissolved.
Whether he “cheated” or not is mostly semantics. The point is that he engaged in activities and behaviors in secret from his wife, that he was doing these things with full knowledge that she wouldn’t want him to, and that he lied to cover it up from her and everyone else.
If there are rules and you ignore them or break them, then you’ve cheated
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Melissa (@melrut01) June 11, 2011 22

Love this post. Most infidelity starts innocently enough. Then the two parties get more and more daring, and they come up with more ways to justify their behaviors. And before you know it, it’s full-on cheating by anyone’s standards. For my Hubs and I, our mantra is “know thyself.” I tell him to just be aware of what tempts him, and avoid it like the plague. Also, for me, it’s about familiarity. I want to be the only woman with that level of familiarity with him. That means he only strokes MY hair and eats MY pizza crust. And I am certainly the only woman who knows what his wiener looks like. (Not that eating another woman’s pizza crust is cheating, but I would start asking questions if he felt that comfortable with someone else that wasn’t his sister.)

Visiting (and following) via Mommy of a Monster.
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Shell June 11, 2011 23

I’m definitely conservative when it comes to what is cheating. If it was something that my husband wouldn’t want me to know about it, it’s cheating. And vice versa. Now, Hubs and I both have flirtatious natures. But, we tend to do that sort of thing when the other is around, so that the person we are flirting with knows it’s harmless fun. Away from each other? Not okay at all.

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dollimama June 12, 2011 24

This is so timely and well written.
It’s amazing the stupid things some people do (like sending nude pics on twitter. dumb.)
The thing about cheating is that is usually a symptom of a bigger problem. Sometimes the problem is one-sided, sometimes it’s mutual.
Marriage is complicate. So it cheating, I guess.
dollimama recently posted..ME! Challenge Week 23- Spa Day!

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