What counts as cheating? It’s a question that we may never have a straight answer to. With more and more ways to keep in touch through technology and social media, there are a lot of blurred lines when it comes to what is and isn’t appropriate. Texting a friend is fine, but texting a friend before bed every night might be considered less fine. But where are the boundaries?
Well a new survey from Ashley Madison, the dating website for married people, asked 3,342 members what actions they considered cheating, besides the obvious sexual acts. What was really fascinating about these results is that an emotional connection was actually far more likely to be considered cheating than other explicitly sexual things — like sending naked photos to someone else. That may be for a very good reason — emotional infidelity can be extremely painful.
“Emotional cheating is very hurtful,” matchmaker and dating coach Karenna Alexander tells Bustle. And you shouldn’t underestimate the effect that it can have on a relationship. “… To know that someone is cheating on us emotionally is heartbreaking.”
Why does emotional cheating hurt so much? Well, it’s impossible to write off as just a little “blip”. “From these statistics it sounds like people are valuing an emotional connection higher than a physical one,” relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW.
It’s very serious stuff. Although one heartening part of the survey was that, considering how many different things might be considered cheating and how varied people’s opinions are, a whopping 78 percent of those surveyed said they have defined what they consider cheating to be with their spouse.
Considering the survey participants are all members of Ashley Madison, my guess is not all of them stick to those boundaries, but at least they took the time to set them up in the first place… right? Maybe?
But if you’re not sure about where some of the boundaries fall, here’s what the survey participants had to say about the non-physical behaviors that count as cheating, because they’re way more lax than you might have thought.
1. Forming A Deep Emotional Bond With Someone Else: 55%
The number one action that people considered cheating was forming an emotional connection with someone else, with over half of participants thinking that this crossed the line into infidelity. Some emotional connections, like friendships, can be totally innocent, but in other cases they’re definitely inappropriate.
2. Sending Naked Pictures To Someone Else: 46%
Too some people sending naked pictures to someone other than your partner would 100 percent be cheating. And yet, only 46 percent of those surveyed here thought it made the cut. Granted, the survey participants are on an extra-marital affairs website, but still — sending nudes is OK to more than half of people.
3. Texting Erotic Messages To Someone Else: 44%
Sexting someone else may seem pretty inappropriate, but only 44 percent thought that they should be considered cheating. I guess there’s a lot of sliding into the DMs happening.
4. Maintaining An Online Dating Profile: 29%
Leaving your online dating profile active is a hot topic for a lot of new couples, but only 29 percent of those surveyed thought that it would be cheating.
5. Spending Time With Their Ex: 29%
Tied with the online dating profile, hanging out with your ex was not OK for 29 percent of those surveyed. If you’re friends with an ex that’s one thing, but sometimes it’s definitely more than that — although it can be difficult to tell when friendship ends and weirdness begins.
6. Casual Flirting With Someone Else: 18%
Some people think flirting here or there isn’t a big deal, as long as it doesn’t go any further — but 18 percent of those surveyed disagreed and said that it crossed the line.
7. Thinking About Someone Else While Having S_x With Me: 18%
How natural is it to fantasize about someone else? Well, 18 percent of people thought that it was straight-up cheating, so this may be a good one to discuss with your partner.
Figuring out what counts as cheating may never be easy, but what this survey shows is that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of an emotional connection with someone else. Having friendships is normal, healthy, and important but, if that line starts to get blurry, know that your partner may think it’s cheating — and that you may have trouble moving past it.
“Physical cheating happens for all sorts of reasons and there isn’t always a bond,” Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and the owner of Exclusive Matchmaking tells Bustle. “[E]motional cheating involves your secrets, your dreams, and inside jokes.” It’s a lot harder to write off. So when in doubt, communicating with your partner and clarifying those boundaries is always best.