The Happy Trail

How to Define Cheating: The Puget Sound Perspective 

Photo Credit: Broken Heart Speech Bubble by ZorotekSubtourqe on DeviantArt CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

By Sophie Goble 

  When it comes to relationships, there is one thing that people can generally agree on: cheating on your partner is bad. However, our collective understanding of cheating has become more nuanced. The once seemingly unanimous definition of cheating, or entering a sexual or romantic relationship without your partner’s consent, is now more complicated as media and technology become increasingly integrated within relationships and social systems. Cheating has moved from solely occupying the physical space to also the digital space, leaving a web of tangled perceptions on what cheating actually is. Debates over liking and following, direct messaging, and Facetime-ing are now all  part of the larger conversation when it comes to cheating. One scenario may be the breaking point in one relationship or just a blip in the next. Because of this, cheating has shifted into something that is defined on an individual basis. Do people now have to tip-toe around in order not to be accused of being a “cheater?” What really is “cheating”? In pondering such questions, I looked for opinionated perspectives across our campus. 

  Ella Parker’s (‘27), definition of cheating fell in line with the societal standard. She said that cheating is “the physical act of intercourse.” After thinking for a brief moment, she followed up, saying that it is also “engaging with someone in a sexual context, or making out with someone.” 

  Charley Peebler (‘27) pointed out that “most people think of cheating as being romantic or having sexual relations with someone who isn’t your partner.” However, they acknowledged the presence of emotional cheating and explained the difference between the two. They shared that in their experience, emotional cheating was seen “when one partner was acting romantic and neglecting the other romantically to be with another person.” This does not fall under the initial definition that people think of in the context of cheating. Peebler shared, “When my partner was emotionally cheating on me, I knew because he wasn’t talking to me at all. He was essentially acting as if this other person was his partner, even though things were supposed to be platonic.” 

  The types of cheating Peebler and Parker initially discussed are standard, almost non-complex in a sense. When a partner goes behind your back to be with another person physically, or emotionally, that usually is enough to break up. However, a new term, micro-cheating, shows that things easily can become more complicated. 

  Psychology Today defines micro-cheating as “small breaches of trust in a relationship that don’t pass the threshold into a physical affair.” The article follows up, “Acts of micro-cheating are subjective and therefore can be difficult to navigate in relationships.” Basically, micro-cheating acts are small things that might wave your red flag about the relationship, but they might not necessarily warrant a break-up.

  Parker explained that micro-cheating might look like “being in constant communication with your exes,” “being physically affectionate with your close female friends, or “sending explicit photos to other people.” She emphasized that all of these instances would be considered micro-cheating if there wasn’t a “straightforward, valid reason” for it to occur. Parker explained that action in the face of micro-cheating depends on the context of the situation. If a partner had no previous romantic interest with someone, it would feel different than if they did, provoking different response plans. Some other examples Parker gave are “telling people you’re single when you’re not. Also, giving your phone number to somebody who asks in a flirty manner.” There are clearly many ways that someone could cheat, at least on a micro-scale. 

 What happens after you note instances of micro-cheating? Parker explained that if enough instances of micro-cheating happen, and if boundaries expressed within her communication aren’t followed, it would be a “relationship-ender” for her.  

  While Parker expressed discomfort with her partner having close relationships with other members of the preferred sex, or communication with exes, Peebler explained why the opposite was true for them. “My current partner and I both know that we are both very physical people with our friends. He knows that I am close with people, like my best friend here, my best friends back home, even my ex-girlfriend. But he knows I’m not going to cheat on him, and we would not consider those relationships as cheating.” 

  Both Parker and Peebler emphasized the importance of open communication and the way it influences how cheating is defined within their relationships. Peebler explained that they were previously in an open relationship, so the boundaries of what cheating was were different than in their current relationship. “We didn’t consider anything cheating unless we weren’t communicating about it,” Peebler said. In terms of their current, closed relationship, Peebler explained that it would only be cheating if there was romantic intention and flirting with someone who is not a close friend. 

  Parker shared her stance, saying, “I’m a big communicator, and if I see things that bother me, I’m not going to let them pile up until I break.” On a piece of advice, she shared, “Communicate with your partner before you communicate with your friends,” as “your friends will have a preconceived notion and will always be on your side.” 

 Peebler expressed the importance of communication as a way not to put unnecessary blame on a partner, or guilt on yourself. “They might not have the intention to cheat. But if your partner is going to cheat, they’re just going to cheat and nothing you can say will stop that,” they said. 

  Now more than ever, it is important to communicate clearly within your relationship. If instances of micro-cheating clearly define the outcome of your relationship, it’s probably good to let your partner know. However, like Peebler said, if you’re with a cheater, there’s nothing you can really do. Trust your gut. And if it’s telling you to run, GET OUT OF THERE.