In a healthy relationship, both sides determine what’s cheating and what isn’t.
A question that comes up at some point in most relationships is “What counts as cheating?” Sex, of course—and by that we mean any sexual contact at all. Kissing? Very likely. Face it, any physical contact, not with a bunch of other sweaty dudes, is usually a no-no. Past that, however, the black-and-white of adultery shades into the gray of suspicion. What about lunch with a coworker, drinks after work, or maybe even dinner? Phone calls, emails, or texts late at night? Even if partners accept physical dalliances outside the relationship, they may be less forgiving of emotional entanglements. Sex is fine but no love.
So what counts? And who’s to say?
It would be easy just to say, “If you have to ask, it’s cheating.” True, that would be the safest strategy: just don’t do anything, with anybody, that would ever arouse any suspicion, whatsoever. But this is excessive and really isn’t fair to either partner.
Another way to think of it is: what wouldn’t you want her to do? If you have similar values, then anything you wouldn’t want your partner doing on the side is probably something you shouldn’t be doing either. But as often as you may finish each other’s sentences (which is just so cute), you are still not the same person. You can’t just assume that she feels the same way about your boundaries.
So what’s the answer? You’re not gonna like it—especially if the reaction to Hugo Schwyzer’s article on porn use is any guide—but bear with me.
Your cheating is whatever she says it is.
Wait, wait… there’s more. If I just left it like that, I’d be conforming to the myth that the man always cheats and the woman gets to draw the line. To the extent that the man may cheat, it’s the woman’s prerogative to say what she is and isn’t comfortable with. She’s an equal partner in this relationship, and she has every right to say what she’ll allow as far as your interaction with other women.
Her cheating is whatever you say it is.
You’re in this relationship too, and you have legitimate concerns over what she might be doing with friends, neighbors, coworkers, or Fire Station No. 5. Just as she has the right to say what she’s comfortable with you doing, you have the same right with respect to what she does.
Let’s turn things around and look at it a different way. Why should either of you have the right to do something that upsets the other? You’re in this relationship to make each other happy, not anxious or miserable. If you can’t work or hang out with beautiful and intelligent women without crossing a line your girlfriend or wife sets, there are two possibilities: 1) You know she’s being reasonable, and you’re a jerk. 2) You think you’re being reasonable, and she’s too uptight. The first is your problem, buddy—good luck with that—but the second is a problem between both of you, and one that cannot be ignored.
Am I saying you should just submit to what she does or does not want you to do? Not at all. If you don’t like it, tell her. She has every right to her opinion, but so do you. If you don’t like what she thinks, then talk about it. Just don’t do something she doesn’t like, and then complain that she’s too controlling. If you think she’s too restrictive, then maybe she’s not the woman for you (and you’re not the right man for her).
Of course, the same thing goes if she thinks you’re too controlling. If she wants to go for drinks with her former underwear model boss, and you don’t like it, then you have to talk about it. If you and your wife or girlfriend can’t agree on terms of engagement “with the enemy,” that signals a deeper problem within the relationship, one that has to be dealt with.
In the end, you both have the right to say what makes you uncomfortable. Since either of you can leave if you’re unhappy, you have to agree on these things, or the relationship isn’t going to last. When it comes to cheating—or porn use, or any other issue in the relationship—her opinion counts no more or less than yours. If she says lunch with a coworker is cheating, then it is—but if you don’t accept this, you have to discuss it with her.