I was delighted recently to see that Freethought Blogs has made the excellent decision to bring on board Miriam Mogilevsky of Brute Reason. Here is a very good post she made a couple weeks back about why there can be no universal definition of cheating:
If you’re reading a magazine article to find out if you cheated or not, you’re doing it wrong, because it can’t answer that question for you. The only person who can tell you that is your partner.
Nobody else can tell you what “cheating” means in your particular relationship because it’s different in each one. In monogamous relationships, most people take the “default” definition of cheating, which includes any sort of sexual contact with someone else. But even then, what about flirty Facebook messages? What about “emotional cheating,” when you have feelings for someone else (even if you don’t act on them)? Some people count these things as cheating; others don’t.
Monogamous relationships can have a lot of wiggle room, too. I’ve known many couples in which one partner is straight and the other is bisexual, and the straight partner doesn’t mind if the bisexual partner hooks up with people of their own gender (as long as it’s just hooking up). Long-distance relationships can also have certain “rules” for what the partners can do while they’re apart.
In non-monogamous relationships, there’s an even greater variety of configurations and definitions of cheating. Some couples restrict which types of sexual acts they can do outside of the primary relationship, or they specify that sex without barriers outside of that relationship would be cheating. Some people form triads or group marriages and forbid all sexual contact outside of that established group. Some decide that you can only hook up outside of the relationship at certain events or in particular spaces, or if your primary partner is present and either watching or participating.
Meanwhile, in other non-monogamous relationships–for instance, mine–the boundaries aren’t about specific acts or people, but rather about communication. If my partner or I act secretively about other people we’re seeing, we’re cheating. If we’re not considerate to each other in terms of making plans with those other people, we’re cheating.
Miriam’s whole blog is filled with great stuff on important topics, so I recommend scroll through her back pages. I particularly liked that she wrote a piece against calling faith a mental illness. That’s how she first caught my attention and appreciation. Bookmark her blog.