Emotional infidelity: Does cheating always have to involve sex?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

There are boyfriends or girlfriends who have sex with someone outside their current long-term relationship, and then there are cheaters. Cheaters are those so emotionally attached to another person " be it a close friend or everyday acquaintance " they distance themselves from their current partner.

It’s no newsflash: many people cheat. But you don’t have to take your clothes off for another or even touch someone outside your relationship to be unfaithful. I’m talking about “emotional infidelity,” an idea alien to me until recent conversations with some female friends who are in this psychological mess.

After discussing it with them, I opened the debate about emotional cheating to several guy friends, who were left utterly confused.

Why did my female friends immediately understand this concept easier than males? According to recent evolutionary studies, men are typically distraught when they suspect sexual betrayal, while women are more suspicious of emotional betrayal; that may explain my male friends’ baffled looks and furrowed eyebrows when I brought up the idea of “emotional infidelity.”

Hearing someone has “cheated” in a relationship immediately implies a sexual act. Emotional cheating, however, goes beyond this; it involves gradually replacing your significant other mentally with a “platonic” friend or innocent flirt.

So what constitutes cheating? Is it the point when you pursue your cute friend while involved in a serious relationship? Or is it the moment you actually question whether or not you’re cheating mentally? After all, it’s hard to accuse someone of being unfaithful when they’ve never actually made a sexual pass at someone else.

There’s an unwritten code for emotional infidelity and many people, particularly women, know it. There’s still an element of sexual desire, yes, but it becomes the overall quest for complete satisfaction, ultimately leading to a failed relationship.

We’ve all heard it before: “He’s just a friend.” Nothing has to physically happen between the woman and her guy friend, but the intense connection they feel towards each other may be more destructive than a strictly sexual affair.

Men, on the other hand, are more threatened by sexual competition rather than the elusive idea of “mental cheating.” That’s not to say sex and emotions aren’t connected, but men often overlook the fact their girlfriend may be thinking of someone else.

But what if the “other guy” is better for you? Most of us are young, unmarried university students " why not leave yourself open to a slew of possibilities?

Someone once told me they couldn’t break up with their boyfriend since they didn’t have anyone “lined-up” yet. While the subject is indefinite, even the idea of mentally producing a guest list for your heart could be emotional infidelity.

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