Is this cheating?

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(PARENTHESES WARNING: I USE MANY IN THIS PIECE! HA! Sorry–just deal with it.)

I tumblr’d this post last week and found it intriguing. A few of the responses really caught my attention. I was curious about the over 45 set’s responses. It seems after that age you just pretty much give each other hall passes? I wonder how I’ll feel ten years from now on these topics. The topics make for a great conversation starter. What I found most astounding was that anyone considers masturbating to be cheating. If someone accuses you of cheating on them because you are masturbating, they need help resolving their own guilt and shame regarding masturbation. I found myself wondering if there’s a correlation between people whose partner treated their masturbation as a positive compared to those who condemned it, and the cheating rates amongst those two groups. I’d bet the person who can pleasure themselves guilt-free and tap into their deepest desires (Hooray fantasy!) would be happier in their relationship, more in tune with their own body and what feels good (Thereby improving their sex life with their partner!), and less likely to cheat. If you have no outlet for your sexual urges and desires, and are shamed over self-lovin’, you’ll be more than tempted to seek another to fulfill some of those wants.

A few minutes after I tumblr’d it, TK texted me suggesting we “both compose emails with our YAY or NAY responses to each of those” and then email them right before we spoke to each other. He ended with, “Good idea or disastrous idea?” I was immediately on-board with it. I thought it would be a good idea and I looked forward to the conversation. Perhaps even a little healthy debate would follow and I’m always game for that. As evening came, and I was preparing my email of answers, I was struck with a bit of panic. What if there was an answer we so disagreed on and there was no compromise? What if we hurt the other, and that was the end of all this? I laughed at myself because from day one we have tackled some pretty big issues. We’ve been an open book, no question out of line, we don’t judge, and we are completely honest with one another. It’s funny how that’s all a rather shocking concept for a relationship. I realize I bring it up a lot. But, I know based on my history and many of my friends’ relationships, this sadly is not the norm.

I was still a bit leery when I hit “send” on my email and saw him calling me. I skimmed his answers, he went with strictly all “yeses” and “nos” (Technically following the ground rules we’d laid out.) while I, ever the rebel, found myself with a few “no so long as…” and “maybes” along the list. We tackled the list one by one. Some needed no explanation. It’s funny that we both presented our answers with the distinction that our responses were based on no prior agreements made between a couple. This is key. How can something be seen as cheating, if you haven’t defined it as such together? If my partner is hurt by the idea of me slow-dancing with someone, I need to know that ahead of time. So don’t assume when it comes to these things. If you lay out the expectations ahead of time, you can save your relationship a lot of stress down the road. Plus, if you love someone, don’t you want to avoid hurting them? I think often we hurt each other not out of spite, but simply out of misunderstanding.

So we started with some easy and agreed-upon “nos” on both our lists. We both agreed that for us, the items from secret lunch/dinner dates up to sexual intercourse with someone else were outright cheating. Side-note: for anyone who answered separately to the lunch and dinner questions, why? Is a secret-dinner date more harmful than lunch? I’m not sure why they made that two questions, and would love to find someone who distinguishes differently between the two. Anyway, we also firmly felt that masturbating or thoughts of a crush were absolutely not cheating. There were a few that initially it seemed we disagreed upon, but after I explained where my answers (Disclaimers!) came from, we both were on common ground. I think based on my past experiences (Here’s a hint.), and just because I tend to rarely think in concrete terms (I am a what-if type of person.), I thought past the initial statements. Truly, when TK said “no” to things I listed as “maybe” or “probably not,” he interpreted them on the surface, for what they really are (Or, rather, should be.). And all of them are seemingly innocent.

I took the acts further, into their more possibly nefarious realms. Like how initially, there isn’t anything wrong with dancing. In my mind however, I immediately thought of how aggressive some men get when I’ve been dancing at a club. That type of close encounter (I’m referring to major grinding here.) is not something I would feel comfortable doing with someone else when I’m in a relationship; it would feel like cheating to me. I also felt strongly that flirting could be cheating. It all depends on your intent. Some people (Ahem.) are flirts by nature; we discussed and concluded there is a difference between our personality types and talking to someone in a flirty way for the purpose of showing them interest, making a play for them, and so on. Similarly, a slow dance is innocent unless it leads to anything more sexual than simply a dance. It came down to the “would I be doing this if my significant other were here?” That’s a great measurement on whether what you are doing could be construed as cheating, or at the very least, hurtful. More on this in a later post, as it’s a concept that’s new to me.

We both concluded that while we cannot control what someone else looks at while masturbating, that it would be hurtful if we happened to find out that the other was watching video or looking at pictures of a crush that we knew in real life. Look at Emma Stone, watch this video, porn, whatever, I don’t care. You certainly don’t have to think of me, nor I, you. Going into the corners of your mind, exploring your fantasies is good for you. In your mind is where you can do and be anything. If you are sexually free in your mind, it will lead to increased sexual experiences for you, and your partner. You may discover things you didn’t realize you were into or wanted to try. Fantasy is a positive aspect in a relationship, both the facets you share with each other and those you keep to yourself. So go there, dream, imagine, and do it all.

It’s one thing to be in total fantasy land, another to be having sexual thoughts about someone you are in close contact with. I expressed my concerns based on the psychology courses I’ve taken and how our minds can form attachments, especially when pleasant experiences are involved. Fantasizing or thinking about someone you know in real life also isn’t by itself bothersome to me. Just don’t tell me about it!  Though if you are looking at a picture or video of someone in your life while you masturbate, a connection can form. You then associate that person with the sexual pleasure you get from masturbating. It is a slippery slope. A simple crush can quickly grow to something much more. I don’t feel crushes are bad, I actually think they are fun and healthy. There is a line where a crush becomes something more, they shift from a junior-high heartthrob to an object of sexual pleasure. If you’ve pleasured yourself to orgasm while looking at your office mate’s picture on Tuesday night then have coffee with that person the next day, it can get dicey. Lines get blurred, and it could lead to actual cheating.

My response to “non-sexual emotional reliance” was (SHOCK!) “mabye.” Simply put, if you are going to someone else to discuss what’s on your mind more often than your partner, that is a problem. Why be in a relationship if you aren’t most emotionally connected with that person? When I say relationship, I mean a monogamous, we are together, we want a future, type of relationship. Not a fling, not a “we’re just seeing each other,” none of those casual (Albeit fun and perfectly healthy!) relationships. That’s not to say you can’t have friends, or that you can’t rely on them for support. I think it’s vital for couples to have their own friends, and have people to connect and reach out to. But if you are routinely going outside of your relationship to discuss your problems, or even to celebrate the good things, it’s a bigger sign of trouble. It is honestly a whisper away from physical cheating. To me, there is almost something more hurtful about your partner being emotionally intimate with someone than being just physically intimate. Both hurt like hell, yes. I feel the emotional bonds between two monogamous partners, their hearts and minds, should be one of the most intense bonds on earth. To break that, it’s a deeper blow to me. I guess if I had to choose between two evils, I’d rather your sex organs throb for someone else in a moment instead of your heart.

We spent quite a lot of time on many of these topics and it was stimulating to open these doors and learn even more about each other. The sheer nature of the items on the list prompt additional conversations, both from your own histories and your expectations and desires. I can’t recommend it enough to other couples. It’s the weekend: go forth and have this discussion. If you don’t clarify where the boundaries are in your relationship, it is easy to hurt one another. Setting the guidelines of what the other can accept or is comfortable with helps keep each other informed and strengthen your relationship. I feel like we both know the expectations of the other now, and there is a real comfort in that. Of course, it could have gone different. Such a discussion could lead you to learn more about the other, and realize you cannot be with that person. Really, that outcome is even more helpful than a positive one. There’s few things worse than being with, and staying with, someone you are incompatible with and with whom the boundaries of your relationship are not crystal clear.

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