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What is Cheating?

If you've been here long, you know that this site is a strong believer in each relationship and each person determining what cheating is for it/themself. (I like to say that cheating is breaking the agreements you have about what is exclusive with your partner - those agreements may vary.) In an interesting study of the ways those agreements can vary and the ways monogamous culture largely suggests we not actually talk about it, there's a couple sounds going around TikTok asking people whether they think various activities are cheating. [If you, like me until a couple months ago, aren't on tiktok, people take others' sound clips and record video over them, and there's a whole genre of "quizzes you take with your significant other" that these videos fit into - most people label one half of the screen cheating and the other half not cheating and step back and forth or point back and forth, and glare or giggle at their significant other when they disagree.]

The thing I've found most interesting about these, far beyond how many people apparently think having a text conversation you don't tell your partner about is cheating (which seems wild to me- it doesnt even say a flirty text conversation, just any texting with a person of a gender you're attracted to - as a bi person this would mean I could talk to NO ONE without informing my partner if I didn't want to cheat, which just seems... burdensome), is that at the end of the two of these sounds I see most often, the person explains that there are no right and wrong answers, just what you agree to, and people's reactions to this portion of the audio are often either angry or incredulous. It is unbelievable to people that their opinion about whether getting a drink with your "work spouse" and not inviting your partner is cheating might not be law for all humans; even if they just disagreed with their partner on three or four of the milder or more 'emotional cheating' options on the list. This confused/angry/ "how can this be?" style of reaction tends to be the case in well over half of the sampling of these videos I flipped through. It seems to be slightly less common in people whose attitudes are more permissive overall, but it's not a perfect correlation. While I think some of this is our monogamous culture of ownership of our partners and possessiveness as a positive, it is actually important to check in about what might make someone uncomfortable, or "feel like cheating" so you aren't taken aback by a big emotional reaction in your relationships later.

For me, none of these would be cheating, although maybe a couple of them would involve conversations that the format of a blind-react social media sound/video don't allow for. My relationship agreements are around safer sex and information; anything else is just a matter of comfort and sharing. I think many polyamorous people are okay with a majority of these things, because we're open to multiple emotional relationships - so long as our partners are up-front about what's going on in them. Here are the questions on the two most popular video's lists that maybe, you want to think about whether they bother you, since apparently they do for a whole lot of people, and you might want to discuss some of them ahead. Is it cheating if:

- you have a new text conversation ongoing with someone of the gender you're attracted to and don't explicitly tell your partner?

-if you hide that conversation from your partner?

-if your partner is swiping on dating apps but not talking to anyone right now?

-if your partner is messaging with people from dating apps?

-if your partner kisses someone else?

-if you or your partner watch porn?

-if you or partner pay for a cam person?

-if you or partner pay for an in person SWer?

-if you or partner go to a strip club alone?

-if you have a "work spouse"?

-if you go out with "work spouse" socially and don't invite partner?

-if your partner thinks about someone else when you're in bed together?

-if your partner sleeps in the same bed as someone else naked but doesn't have sex?

-if your partner kisses a friend hello or goodbye on the lips?

As we said above, there's no cut-and-dried response to any of this. In any relationship, cheating is what the folks in the relationship decide it is, but especially in polyamory, where we're choosing our own structures and trying to define what commitment and care look like in a structure with less held exclusive, our agreements must be more customized and more actively entered into.


Do you want to learn more about polyamorous structures and relationships? See the Events page for information on upcoming classes and 1-on-1 support sessions, or get my book here.

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