What is a micro-cheat and are you one?

There are worrying signs of a new Puritanism seeping into gender relations. Last summer, a survey of more than 5,000 adults for the New York Times found that a significant number of straight Americans view eating lunch, driving a car, or even having work meetings alone with a person of the opposite sex as sexually risky behavior.

And now the internet is full of warnings about a new way to be unfaithful without even knowing it. Called “micro-cheating”, it is infidelity in the digital age, meaning it does not involve the exchange of bodily fluids, conscious gazes, or any form of physical contact.

Instead, it involves seemingly licentious practices like liking your ex’s six-month-old Instagram post or sending her “romantically charged” emojis (come on, disgust, scarlet dancer).

According to Google Trends, the term first appeared in 2004, but it didn’t really explode into public consciousness until the first week of 2018, as an article in Thought Catalog highlighting “33 signs your boyfriend is cheating” went viral.

Signs include having inside jokes with people other than your significant other or sending them a “nice to meet you” “unnecessarily” message. Over-mentioning or under-mentioning someone who is potentially sexually interested in your partner is a sign of micro-cheating or compensating for your micro-cheating. Yes, it is a quagmire.

Cheating behavior

Micro-cheating is a “gray area that falls between flirting and cheating behavior, with examples like the use of romantic-dependent emojis in communication with someone outside of your relationship.” [or] have a secret online conversation with them, ”says Dr Martin Graff of the University of South Wales, who conducted a micro-cheating study currently under review in the Journal of personal and social relationships.

Late-night interactions have been judged to be more unfaithful than daytime interactions, due to the covert nature of nocturnal interactions.

Participants in his study had different scenarios to judge based on whether they saw it as cheating behavior. The scenarios took place at different times of the day and involved different degrees of disclosure.

“Unsurprisingly, late night interactions were deemed to be more unfaithful than daytime interactions, due to the covert nature of nocturnal interactions. Likewise, the higher levels of disclosure between people were judged to be higher in terms of unfaithful behavior, ”he said in a statement.

The study also found that women were much more upset with their micro-cheating partners than men. This can be explained in part by previous studies which have shown that men are more upset by sexual infidelity, while women are more distressed by emotional infidelity.

But can it be said that loaded emojis or inappropriate Instagram likes are cheating? It depends, Graff suggests, on “context and intention.”

Aisling Leonard-Curtin, registered psychologist and co-author of The power of the little ones, due out later this year, agrees that it’s not the behavior itself that determines if there is cheating, but what those who engage in it hope to gain from it.

If you’re wondering if you’ve crossed a line, ask yourself “what is the motivation that drives the connection,” she advises. “Look at why you are doing it and ask yourself ‘if the shoe was on the other foot, how would I feel?’ ‘

Psychotherapist Stella O’Malley sees the panic over micro-cheating as a potential excuse for overzealous partners to micromanage interactions with each other. “Yes, an emotional adventure can be very damaging. But you should be able to laugh with your ex, make a joke with someone at work, without it being considered cheating. We tend to overanalyze everything and suck all the joy out of life. I am very concerned about the lack of joy that creeps into our interactions. “

O’Malley says the contemporary attitude that your romantic partner should be “everything” to you which can lead to high expectations and almost certain disappointment.

“This idea that your romantic partner should be your soul mate, the only person you have little jokes with, the only person you have an emotional connection with, is very damaging and too much pressure.”

Pink elephant trap

It’s okay to feel an occasional fleeting attraction to someone outside of your primary relationship, Leonard-Curtin adds. “If we try to tell people that you shouldn’t even be thinking of another person, it has the complete opposite effect. We call it the pink elephant trap – the more we try not to think of something, the more you end up thinking about it, like in experiments where you are told not to think about pink elephants.

“We cannot control our thoughts; we can only control our actions. So it’s okay to have attractions – and it’s also okay not always to feel like you’re talking to your partner about them.

But if micro-cheating could be a concern of junior Mike Pences – who has said he’ll never have lunch with a woman other than his wife – there’s a risk it could cross the line of emotional infidelity. This is a real and potentially damaging phenomenon, defined by Relate as a “gray area where you know you are more than just platonic friends with someone outside of your relationship.” There is an emotional connection, an intimacy and often an attraction to each other.

Robert, who is gay, and Dermot, who is married and identifies as straight, worked at the same company and remained friends after one of them left. Casual texts and coffee dating eventually led to conversations about porn, which led to more intimate conversations and the sharing of sex fantasies – including scenarios of sex between them and two photos of their genitals.

Dermot’s wife would have been “furious,” said Robert who knew these actions were inappropriate. In this case, the first meetings, texts, and conversations might qualify as a “micro-cheat,” but the fantasy and photo-sharing that followed was infidelity on Dermot’s part.

If you hide romantic or sexual conversations from your partner, you are cheating. And you know it

Their situation highlights how problematic micro-cheating or flirting can be if the participant is to take it further.

“Micro-cheating, like liking photos online, is inherently harmless,” says Robert. “What lies behind is the real problem. It’s flirting without directly admitting your attraction. If you’re in a relationship, but constantly commenting on someone’s photos because you’d like to date them, or want to have sex with them, that’s cheating.

“If you hide romantic or sexual conversations from your partner, you are cheating. And you know it. “

Research by Graff and others has examined the role of the “online disinhibition effect”, which suggests that we disclose more personal information and do so more quickly in online environments, which may create an illusion of intimacy and cause a rapid intensification of relationships. .

If you suspect your partner is being uninhibited with someone else, ask yourself why you think that, says Leonard-Curtin. “Be aware of your own history and your thought processes that might make you feel this way. But if you notice a consistent theme or pattern in their behavior, chat with them. “

The other thing that can make virtual relationships more compelling is that our messy and often boring real lives – romantic and otherwise – can turn pale compared to the perfect versions we see others peddle online.

“There was a really interesting research study where they got women of straight couples to rate their relationship satisfaction before and after watching a romantic comedy. And of course, they were a lot less satisfied after spending two hours watching Ryan Gosling or whatever.

“Likewise, on social media, we often compare our very real life relationships to relationships organized by other people, and that can make us feel like we’ve pulled the straw.”

Since the dawn of the digital age, there have never been more opportunities to cheat. But be warned: there has never been a greater likelihood that you will be caught cheating. So handle these eggplant emojis with care.


You connect with your ex on Facebook

Watching your ex on Facebook is not cheating. There is another word for it: “curiosity”. But if you follow up by bringing them in and then texting them at 3 a.m. to compliment their new job / beard / bikini, and you complain that your current partner doesn’t understand you, that move you just captured in the corner of the eye will be the spectacle. of the line you just crossed.

You send eggplant emojis to someone at work

Don’t even try to pretend you don’t know emoji sexting is a thing. Unless you’re a chef or a committed vegan, an eggplant emoji only means one thing. Other emojis that should be used with caution include the “admit one” ticket emoji (especially risky when combined with the bed emoji); orgasm face emoji (no, that doesn’t mean “surprise”); the peach emoji (only never used as a comment on someone’s backside appeal); the panting tongue emoji or the fireworks emoji.

You are a straight man and you have registered the number of women on your phone as “John Work”, or you are a straight woman, and you have male friends registered as “Hair Salon”

When your partner catches you sending you nude photos with “John Work” or “Hair Salon”, you walk out of your house before you can say “Fireworks emoji”.

You always forget to delete Tinder from your phone

No, nobody goes on Tinder “for fun”.

You liked a 53 week old Instagram post by someone other than a family member

Yep, yeah, yeah, we all do – deep surfing other people’s Instagram accounts, looking for evidence of bad skin days or previous partners. But doing it openly on someone’s Instagram feed who could conceivably be a romantic interest is as subtle as taking off all your clothes and hiding around the corner with a rose caught between your teeth and Let’s go screaming on your Spotify.

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About Catherine Sherrill

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