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Emotional Affairs: Cheating Or Not?

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You be the judge.

emotional affair couple flirting

Jodi Bryson: I cheated once in my life on my boyfriend of nine years. And you know what? It was worth it.

I'm not in the minority on that opinion. Cheating happens. And there are levels of cheating. The arguments are not black-and-white about what is cheating and what is not cheating. Sleeping with, kissing, and otherwise touching another man? That's cheating.

But some "affairs" aren't as discernible. What would you call trading heated Facebook messages to a guy who you think is e-sexy? Whether or not that's cheating depends on you, your man, and...your other man. Collective reasoning says if it's cheating for one of you, then it is for all of you.

But what about a fantasy? Brad, George, Johnny, Clive, and Terrance Howard aside, most of us have had an emotional affair. That elusive crush somewhere in the past who you knew or didn't know? That guy? He had your intimate attention. That's an emotional affair.

Likewise, who among us hasn't been preoccupied with a guy friend but we didn't go there for myriad reasons, the least of which (or most of which) because you were already involved with someone else?

This story talks about how to recover from an emotional breakup. The idea that we invest emotionally into an extra-curricular someone or something takes energy from the place where we should be directing our attention, and it is more gray area.

Love or lust, affairs take away from a partnership. It's like a game with two teams: the relationship you're in and the relationship you want. No matter how vested you are emotionally or physically, it's one relationship against the other, and one person has three roles: player, witness, referee. Not many people have that much emotional bandwidth. Eventually, someone's letting someone else go. Depending on the level of discreet, the end burns a hole through two--and maybe three--broken hearts.

I'm sure some of the details of my affair are similar to many women's tales of rationalized scandal. I loved both guys, but only one would be with me long-term. It was year six of my relationship and I couldn't not cheat. Or better stated, I couldn't not be with the other guy.

It's not the sexual implications that will keep me from cheating again. I won't cheat because it's wrong. And yes, it was so draining. I thought about that guy sexually for nearly three years before we made things officially dishonest. That desire was profound, and I'm no Jane Austen. But I was exhausted with guilt and, prior to my indiscretion, there was no improvement in my relationship with my boyfriend for holding back.

Whether or not the physical boundary is crossed, it's the trust that's compromised. Trust has a slow recovery time.

It's been years since I slept with the other guy, but there are times when I'm doing something mindless, like washing the dishes or driving in commuter traffic, and I will think about him, and then I think about my ex. What made the affair worth is I finally knew what it meant to be with him, and I could let go of wanting him. I didn't marry either of them, of course.

Have you emotionally cheated? Do you think your man is emotionally cheating? We'd love to hear your story.

next: Susan Boyle: Yes To Oprah, No To Makeover
21 comments so far | Post a comment now
N April 22, 2009, 12:40 PM

your a horrible person, don’t try to justify what you did or make it seem okay. how pathetic!

Yvonnes April 22, 2009, 1:12 PM

Sounds like fun : ) I’m glad you learned a few things, and got something positive out of it. Hey, you only live once!

joan April 22, 2009, 2:02 PM

The problem with cheating —whether emotional or more —is that once you do it, I fear there’s no returning back to the way things were. At first, an affair can breathe new life into your relationship, because it reminds you that you are desirable and wakes up your sexual desire. But then it can become obsessive and all consuming, and your partner can never live up to the exciting secret fantasy. It’s a slippery slope!

dropadisc April 22, 2009, 2:26 PM

Perhaps the real question is whether or not fidelity really exists, and should it. Are we as humans not simply intelligent animals?

As far as being a horrible person, I think your first commentator needs to take a look in the mirror. An open mind is a free mind. Have the courage to admit that perfection is a fallacy that weak minds dream up to explain the fact that they have no imagination.

jamie April 22, 2009, 3:16 PM

well i agree that emotional cheating is very upsetting. i was suprised to see this article because im going thru the same situation. my boyfriend has been chatting with other women online while im at work or in bed, and hardly ever speaks to me at all. when i expressed my feelings about this to him, he simply said “where is your man at?” but that is the whole thing.. while he may be at home with me his mind is somewhere else and that hurts. just last night he got out of bed and went to chatting online again. for some reason i just cant stop thinking about it and i dont know what to do about it. i feel like im invisible.

Jen-After the Alter April 22, 2009, 3:33 PM

Wow what an interesting post. I personally think cheating is the biggest disrespect you can have for a person. I don’t understand how you can claim to care about someone and then go behind their backs. It’s just wrong. But I do agree that there is more than just physical cheating..I wouldn’t put the two in the same category, but it definitely proves that you have to look into yourself and your relationship if you are reaching out in any way to a member of the opposite sex for attention.


Louise April 22, 2009, 8:16 PM

ha. Emotional cheating is every bit as upsetting as any other cheating, if not moreso. The trust is gone, and the hurt of knowing someone else was taking your place as the significant other in the triangle is unbearable. I’m trying to deal with this right now. It’s not working very well. Lying, manipulating, deceiving, never quite all the way cheating, just so the man can say “hey! I never cheated!”
And when that man does say “I love you”, I agree with the previous poster, it hurts all the more. Cause you know where that love has been.

I’d like to know how you’re supposed to recover a relationship after something like this!? Apparantly it’s just not a big deal, and I should be over it already. But I just can’t seem to get past it. Among other things. lol.

Missy April 26, 2009, 7:35 PM

I completely agree with those who say emotional cheating is cheating…my husband who is DEPLOYED is emotionally cheating on with with a girl via myspace..he’s pulling away from me more and more everday and it hurts exp when he tells me he loves me b/c I know at some point in that day he was probley thinking about her..I just do not understand..but talking to him about it when he is deployed is difficult b/c he is over there and I am here..God I am so lost..worst part is things have been going better for us over the last few months than ever and then he turns around and betrays me like this..I dunno it just SUCKS!!

LittleMe May 5, 2009, 8:17 AM

Emotional cheating is pretty much the same thing as physical cheating in my book. I will not tolerate it. In my circumstance, I am married w/3 kids all with special needs. We barely see my husband because he works so much and I’m a SAHM. If he is diverting more time away from his family/me, to have an emotional affair with someone online, then it is the same as cheating. He’s taking time away from us.

Anonymous Lucy May 5, 2009, 12:56 PM

I’m going through something similar. An ex contacted me out of the blue. We have only spoken online and have no plans or intentions to meet at any point. I am married and have 3 kids. My husband has been emotionally gone for the last year or so. He works all the time and it’s up to me to take care of 3 kids (one of whom is autistic) all by myself. He is distant and I am giving myself away piece by piece to my family, friends, and hubby all day long. At the end of the day, a little attention from someone else has given me the strength to get up and start all over again.

LittleMe May 5, 2009, 5:37 PM

To Anonymous Lucy,

I’m sorry you are going through this. Perhaps not getting into an emotional affair as wonderful the attention can be, is a good thing right now. I wonder if you spoken directly to your husband about him “checking out”. Let him know your needs. Until you have exhausted every possible avenue should you even think about it. It’ll just confuse the situation more.

I have a son w/Autism and I know how lonely dealing with the day to day “operations”. I hope you get what you diverse by way of love and attention because until I was a SAHM I truly never appreciated it. It is by far the most difficult job I have had in my life.

Somdeb May 7, 2009, 5:26 PM

thing need to understand what a stable relationship is..once it is stable..there is no place of cheating in it..but if your relationship is just about lust and fun..obviously you can justify your cheating.But i think human being is not like insects who just like for eat and sex.Love is something what makes us human and seriously you lack love.Try to find it out in your life before it is too late:)

mommymanda May 8, 2009, 4:07 PM

I agree that emotional cheating is the same as physical cheating. I too am trying to get the trust back into my relationship after he emotionally cheated. He of course doesn’t see it that way and I took a lot more offense to it because I was 8 months pregnant at the time and needed him. We are still together and our son will be 5 months old this month and IT IS HARD. He works with the other girl and it makes it harder to move past because I know he still sees her everyday. For those who don’t think it’s the same thing and that everyone should just move on past it I’d like to hear what you have to say after it happens to you.

Lynn May 20, 2009, 9:52 PM

i believe emotional cheating is worse than actually sleeping with another person, BUT i dont really agree that us as humans were meant to be “faithful” . I am married and have NOT “cheated” but i really would not have an issue with it if my husband went outside the marriage , I dont like sex, infact most of the time it makes me sick to my stomache so maybe thats the reason i woudnt mind , why shouldnt he get some if im not willing ??

Anonymous May 25, 2009, 8:44 PM

Wow the question is DO YOU REALLY LOVE HIM? sex is part of every couple and when you love some one you desire that person Im not saying sex sex sex all the time but it can be great if you really desire the person I would NEVER be ok if my husband had cheated on me not emotionaly or physicaly but I love him and I believe that is the reason if I wouldn’t love him I probably wouldn’t care

lost in NY May 26, 2009, 8:11 PM

I find it so amazing that my BF of 3 years had a online EA with another woman from another country. He said that was not cheating cause of her location. The relationship developed for almost a year when I happen to look at one of his accounts, I saw that he was calling her his wife and she was calling him her husband. I completly became broken and sadden, I could not imagine that he would go as far as making up a marriage. When I am just waiting to be his wife. Here I was cooking, cleaning, taking care of him like he was my husband, but another woman had that right to carry his name, even if it was just for pertend. He and she both believed that.

I confronted him and he was so mad that I found out his secret. Putting the blame on me for going into his e-mail. He said that I found his place of escape and ruined it for him. It was my fault for destoring his fantasy. I do not know why he was so empty and needed another women so deeply. When I asked him, he just said sorry, but till today i think he was sorry that he got caught.

I went through all the emotions. I am unsure if I will get pass this. What I hate most is that I still love him and would take him back with the conditions that he would never let that happen agian. However, I just do not know how to trust him again. All i can say is my trust is the power of GOD, there i know is the only place i can have hope. I do know and trust that GOD will give me the strength to bare the pain of loving him agian or leaving him for good.

It was bitter sweet to hear everyone’s story. I am glad that I am not alone, however wish that people will understand the power of LOVE and it is not a tool to play with.

For those who are experincing this , my only advise is for those who are victims of the lies is to stay strong and have faith that this is a oppertunity for a better relationship down the line.

everydaymatters May 28, 2009, 4:13 PM

I have been in a very unhappy marriage for 18 years. I should have left a long time ago. My husband is an emotionally abusive alcoholic. I have felt so emotionally beaten down for so long that I did not think that I was strong enough to leave. Three months ago, a casual friendship with another man has turned into a close friendship. My sister accused me of having an emotional affair with this man. After giving this much thought, I suppose that she is right. I have told myself that we are just friends, but if that were true, I wouldn’t be lying to my husband about where I go, who I talk to, etc. I also have noticed that I pay extra attention to my appearance when I know that I am going to be seeing him. He makes me smile… something that I haven’t done in such a long time. He compliments me, and appreciates everything that I do and he tells me so. This emotional affair has not progressed into a physical relationship, but I see how that could easily happen. I realize that this is a form of cheating… something that I would have sworn that I would never do. Regardless of how the “friendship” with this other man turns out, it has made me stronger and have more self confidence and self esteem. I feel that I am getting to the point where I will be strong enough to leave my husband… not for this other man, but because I need to get away from him.

bestrongbelieve June 9, 2009, 12:14 PM

I recently found out that my husband of 2 years has been texting, im’ing, making posts on craigslist, joining dating sites, and sending graphic emails with graphic pictures to various other women. He also seemingly has a porn addiction. He has been doing this since before we got married. To top it all off I found out that he has been inviting a “friend” over for the past 5 years when I wasn’t home. He claims that he never “cheated” but seriously! Our relationship and marriage have never been perfect but everything was good. We were happy… well I thought we were. I don’t know what to do or where to go from here. I have no trust in him and I feel like he never actualy loved me even though he claims that he loves me more than anything and only wants to be with me. Geeze.. Men!

Iusxxkks June 28, 2009, 12:36 AM

STnjiT comment5 ,

Anonymous August 11, 2009, 9:53 PM

my bf recently cheated on me and there is no way to justify or understand the logic of what went on when you commit yourself to someone your saying you will be faithfull no matter what and it is very rude and disgusting to string someone along that loves u enough to stay with you for so long to just do that sort of thing it is quite rediculous if your going to cheat then dont be in relationships.

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