Dear Di

Flirtatious touching and secret messages are just two examples of “micro-cheating." Illustration: Christine Wang/Fulcrum
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Dear Di,

I’m in a relationship where I’m really happy and I don’t want to end things, but I’ve recently caught myself having feelings for someone else. It’s all very innocent, but there’s definitely some flirting exchanged. My friends tell me that the flirting is inappropriate and that I need to shut it down. Is emotional cheating real? And am I doing it?

— Emotional Adulterer? 

Dear EA,

You’ve got a pretty contentious question there. Some think emotional adultery is an offence that warrants breaking up — others deny its existence altogether. To some, without a sexual act, any flirting or feelings you might exchange with someone outside your relationship is innocent, as long as you don’t act on it. But some even say its worse than sex, because it symbolizes a more meaningful connection.

So to answer your first question, I’d give you a tentative yes. And if you’d like an outside opinion, WedMD agrees with me. Regardless of how you may feel about your actions, they are bound to have consequences, and many of them will be just as unpleasant for you and those involved as they would’ve been if you had outright cheated.

Think of it this way: there are two possible outcomes here. One, you distance yourself from this person you’ve grown feelings for — that’s not going to be fun. Or two, you end things with your current partner — no fun either. You can’t have both. So yeah, much like cheating, you’ve put yourself in a bit of a sticky situation.

Now the question, are you emotionally cheating? Here’s a little checklist for you:

Do you think about them when you’re with your partner? Do you spend as much time with them as your partner? Do you touch them when you talk? Do you tell your partner you’re with someone else when you’re really with them? Do you try to look extra good if you know you’re going to see them? 

Cosmopolitan calls these behaviours micro-cheating, and if you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then yes, you’re probably an emotional adulterer. 

The biggest red flag though is this: do you withhold information about this person from your significant other, and do you think they’d be hurt if they knew the whole truth? Or if the tables were turned, would you be uncomfortable with your partner engaging in the same behaviour? If yes, then you are most definitely emotionally cheating.

Just like regular cheating, if this is the case, you should come clean to your partner. You never know — this could be a big deal to them, but it could also mean nothing. But if you’re having feelings for someone else, they have a right to know. Do the right thing and make good choices!