How To Tell If You're Cheating On Someone

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

You can’t cheat on someone using the Internet, everyone knows that – that was just cybersex. You can’t cheat on someone who’s polyamorous, they fuck everyone anyway. You can’t cheat on someone if you’re a girl dating a guy, and you slept with a girl, because we all know girlsex doesn’t count. Oh, hey, that was just a blowjob, baby, that’s different.
There are fifty ways to leave your lover, and about five hundred ways of justifying cheating in a world full of crazy poly swinger leather-whipping cuckolds. Once you step into non-traditional sexual area, you’ll find whole relationships devoted to guys sending their wives out to be serviced by strange black men with huge cocks, humiliated daily, all in the context of a loving committed relationship…
…and yet cheating can still happen, even within those boundaries.
Look, folks, cheating isn’t about sex . Cheating is about breaking fidelity.
And fidelity is “Whatever you’ve agreed to do as a couple, either explicitly or tacitly.”
That doesn’t necessarily involve sex. If you’re a swinger couple and your rules are “You can fuck anyone you like, but don’t fall in love,” then in many cases “Going out for espresso and holding hands at Starbucks” is more of a violation than “Sucking his dick on camera.”
This fidelity applies to all relationships, but non-sexual cheating becomes of more import in open relationships – when exclusive sex no longer is the thing that defines you, then the non-sexual things become much more critical. Poly is rife with weird corner cases like that. Did you promise to see that movie with me? Did you go see it with her instead on a date?
Son, you just cheatamated.
The reason cheating is so toxic that it erodes trust. If you’ve broken your word once, then suddenly every other thing you say gets called into question. You say you love them, but is that true? You say you were at work, but is that true? It’s exhausting, and eventually you can’t date a cheater, because life is just too busy to independently verify every fact your lover presents. Eventually, you gotta sleep.
So why people so intent on telling you this wasn’t cheating? Simple: because if you’re a cheater, then everyone agrees you’re an asshole. But if you can redefine the rules of cheating so that you didn’t quite understand that this was off-limits, well, then! You can hold your head high! And, more importantly, you can keep getting your rocks off and enjoying yourself!
…right up until your partner finds out.
That’s the thing. It’s possible to accidentally cheat. Maybe you genuinely didn’t understand how much that movie meant to your partner. And those are hurtful, but contain such aspects of genuine misunderstanding to the point where you can almost – almost – not call it cheating, even though it’s still an act that wounds your partner deeply.
(Still. If your partner cheats a whole lot by constantly not understanding your emotional needs and forgetting all the promises that meant so much to you? Well, then maybe it’s a series of genuine mistakes – but damn, you can’t keep that shit in your life. You have to have someone who knows what’s important to you.)
But you wanna know how you can always, always tell if you’re cheating?
You don’t want to tell your partner.
Cheating is breaking an emotional bond, and if your first reaction is “This is something so special it’s just for the two of us, why should I have to tell him about it?” or “Oh, he’s not ready to hear that right now” or “I just don’t want to deal with the fallout” or “This is hot, and I’m completely fine with him knowing, but I’m just gonna erase my chat history and password-lock my phone and not actually get around to mentioning it ever,” then 99.9% guaranteed you’re cheating. Regardless of what you’re doing.
Hey, you don’t have to share every detail with your partner – Gini has some wondrously hot sex with her boyfriend, but the fine details would make me jealous, so she doesn’t share. And I know she loves him, without having to know every sweet whisper and promise between the sheets.
Likewise, Gini and Angie both know that I sext women periodically. I don’t tell her the fine details of what I got some beautiful woman in Florida to imagine me licking. But if there was a point where I’d promised, “Some day we’ll be together” or I got actually jealous when someone I was sexting was seeing someone else, then that would be something I should mention.
Because that’s outside the boundaries of what we personally have negotiated. I can sext, but not fall in love. I can kiss, but not penetrate. That’s all a unique negotiation between us, and what’s cheating for any single set of people is not necessarily cheating for another set.
There’s also a fine line to be drawn here, because if I suddenly realized I deeply loved someone I was sexting with, I know this discussion with Gini and my girlfriend Angie would be uncomfortable. But I’d also know that it had to be done, and would make sure that it got done.
If I didn’t do it, kept putting it off, then every day I’d be stepping deeper into cheating territory.
There’s a lot of debate about whether cybersex is sex, or casual sex is sex, or whipping someone is sex. That’s not the question. The question is, “Would you be okay telling your partner about what happened?”
If there’s something you’re hiding, then chances are extremely good you’re breaking some kind of fidelity.


  1. ben
    Oct 8, 2012

    I would take this a step farther:
    breaking promises to your partner, either by omission or commission is cheating.
    we usually define cheating as doing something we’ve promised our partner we wouldn’t do (i.e., with someone else without clearing it with said partner) but it’s my experience that a partner repeatedly failing to be available for and not discussing it is just as hurtful.
    obviously the boundaries of this sort of thing differ with the relationship – I’m not including “taking out the garbage” in the above, but it might apply to someone else.

  2. Stef
    Oct 8, 2012

    One of my rules is always, “would I be okay if my partner walked in and saw this?” It’s a good way for me to check my own perceptions and feelings as well as limit my ability to deceive myself.
    Great blog. Well written.

  3. Lelitu
    Apr 24, 2013

    A simple rule I try to live by that helps prevent things like this..
    If I’m scared of my lovers’ potential reactions, don’t do it. if it happened anyway, talk to them as soon as possible about it.
    it’s not always exactly fun. but tends to work out pretty well for me.

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