We know that cheating is bad. But do we really know what counts as cheating? In our age of constant contact — from Snapchat to Instagram to FaceTime to texting — we’re presented with so many opportunities to step outside of our relationships. From slightly sketchy behaviors that push the boundaries of fidelity to new technology that allows you to flirt more unabashedly than you would face-to-face, cheating can take many forms — and you may not be immune to it.
If you do any of the below, it may be time to reconsider your relationship.
1. Leaving out details about who you’re hanging out with
It may be as “innocent” as glossing over the cute girl’s from work’s name when you’re telling your S.O. a story or omitting the fact that “girls night” actually did include some guys. “When you know your partner has the tendency to get jealous or is insecure, it’s not unusual not to mention these details,” says Julie Spira, dating coach and founder of Cyber-Dating Expert. Even if you’re not straight-out lying about where you’re going or what you’re doing, excluding key information is still a form of not telling the truth.
2. Replying to Instagram stories or commenting on posts with flirty messages
We pretty much live our entire lives online. And that includes cheating. Flirting IRL outside of your relationship may clearly be off limits (if you’re monogamous) — but you may not think twice about liking someone’s old photos or replying to their story with a suggestive message. On social media, the line between a harmless flirtation and pushing the boundaries of your relationship can be especially blurred, but think of it this way: if you wouldn’t actually say what you’re DMing, it’s probably crossing the line.
3. Contacting an ex via social media or text, even if you don’t meet up with them
Depending on the situation with your ex, it may be perfectly reasonable to stay friends or just check in with them from time to time. But if you’re hitting up someone you used to date to tell them you miss them or sending flirtatious texts, it’s pretty shady, even if you’re not explicitly asking to meet. And, depending on how far this conversation goes, it could count as cheating — or at least really stepping outside the circle of trust with your current partner.
When Joan*, 21, a junior at Columbia University, went home to California last winter, she found herself texting an ex even though she was in a relationship with someone new. “My boyfriend was still in New York, and I figured I would reach out to my ex to see how he’d been,” she says. “We had ended our relationship as friends, and at the time, I figured a text was OK. But deep down, I knew he still had feelings for me. Even though I had moved on, I still wanted the attention or validation that texting him would bring me. The experience left me feeling guilty, even though nothing happened.” If you feel bad about communicating with an ex, there’s likely a reason — trust your gut.
4. Not being forthcoming about your relationship to others
You may find yourself in a conversation with a person who assumes you’re single — and you decide to go along with it. You wouldn’t deny being in a relationship if someone straight-out asked you, but people would definitely be surprised to find out that you have a partner. Spira says this can be a form of emotional cheating. “If you’re not being clear about being in a relationship, then you’re potentially leading someone else on, and it’s a sign of disrespect to your partner,” she says.
Look, we’re not suggesting you go around shouting from the rooftops that you’re committed. But if you find yourself calling your partner a “friend” in certain stories or just avoiding the subject altogether, you may want to consider the reasons you’re hiding that you’re in a relationship. Spira says doing so is “a sign your relationship isn’t as solid as glue, that you are leaving your options open, and you might think your partner isn’t the one.”
5. Talking shit about your partner to coworkers or friends
We all need — and have a right — to let off some steam about our partners to other people in our lives. But there’s a difference between complaining to your best friend about how your partner never washes the dishes and cursing out your significant other to your entire office. When Lisa*, 20, a sophomore at NYU, felt the spark between her and her high-school sweetheart begin to dim, she didn’t end things. “Instead of actually trying to fix the relationship or speak to him about what I didn’t like, I talked about our issues to everyone else,” she says. “What started off as friendly complaining turned into trash-talking him all the time, even calling him a sociopath to my friends.”
If you feel the need to constantly bad-mouth your S.O., it may be time to call it quits. “When someone bashes their partner or continually complains about them to friends, it’s clear they aren’t happy in the relationship,” says Spira. Breaking up is hard to do, but ultimately, cheating, in its many subtle forms, is a form of disrespect to your S.O. And if that’s the case, it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship.
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.