Cheating in relationships isn’t a binary proposition, it is a spectrum. No line in the sand exists for what is and isn’t cheating. At one end of the gamut are transgressions universally classified as infidelity: if your partner has intercourse with someone who isn’t you, no one should accuse you of overreacting if you call them a cheater. At the other end lie actions that no reasonable person would characterize as cheating: a friendly hello to a stranger at the grocery store; an innocuous compliment about a platonic friend’s recent weight loss; liking a Facebook post announcing an opposite-sex friend’s promotion at work; and so forth. The gray area in the middle is where it gets tricky. Everything from simple flirting all the way up to not-quite-sex can be fodder for intense debate on whether it technically counts as cheating.
Confounding the issue are the inherent differences between men and women. A scene from a Seinfeld episode in the early ’90s beautifully encapsulates how the two genders often define cheating quite differently. The men in the conversation — Jerry, George and Kramer — contend that it’s only cheating if sex happens. Their female pal, Elaine, of course, vehemently disagrees. Both sides are firmly entrenched in their positions, and the episode ends with no reconciliation.
The Venn diagram depicting men’s and women’s cheating definitions lacks significant overlap because of how the two sexes are wired differently. Men are more visual creatures, while women tend to place a heavier emphasis on emotions. As you’ll see in the itemized list below, this dichotomy explains much of the disconnect in how we classify infidelity. Here are 15 things he doesn’t consider to be cheating, but she does.
15. Salacious Snapchats
For those living under a rock, Snapchat is the social app that lets you send pictures that disappear from the recipient’s screen after a designated time, usually 10 seconds or less. So of course people use this unique feature as an excuse to send and receive inappropriate pics with impunity. Hey, if it disappeared after five seconds, it never actually happened, right? While both genders are guilty of using Snapchat to do more than chat, it seems to be the fellas who get busted with greater frequency sending or soliciting sexy Snaps outside of their exclusive relationships. Although men may not consider it cheating to fire off an Anthony Weiner shot or request a Mardi Gras-style flashing from a cute classmate, their girlfriends likely don’t agree. He’ll have every excuse under the sun: she promised she wouldn’t save the pic; I was just showing off; she sent it to me without warning. But to his lady, he crossed a sacred line in the relationship.
14. Gentlemen’s Clubs
Particularly for men preparing to make the ultimate relationship commitment, hitting the strip club with his buddies is as much an American tradition as fireworks on the Fourth of July. Some guys stick to the look but don’t touch rule, while others, often goaded by their pals, spring for a lap dance. Occasionally, someone plops down the cash for a private dance — a misnomer, since we all know dancing isn’t what actually takes place. Regardless of how far things go, guys live by two rules when it comes to strip clubs: what happens there stays there, and anything that goes on inside doesn’t count against their relationship. This is why engaged women dread their fiancé’s bachelor party, and why most girls, though they may joke about ordering a sexy fireman for their bachelorette, usually demure when someone brings the idea up in earnest. For men, ogling hot naked bodies is just harmless fun, but for women, it’s stepping out.
13. Ex Texting
Decades ago, if you wanted to get in touch with an ex, you had to pick up the phone and call them or stop by their home, actions most people were loath to take. Today, with text messaging and social media, it’s just too easy to fire off a quick message to see what an ex is up to. Consequently, breakups tend to be less of a clean break these days. One or both parties just cannot resist the temptation to stay in touch, and it can cause major issues when new relationships start forming. Because men are less emotionally wired than women, they don’t find it as big of a deal to shoot over a happy birthday message or text an ex to congratulate her on a promotion at work. To them, it’s just being friendly to someone who once held an important position in their life, and besides, it’s not like sex is taking place. Women, however, classify ex texting as emotional cheating. Texting an ex on her birthday, or even actively remembering the date, is evidence of a lingering emotional attachment, which to ladies is, you guessed it, cheating.
12. Dirty Dancing
When you’re in the club, and a song like “Back That A** Up” comes on, you have to find the nearest hot stranger and grind on them, right? I’m pretty sure the president issued that as an executive order. So if a guy is trolling the dance floor on a Saturday night and his significant other isn’t present, he doesn’t feel much compunction about popping his hips in rhythm with a sexy thang in apple bottom jeans. After all, everyone is fully clothed, so what’s the problem? Well, rest assured that if his girlfriend happened to walk in the club while he’s getting down and dirty to “Slow Motion,” there’d be a problem, and a big one at that. When a girl sees her man pawing all over another chick and grinding against her, even if he’s under the spell of Lil Wayne or Lil Jon, her insecurities kick in, and she feels she’s not enough to satisfy him. But the truth of the matter is this: a guy could be in a polygamous marriage with Megan Fox and Margot Robbie, and still want to grind on hot chicks at the club. Once again, it’s just how men are wired.
11. Playing Wingman
Ask any single guy, and he’ll tell you that his married friends, or those in relationships, make the best wingmen. There’s no better guy to have in your corner when you’re single and out trolling for women than a buddy who’s committed. When a committed guy is your wingman, you never have to worry about fighting over who gets the hottest girl. He’ll jump on the grenade, to use military parlance, and chat up the least attractive girl in the group, clearing a path for his single pals to hook up with the better-looking ones. Every man understands this dynamic, and therefore men in relationships get roped into wingman duty on the regular. To them, it’s no problem. They get a night out with their buddies and a chance to help the ones who are less lucky in love, so it’s a win-win. But flirting with women at bars, even at the behest of a buddy, lands squarely in cheating territory in the eyes of many women.
10. Adult Film Viewing
Ladies, as soon as you learn this immutable truth about men and begin to accept it, the better off you’ll be: Men like to watch adult films on the internet and pleasure themselves to them. Guys don’t consider this cheating any more than they consider it cheating to glance at a hot girl on the beach and imagine her bathing suit not being there. If you’re dating or married to a guy between 16 and 50, and he claims he never watches adult films, you don’t have a virtuous beau. You’re in a relationship with a stone-faced liar.
I’m no evolutionary biologist, but I know the basics, which state that men possess a biological drive to spread their seed as widely as possible. In practical terms, this translates to wanting to sleep with lots and lots of women. Even a guy whose wife is a legit dime and has the sex drive of Jenna Jameson can’t escape this biological reality. Fortunately for you ladies, most men, hopefully including your husband or boyfriend, also are endowed with at least a modicum of respect for the sanctity of a committed relationship. So instead of acting on their intrinsic desires, they satisfy them vicariously by watching others do the deed on screen. Try to see the bright side, ladies: Maybe he’ll learn a thing or two to improve your own sex life.
9. Massage Parlors
I’m not talking about going to Massage Envy and getting a legit rubdown from a licensed massage therapist. I’m talking about massage joints in sketchy strip malls that advertise on Backpage and have extra parking in the back for customers who don’t want their cars visible from the road. Whether you call it a happy ending, a polish, or the good ol’ rub-and-tug, massage parlors are dicey territory for guys in relationships. Guys justify a little hand action at a massage parlor as not cheating by pointing out that it’s actually closer to masturbation than sex. Besides, the purpose of a massage is to relax, and what’s more relaxing than enjoying a nice release once the knots are out of your muscles? Women aren’t sold. There’s the little issue of another female being present and actively involved in the process that separates happy endings from innocent self-pleasure in most women’s minds.
8. Lunch Dates
If a man goes out to dinner with a female co-worker, most people would consider that a date. But if the same pair goes to lunch during the work day, no one bats an eye. No one, that is, except, possibly, the girlfriend or wife of the male worker. Many women, especially those married to or dating successful men with high-powered jobs, live in fear of some young, sexy receptionist or intern setting her sights on her Master of the Universe mate. And what better place for the vixen to start working her magic than at a cozy work lunch? Lunch dates, as a result, unequivocally count as actual dates to the wife or girlfriend, and dates count as cheating. So for all you fellas, if your lady starts preparing you gourmet lunches to take to work after accompanying you to the Christmas party and meeting your company’s hot new marketing director, she isn’t doing it out of love or because she’s taken a sudden interest in cooking. She’s trying to stop what she sees as cheating before it starts.
7. The Spank Bank
Every guy is familiar with the good old spank bank. Basically, all men keep a mental file readily accessible in their brains, and into it goes the image of every hot girl they want to sleep with but are unable to, whether because they respect their committed relationship or because they just don’t have the game. Later, when the man gets some alone time, he accesses his spank bank and retrieves an item to help him along with a little self-pleasure session. No harm, no foul. The object of his desires hasn’t a clue she’s being used in this way, and if the guy is smart, neither does his significant other. If this were cheating, the whole world would be philanderers, but imagine a guy saying this to his wife or girlfriend: “I got kind of aroused in the shower this morning, so I thought about your friend Jessica and took care of business.” It’s doubtful this guy gets any action in the near future that isn’t self-provided.
The 900 numbers that men can call and talk dirty with sexy-sounding women are kind of like Radio Shack. No one is quite sure how they’re still in business in 2017. With all the adult content available online for free, why are men still paying $3.99 a minute for phone sex with a woman that deep down they know weighs 350 pounds and has a mustache that puts Tom Selleck’s to shame? But apparently plenty of men still use this service, because the 900 industry is alive and well. For a lot of guys, the personal touch is what sets a one-on-one dirty talk apart from watching generic adult films on the internet. In the eyes of their significant others, however, the personal touch is what makes 900 calls cheating. It goes back to the whole emotional thing. Ladies can’t countenance their mates making intimate connections with other women, even if those women are in reality 50-year-old dudes with voice changers.
Voyeurism is a step beyond adult films. So if women consider it cheating to watch people get busy on screen, you know they’re not okay with their man being present for the action. Guys justify their voyeuristic habits in two ways. One, as long as they’re only watching and not joining the action, it’s really no different from dusting off their old Debbie Does Dallas VHS and watching wide-eyed as the graphic sex scenes unfold. Two, they’re doing it as a favor to a friend and the friend’s significant other. The couple’s sex life had grown stale, and their idea for spicing it up was to add an audience. Regardless of the excuse given, it usually doesn’t fly. To women, the details are irrelevant when their man is in a room with a naked girl and sexual activity is taking place. No mitigating circumstances can declassify this situation as cheating.
4. Emotional Bonding
The term “emotional affair” is one you’ll rarely hear coming from a dude’s mouth, but it represents a significant fear had by a lot of ladies in relationships. The worst kind of affair their partner can have, according to many women, is not a roll in the hay with a showgirl during a wild weekend in Vegas. It’s when their man starts confiding in another girl all his dreams, hopes, fears and secrets. This is emblematic of perhaps the biggest difference between men and women. If a man finds out his wife is having sensitive talks with a male coworker and crying on his shoulder but absolutely nothing sexual is going on, one, he’ll probably just assume the guy is gay, and two, he’s much more likely to shrug it off. If anything, he’ll feel somewhat relieved that his wife has another outlet for her emotional needs, as long as she’s still coming only to him for her physical needs. But reverse the genders in this situation, and it’s a whole different story. To women, the first word in “emotional affair” doesn’t mitigate the second, it amplifies it.
3. Area Codes
When Ludacris famously rapped, “I’ve got hoes in different area codes,” he gave voice to a longstanding belief held by a surprisingly large number of men: Bad behavior doesn’t count if it takes place in another area code. Even a lot of guys find this idea patently ridiculous, but chances are, if someone you know keeps a sidepiece in every city they do business, that person is a proud member of the male gender. Men will claim this isn’t cheating, but deep down, what they really mean is that they don’t believe they’ll get caught. And like we all learned in elementary school, it’s only wrong if you get caught. The bad news for guys who play by this alternative set of rules is that technology is making the world smaller every day. While distance created a comfortable buffer from your dirty deeds in decades past, today a quick Facebook or text message is all it takes to blow your scheme wide open.
2. Drunken Debauchery
Like the area code rule, naughtiness under the influence enjoys a prominent spot on the list kept by many men of things that don’t count as cheating. When a guy gets drunk and hooks up with a girl and then gets caught, Jack Daniels gets trotted out as the scapegoat faster than you can blink. He and his buddies Jim Beam and Captain Morgan shoulder the blame for thousands of infidelities every year. To be certain, women make poor decisions with their inhibitions lowered by alcohol, as well. The difference is that few women, at least compared to men, abide by a blanket rule that intoxication absolves them from fault for their bad behavior. Whereas a girl who gets caught in a drunken make-out session behind the bar will tearfully confess her sin and beg forgiveness, a guy is more likely to throw up his hands and deflect the blame to his beverage.
1. Doing Everything But
The boldest men adhere to the same philosophy as Jerry Seinfeld and his sidekicks: it’s only cheating if it’s sex. Such a circumscribed definition of what counts as being unfaithful leaves a ton of room for scruple-free screwing around. First base, second base, third base, dirty pictures, lascivious texts, X-rated films and naughty massages — none of these involve actual intercourse, so for the guy who characterizes cheating by its most lenient definition, all are fair game. Some men even claim oral sex isn’t sex, and by some men, I mean the former president of the United States. Because most women cast a much wider net when defining cheating, the best advice out there is to get on the same page as your partner from the beginning. Decide what is cheating in your relationship and what isn’t. Draw that elusive line in the sand. It doesn’t matter where on the spectrum it’s located, just as long as you’re both 100 percent clear as to what falls on either side.