Sunday, July 4, 2010

Quick Clarification: Cheating in Cyberspace

So, I've installed Google's analytics on this site. This program lets me keep track of how many people are reading my blog, and what search terms they have used to find me. No data about individual readers is reported, so your privacy is protected.

So far, I haven't seen many outrageous search terms. However, I did find this one, which amused me greatly.

"Is utherverse considered cheating?"

Apparently, this question lead someone to my post about sexism in ads for Utherverse, a social networking site with a distinctly "adult" flavor.

Now, whoever asked this question didn't spend much time on my site. Presumably, I was unable to provide them with a satisfactory answer. I would like to take a moment to correct this oversight.

As a feminist, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to have a healthy sexual relationship. It's not enough to tear down our current system of sexual values, bankrupt as they are. We need to create something better to put in their place. With that in mind, here's my answer to the utherverse question.

Is Utherverse Considered Cheating?

The short answer is, if you have to ask, then yes, it probably is.

The long answer is more complicated. Whether a particular behavior counts as "cheating" varies from couple to couple. Let's say you're in an an exclusive relationship. In contemporary America, most folks would agree that having sex with someone besides your partner counts as cheating; most would also agree that maintaining your platonic friendships is not cheating, regardless of your friends' gender.

There are people, both men and women, whose use "fidelity" as an excuse to control or isolate their partners, and that's a real problem. If your partner tries to restrict your interaction with members the opposite (or same) sex; if they try to cut you off from your friends; if they forbid you from going to certain parties or wearing certain clothes; those are major, major red flags. Being faithful to a partner shouldn't mean sacrificing your right to have your own life, and make your own choices.

That being said, there's a broad range of behaviors which a reasonable person may or may not consider cheating. Is casual flirting okay? How about a peck on the cheek? Cuddling? One-on-one dinners with your ex? It all gets pretty confusing.

The whole thing is made more complicated by the fact that many people have open or polyamorous relationships. These folks might not mind their partners having sex, or even full-blown relationships, with other people, but they still might want to impose some limits.

Given all this ambiguity, there's only one viable option: communication with your partner(s). It's a good idea to have some ground rules about what is and isn't cheating. Sometimes, differing ideas about what constitutes cheating can destroy an otherwise lovely relationship. That's unfortunate, but it's no reason to avoid confronting the issue.

But wait, what about Utherverse!?

I'm getting to that.

Okay, here's my opinion. If you're flirting with cyber-cuties on an "adult" themed site, that's the sort of behavior that a reasonable person could consider cheating. On the other hand, If you're on Utherverse, but you're not engaged in any cyber-flirting, that's probably okay. A little strange, but okay.

More broadly, though, I have to wonder: if you're worried that a particular behavior might be cheating, why are you asking google? Maybe you're interested in this question from a purely sociological perspective, in which case, I suppose it's an okay strategy. But if you're hoping the internet will tell you whether your Utherverse activity is ethical, stop fooling yourself. The internet doesn't know the details of your relationship, or what's right for you and your partner. What matters is not whether the internet thinks you're a cheater; it's whether your partner does. Instead of trying to assuage your guilt with google search results, why not sit down with your partner, and talk things through?

If you're worried that your behavior could be considered cheating, you shouldn't be asking the internet, or me. You should be asking the person you're dating right now, and any hypothetical partners you might have in the future. And you should be ready to accept the fact that different partners may give you different answers, and that some of those answers won't be what you want to hear.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post. I believe I have a fairly simple definition of cheating: If you are engaging with someone in any way that you wouldn't want your partner to do with anyone else but you, then it's probably inappropriate. I figured this out when I caught a boyfriend on a regular social network site, flirting and sexting with various stranger women. He tried to tell me that since there was no physical contact or the fact that he didn't personally know or really care about these other women, that it was not cheating, and no different than looking at porn. I highly disagreed, and he later understood why. But like you said, it's all about communication. You MUST let each other know your own personal boundaries and what you find okay and not okay in terms of interacting with the opposite sex, and do this early on in the relationship so that there are no questions or mistakes made. I don't mean this in the way that you should be controlling and say. "I forbid you to flirt with other women, no matter how innocently you intend it to be!" No. Instead, say, "I personally don't find flirting with other people acceptable when two people are in a relationship. Do you agree? Why or why not" and then go from there to get a full understanding of what is expected.