Shades Of Grey

Food For Thought Friday - #F4TFridayIt’s no secret that I have a “thing” for black and white photography. It would, I guess, have made sense if I tackled this week’s prompt by perhaps focusing it around one of my own photos. I was actually tempted, but then I thought I’d come at it, as it were, from a slightly different perspective. So, instead of focusing on imagery, I decided to look at “grey areas”.

Relationships and, in particular, sexual relationships, all have their own dynamics; their own “rules” that make them work.  Each relationship is as unique as the individuals that make it up, and as such, there are no absolute “right” or “wrong” answers to the particular question I decided to ponder; there are only answers that are “right” or possibly “wrong” to the individuals in a relationship, within the context of that particular relationship.

The particular question in question was, courtesy of an article in a popular free newspaper often found on public transport, this:

In a monogamous relationship what constitutes cheating?

Is sexting cheating? A stolen kiss at a party? What about enjoying sexual fantasies about a co-worker or your spouse’s friend?

Where is the line?

Wicked WednesdayThe question, you will notice, concentrates on monogamous relationships. Why this should be, I’m not sure. I sometimes think the vanilla world sees the non-mono world as some sort of free for all, and that cheating is impossible in a non-mono context. That is, of course, bollocks but is, perhaps, a topic that deserves a post in its own right.

I can only assume that there is an assumption that in a monogamous setting, due to it being more “restrictive”, things are, perhaps, more clear cut, more, shall we say, black and white.

Let’s just say that when I was married, the only person (until very near the end when it was pretty much all over bar the shouting and the tears) that I had a physical sexual relationship with was my wife. For 15 and a half of the 16 years we were together, the only person that I had sex with was her. That the same cannot be said in reverse, is a different matter and, maybe, something for a different post.

Let’s take the above scenarios in reverse.

Personally, I think these are fine and, for the most part harmless. What goes on in our heads doesn’t harm anyone and, in the main, probably benefits both parties in a relationship in terms of arousal and how that translates to a given sexual experience.  There is, of course, a fine line between fantasy and obsession and obsession can become dangerous but, sticking purely to fantasies, whether they be about some celebrity, a colleague, a friend, or possibly just a slightly different version of your partner, on the whole I believe they probably benefit the relationship more than they harm it and do not count as cheating in any way. Whether or not you choose to share those fantasies with your significant other is, of course, an entirely different matter. Personally, for me, it’s always been a case of what goes on in my mind, stays in my mind.

The stolen kiss
This, for me, is a grey area. I, personally, have never done it. Unlike fantasy, this is an actual encounter. What was in the kiss? Was it a “friendly” peck, or was it an expression of something that is always fated not to be?  After all, there are kisses and there are kisses. If it’s just a kiss, a display of affection, nothing more, then it’s probably nothing. If it’s a full on snog that is an expression of what could happen, then I would say the line has been crossed. If the kiss is sexual in nature, even if no actual sex occurs, a boundary has been blurred, in my opinion, if not actually crossed.

This is a difficult one for me.  Yes, I do it. Yes, even when I was married, I occasionally did it. Not as an expression of intent, per se, but as a pretty extreme form of flirting. Now, flirting, I believe, does not count. I am a flirt, most people flirt; it is (I suspect) a natural part of the male/female human interaction. We are, after all, sexual creatures, and monogamous (I believe) only through choice, not design. Sexual attraction, whether we recognise it as such or not, is a natural thing. Flirting is a natural expression of that most basic element of interaction between the sexes. In the main, it’s fun and it’s harmless and, so long as it stays like that, no harm is done if both parties are willing to play along. Of course when one party isn’t willing, that way leads to sexual harassment. Sexting is a form of flirting. It’s a particularly modern form of flirting resulting from the technology that we employ, but it is, I guess, no different from the sending of salacious letters that happened in the past. Again, I think, much depends on intent and content. A slightly smutty, off-colour comment is one thing, sending a three minute video of you masturbating along with the comment “Wish it was you doing this to me” is another. There is a spectrum of behaviour and, the line lies somewhere along that spectrum. When I was married, I’d have happily swapped flirty texts with someone, I would never have sent them photos of my penis.  For me, at that time, the line lay somewhere between those two points.

A further complication is that each person in the relationship will have their own definition as to what is “acceptable” and what isn’t. Sadly, in many cases, human nature being what it is, people may apply a different standard to their own conduct as opposed to what they deem acceptable from their partner. Is this hypocritical? Yes, but as with so many things, when it comes to sex, humans find it very easy to be hypocrites; frequently unconsciously or unintentionally.

The important thing, in my opinion, is that the definition of “cheating” is unique to the relationship that it is applied to. It is an internal thing that really only the parties in the relationship can call, because only they really know and understand how their relationship works.

So, yeah, it’s a tricky one to answer and I suspect there will be as many views as there are people expressing them. My own “bottom line” I guess is that every relationship is a kind of contract entered into by the participants on that relationship. As I said above, every relationship will have its own particular “rules” that will develop and change over time. If you break the “rules”, whether they be explicit or implicit, of the particular relationship you are in, and that in doing so you cause pain to the other participant(s), then the chances are the word “cheat” probably applies.



16 thoughts on “Shades Of Grey

Add yours

  1. You are absolutely right about grey areas and it is something we have had trouble with as our definitions of flirting differ greatly and that has been an issue in the past.



  2. I love your thoughts in this post and definitely have some opinions of my own, which I might do in a post on my blog. However, that said, I totally agree that no two relationships are the same. Two people (or three or four) who are together in a relationship should be the ones who should set the ‘rules’ and not people (or society) on the outside. I don’t think the last words about this has been said…

    Rebel xox


    1. I suspect there are as many opinions about what’s “right” or “wrong” in a relationship as there are people having relationships. Everyone will always have their own particular thoughts and their own perspectives. Even if something appears “wrong” to me from my outsider’s perspective, it may be still be “right” and even an important part of the relationship I am observing; just as aspects of any relationship I am in may not seem right to any external observer looking in on me.


  3. Fantasy is fine, but in my own marriage I struggle with the knowledge that my wife has an active fantasy life (I’ve seen the kinky stuff she reads) but steadfastly refuses to incorporate it into our sex life. I’ve tried to discuss it with her over the years but she won’t, leaving us in a ‘don’t ask, (because I) won’t tell’ limbo. I can only conclude she doesn’t see me as the man who can do those things to her. Which is dispiritng.


  4. I don’t believe flirting counts as cheating, and for the most part it’s negotiated that I view it as that way from the get-go so there is no confusion or hurt feelings. The minute you try to define cheating in terms of anything other than society’s standard of monogamy – things get a bit complicated


  5. My wife and enjoy a nice poly relationship so all of the above are on the table. We both have a lot of trust and respect with each other.


    1. And that is very healthy. Trust is absolutely everything, and I think it is important to remember that “cheating” however the individuals concerned define it, can happen in a poly relationship just as it can in a mono one.


  6. I think it depends on question of ‘harm’ who is harmed by your behaviour (including if it was discovered). I don’t think there is a binary of ‘cheating vs not-cheating’ but rather a smudge of human (sexual) relations. In the process of working out a poly relationship and an openness that is working for us, but I know of couples who’s ‘cheating’ is tacitly acknowledged in a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ way, and for others for whom it’s necessary and keeps their relationship alive, so I also don’t like the normative judgements that go with the language of cheating. But in the end if someone is hurt by it, perceives a betrayal of trust, then even flirting is cheating?…


    1. The “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” was kind of how I viewed what was happening in my marriage, so I can understand that.

      I think you are right though, it’s the hurt that is caused that is the measure, not the activity that is being undertaken. If you hurt the other person then you are no longer playing fairly by the “rules” of that relationship.


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