Cheating versus flirting: Examining the relationship between harmless flirting and infidelity
Terms that we use are notoriously difficult to define since there are competing definitions and opinions on the meaning. The terms "flirting" and "cheating" are difficult enough to define individually. Trying to compare these two terms is even more problematic.
In the context of a relationship, cheating refers to activities, typically of a sexual nature, that breach the trust or expectations of a spouse or partner. The modern use of cheating refers to more than just sexual relations or sexually-related interaction. For instance, there is emotional cheating and issues created when partners watch pornography or visit strip clubs.
One important aspect of this definition of infidelity is that it underscores the importance of what is permitted in the relationship – what the “established rules” in a particular relationship may be. For instance, some persons just are not too bothered if their partner watches porn – they may even watch it with them! In the case of the difference between cheating and flirting, flirting may be perceived as just harmless fun in some quarters, whereas in others it is deemed unacceptable behaviour.
Flirting usually connotes fun, playful behaviour towards another person, usually when some attraction is involved. Encarta defines it as behaving "in a playfully alluring way." However, other definitions of flirting make flirting seem like a definitive step in the red zone. Such definitions perceive flirting as behaviour or interaction that reveals interest of a romantic or sexual nature.
The definition of flirting as a stepping stone to greater things creates a grey area between flirting and cheating, especially as most would agree that those who are in a committed relationship should not engage others in that manner. Persons who believe that flirting is purely harmless would lean towards the “playfully alluring” definition. On the other hand, those who think that flirting is serious enough to be a form of infidelity would choose the “romantic or sexual interest” definition.
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Comparing the two
By assessing the common definitions of flirting and cheating, we can establish basic relationships between the two as follows:
a) Flirting may be a form of cheating
b) Cheating is generally more serious compared to flirting
c) A person can flirt without cheating or cheat without flirting
To best represent the terms “flirting” and “cheating,” you can view them as two distinct sets that have an intersection. Serious flirting can be considered a form of infidelity, especially if one partner expressly disapproves of or forbids such behaviour. Playfully alluring behaviour can be an instance of breaking established rules in the relationship – unwritten or implied rules that govern how partners behave once they enter into that relationship.
However, one cannot discount the view that flirting can just be harmless fun, without any intent to go further. Two flirters could be in committed relationships, but may entertain themselves by matching wits with each other. This type of harmless flirting can happen with an understanding that it’s just fun.
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One major difference that can be highlighted is that flirting may be far less voluntary than cheating is. For example, we may give off subtle signals that indicate interest when we meet a person who seems attractive or engaging; such indicators are called “protean signals.”
These may not be completely within our control, but they could be controlled or managed. That you’re in a committed relationship just not mean that you would not give off subtle signs of interest unconsciously. It merely means that the more conscientious among us would control or manage those initial feelings or thoughts.
In the grey area, high-intensity flirting may equate to low-level infidelity. For instance, suggestive dancing in a club might be similar to heavy petting, or sending flirtatious texts may be similar to emotional cheating. For persons who use a very broad definition of infidelity, such actions fall squarely in the domain of it. It can get ridiculous though; there are those who believe that just fantasizing about another person constitutes cheating.
Flirting can be casual or just a bit of fun, but it may also lead to infidelity if it is done persistently – especially with the same person over time. Flirting is not always a conscious effort, and it may just be a natural way for us to appreciate persons who are attractive in whatever way. Ultimately, the most important element of this debate is whether or not flirting is acceptable to your partner.
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