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Cheating versus flirting: Examining the relationship between harmless flirting and infidelity

Updated on August 19, 2011
Should flirting be considered a form of cheating?
Should flirting be considered a form of cheating? | Source

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.


Submit a Comment

  • dashingscorpio profile image


    7 years ago

    I believe most relationships began with a certain amount of flirting and possibly sexual innuendo. Ironically the longer most couples are together the less they flirt with one another.

    For those who link flirting to cheating they feel it's something that should be reserved for only their significant other. "One thing leads to another". Flirting is often done for selfish reasons.

    Some people want to KNOW "they still got it". They need to know if they were "single again" others still find them attractive. Although one may feel lucky to have their significant other they don't want to believe they are actually "LUCKY". Not many people would be happy if the only person in the world who was attracted to them was their mate. Last but not least "flirting" is often a way to test the waters.

    They say, "The kiss is the persuasion to lower invasion".

    None of us would say kissing is on par with sex but everything starts from somewhere.... Very insightful hub!

  • Jennuhlee profile image


    7 years ago from Pennsylvania

    I couldn't agree more. I think this is a very common question in a lot of relationships. Flirting is alright, I think it's all about the intentions that go along with it. Great hub as usual;]

  • rachelsholiday profile image


    7 years ago

    I agree. Relationships are so different from person to person that it's difficult to have any hard and fast rules. Communication is the key to any successful relationship.

  • SpiffyD profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks for the comment. I agree with that sentiment, although it just means that "it depends." I remember talking to someone who believed that flirting was so wrong, but I believe that it does not have to be.

  • rachelsholiday profile image


    7 years ago

    I had never thought about what a conundrum is presented in flirting vs. cheating. I've always defined cheating as any act that destroys trust in a relationship. If you feel you can't trust your partner after he/she flirts with someone else, it could be cheating. But if your partner is a naturally flirtatious person and you're completely fine with that then it's no problem.


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