is flirting emotional cheating?

Q. I love my partner, but I often get gratification from flirting with other people. I would never cheat, but I feel bad seeking this type of attention - I also get a thrill out of it. Is this emotional cheating?

A. I’m going to unpack this question in a few parts. 

Firstly, the concept of “emotional cheating” is a loaded issue. I love bringing it up at SEXY SEXUAL HEALTH TRIVIA because people have pretty strong feelings about it; if it exists, what constitutes it and where it falls on the hierarchy of transgressions in a relationship. TBH, everyone is right when it comes to how they feel about this, insofar as it’s a personal decision. The key is being in partnership with someone with compatible notions of this. Only the people in a relationship can decide if something is cheating within that relationship. 

Some people are perfectly at ease with this sort of sexual/relational autonomy. Some partners are even into it, and some are definitively not.

The core issue I’m reading from your Q is that you feel bad. An important question to ask yourself: are you willing to stop? You don’t necessarily have to, but in order to resolve the “bad feelings”, there is some work to do getting to the root of where guilt is coming from. I invite you to look inward at what you’re seeking and what’s being satisfied from the flirting. 

Regardless of someone’s relationship status; crushes, flirting, and attention seeking, can all be healthy and normal. I touched on this, as well as some general guidelines for accountability while flirting, here. Bearing that, the “thrill” you’re getting could possibly stem from a deeper issue - within the relationship, or on a personal level.

Whether you decide to have a discussion with your boo and they’re uncomfortable, or if you can assess that the behaviour would be hurtful even without a convo, can you be content without this “thrill”? And if not, why not? Maybe there are unmet needs, or you like sexual attention, or you’re bored, or you have a Venus in Aries… These conditions are not mutually exclusive either - you can flirt for kicks, and/or because you’re unhappy, and/or because someone is hot, and/or because playing with fire is a turn-on. 

No matter the outcome - try and find love for the part of you that wants that attention, accept it, work on it. But also, I encourage you to hold yourself accountable by having a check-in with your partner - whether to get a status on their feelings towards flirting, or working together on satisfying needs in the relationship.

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