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Should You Care About Micro-cheating?

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

And What Is Micro-Cheating, Anyway?

Originally published on UrbanDaddy.

Exciting news, folks. The pioneers of dating lingo have decreed: not only can you be cheated on, you can also be micro cheated on. (Macro-cheating is expected to emerge next year, and it’s going to be YUGE).  

So what is micro-cheating, and why do we need a term to articulate it now, specifically?  

Similar to an “emotional affair,” micro-cheating is a nebulous purgatory that is difficult to delineate. Essentially, micro-cheating is when someone treads the line of what is permissible in their extra-relational conduct, but doesn’t quite cross it.  Or, to quote Urban Dictionary, “when someone cheats on a partner, but just a little bit.” 

"Micro-cheating is a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship,” clarifies Australian psychologist Melanie Schilling.

Examples of micro-cheating include regularly reaching out to an ex online, lying about or neglecting to mention your relationship status to a person of interest, posting heart emojis (or the formidable eggplant emoji) on this person’s photos, or not deleting, and still perusing, dating apps while you’re in a relationship.

Opinions on what qualifies of micro-cheating vary. Per a Thought Catalog piece on the topic, they range from the reasonable (when your boyfriend saves a girl’s contact under a different name “to avoid detection when she calls”), to the questionably controlling (when your boyfriend “goes out of his way to do something nice for someone who’s not his girlfriend, like hook her up with tickets to a concert”), to the I-could-write-a-thesis-about-why-this-is-so-fucked-up (when your girlfriend dresses “super sexy on a totally random morning specifically because she feels like being elevator-eyed and/or catcalled"). 

At the core of micro-cheating is knowingly flirting in secrecy. And while many disagree on what counts as such, there is a general consensus around one thing: social media and other forms of technological communication facilitate the kind of secret flirting that has made the term “micro-cheating” something worth writing an article about (versus the kind of secret flirting many people in relationships have been doing since basically the beginning of time).

Which begs the question: is micro-cheating a uniquely millennial problem? Is the heart eye emoji the gateway drug to cheating? The immediate accessibility of our full romantic roster—past, prospective and fantasy—certainly keeps other options on our radar and makes a kind of micro-stepping-out much easier than it would have been pre-social media, when a greater degree of intentionality was necessary. What’s a passive double tap as opposed to actively working up the nerve to hit on someone at Barnes & Noble (#rip)?  

The conundrum is that social media and digital communication etiquette is always evolving, and the script for how to interact online with attractive people outside of your relationship is not as clear as it is IRL. People cross lines online and offline, and it sucks. Secrecy is a relationship killer, and it is never cool to compromise trust in a relationship.

What's also not cool, though, is micro-managing your partner, taking issue with them having close friendships and emotional attachments outside of your relationship—policing how, when and for whom they dress, and vigilantly hounding for clues that your partner is “micro-cheating.” All of which is to say, micromanaging is just as threatening to a relationship as micro-cheating.

The inconvenient truth is, you are not the only attractive person in this world. (But like, you’re still a total babe.) You are also not the only person with whom your partner could be or has been romantically compatible. What’s more, you are not the only person your partner shares emotional intimacy with, nor should you be.

Yes, there are a multitude of new options, and a Google search of Johnny Depp scowling in a desert is just a tap of your girlfriend’s finger away. The important thing is that your partner is choosing you, and continues to choose you, again and again. People who search for micro-hints of micro-cheating are liable to drive people away, and probably won’t handle the fluctuations of long term relationships well in the future.

Every healthy relationship has boundaries. The appropriate nature of extra-relational behavior will vary pair to pair, and is best established through honest communication. If you are offended that your girlfriend likes every picture on the Hot Dudes and Hummus Instagram account or that she checks in with her ex-boyfriend from time to time to see how his mom is doing, or that she cracks a phallic joke with the shawarma guy, talk to her about it. There is no blanket concept of relationship morality beyond what you agree together is and is not okay.   

So, perhaps consider reserving the eggplant emoji for your main squeeze. Be upfront with attractive strangers about your relationship status. Be honest. Don’t be shitty and cross lines you know aren’t cool to cross.  

But also, perhaps consider the option of getting over yourself. Consider accepting that your partner has a romantic history, that other people might find them attractive and vice versa, and that there are other people in their life with whom they are emotionally close. Consider that, somewhere in New Mexico, Johnny Depp is furrowing his brow as he fondles his collection of meaningful bracelets no doubt bestowed upon him by a Tibetan monk, and that, despite all this hotness, your partner is still choosing you.

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