Cheating Online

Yes, the plot of Anna Karenina revolves around infidelity. And if you consider that a spoiler, then I am sorry. You should still read the book!

How do you determine what does and does not count as infidelity? Once you’ve determined what counts as unfaithfulness in your marriage or relationship, how do you avoid it online?

I confess to not being especially concerned about cyber affairs even though my husband and I both spend significant portions of our waking hours online. So I was quite surprised when I read one woman’s guidelines for avoiding cheating online:

1. If you’re married and are following someone on Twitter don’t chat them up all the time.

4. If a guy I was never really friends with in high school or college wants to Facebook friend me I decline. Why go there? I didn’t go to his wedding, he didn’t come to mine.

6. Also, when in doubt, ask. Example: I always ask the hubby if he’s okay with a picture before posting it on Twitter.

I simply cannot grasp what being married has to do with the appropriateness of retweeting something or accepting friend requests. It would strike me as a sign of something “off” if I hesitated before responding to a tweet because I did not respond to a man too frequently.

Part of me agrees that it is good to ask for one’s spouse’s permission if one is concerned about appearing too sexy online. But I am inclined to think that if there is a question about the appropriateness of something one should simply skip it and not require one’s spouse to make the decision.

One of the reason’s that I cannot understand this sort of standard is that the internet is so very public and casual. I cannot remember the names of half of the people I responded to on Twitter today and I do not think that many of them know mine. Sometimes the lack of personal connection on the internet allows people to share very private details of their lives, but this happens when we do not see the people reading our tweets and status updates as real people with whom we have significant relationships.

People follow or friend others because they are bored and looking for more random bits of e-life to add to their day. Some people may use the internet to stalk a long lost love-interest, but they can be dealt with on a case by case basis rather than a general rule of avoiding everyone of the opposite sex online.

I may seem incredibly naïve in my lack of concern about casual interactions online, but I think that my confidence is justified for a few simple reasons. As soon as I read the post about avoiding cyber infidelity I ran to my husband in mock horror and announced that I have clearly been cheating on him online. Goodness knows how many direct messages I have sent to strange men!

He agreed with me that there is no need for such concern since we are both the boring sort. Instead of rules we can rely on general openness in our relationship, the sort of openness which has us constantly forwarding blog posts or asking the other to look at something someone said to us online.

  • We have each other’s passwords. This happened naturally over time because I wanted to see one of his friend’s baby’s pictures or he needed information from my email account. At least in theory privacy is limited because we could always sign into the other’s accounts.
  • We share our computers. I would never use a friend’s laptop without permission because I consider it a personal space. One never knows if someone is in the middle of a private blog post or has files they would rather not have seen. But Josh and I do not hesitate to use the other’s computer frequently for many reasons. It would be possible to keep some things hidden, but it would take a lot of work and constant vigilance.
  • We talk about online interactions of interest. As online interactions with a certain person increase it becomes more interesting, and thus more of a topic for discussion offline. Yes, it is geeky, but we often talk about funny tweets, poignant emails, and annoying vloggers.

Do you have any rules to avoid cheating online? Do you think that it is something that couples should be more concerned about?

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19 thoughts on “Cheating Online

  1. Katie

    I think your most powerful statement was,

    “Instead of rules we can rely on general openness in our relationship, the sort of openness which has us constantly forwarding blog posts or asking the other to look at something someone said to us online.”

    Rather than creating a parent child relationship through rules, I think your stance for a healthy relationship is an ideal example!

  2. Young Mom

    Totally agree! I laughed when you ran to hubby to tell you that you’ve cheated. :) We also share passwords, computers and I think I drive my hubby crazy with all the stuff that I tell him “he just has to read”.

  3. MyFeminineMind

    No, we don’t have any rules. The thing is, if one of us really wanted to cheat, some rule isn’t going to prevent that. What will prevent cheating is nurturing your relationship daily, being open and honest with each other, and more than external rules, trying to guard our heart. I have two close male friends whom I visit occasionally, sometimes with hubby and kids and sometimes not, and if he had a problem, then I suppose I would only visit them in public places or with Chris around, but he doesn’t have a problem and neither do I. I guess with these friendships I have a rule that I don’t share anything with them that I also would not share with my husband, because I wouldn’t want to start an “emotional affair.”

    But, yes, I think what you said about openness is right on. I know some people don’t agree with this, but my husband and I have a rule of no secrets. We have been married for four years and we have even shared if we had a mini-crush on someone else. And we just talk about it and try to get to the bottom of it. For myself, I believed that it wasn’t really the guy that I was so attracted to, it was just missing that initial excitement and rush of a new relationship. So, I guess, if someone is having temptations to cheat, I think getting to the bottom of the issue is better than just creating rules for external behavior. And nurturing closeness daily, before the relationship becomes distant or strained.

  4. Sarah Joy Albrecht

    It’s really late here and I’m headed to bed… but just wanted to highly recommend a book on this topic that was life-changing for me :

    The Snare: Understanding Emotional and Sexual Entanglements
    by Lois Mowday Rabey

    While I wasn’t feeling entangled with someone, someone was feeling entangled with me. It wasn’t a co-worker but my boss’ client with whom I had frequent interaction as a go-between. I realized that, in my kindness/politeness, I was listening to someone complain about their wife. He then tried to create a relationship in his mind that didn’t exist between me and him. Dude tried to lean in and kiss me one day. After the initial shock wore off, I realized that it wasn’t out of the blue – he’d been confiding in me for a while and felt close to me. I’d unintentionally led him on.

    This book helped me, gently but bluntly, to address some of the ways I was endangering my own marriage.

    Thanks for talking about this important issue! It’s a good reminder, Rae!

    Much love,

    1. Sarah Joy Albrecht

      …. mmm… in my stupor, I didn’t make a clear connection…

      More than password sharing with your spouse, consider the kinds of conversations you have online with members of the opposite sex. Do you find yourself running to tell someone online about your day instead of sharing your thoughts first with your spouse? How about your problems – are you airing dirty laundry online when you should be addressing them privately at home? Are your online conversations creating emotional entanglements outside of your marriage?

      ‘night! :)

      1. Rae Post author

        Sounds like a great book! I’ve been recently amazed by the constant traps for women in administrative positions. We have to be friendly and helpful, that is the job. And it seems to be the “job” of certain men to misconstrue that as interest/availability! For me it hasn’t lead to anything as serious as what you’ve had to deal with, but it has made me need to start paying attention and realize when I need to be colder faster to certain male coworkers!

        And I completely agree with you about avoiding emotional traps online. I think it is just one part of carefully navigating the great opportunity to interact with others (hello, amazing lady in Japan!) while keeping in mind that cyber interactions are *not* the same as “real life” no matter how much we want them to be.

  5. Rebecca

    I agree completely – Cliff and I share passwords and computers too, so it’s all there.

    But, I also agree with Sarah, if someone is going to the web first and not their spouse, then the problems are starting.

  6. Meg

    It’s never even come across my mind that my husband would ever cheat with me online. Like you and your husband, we are very open about our online “lives” and I really can only relate to one part of the example you gave…Which is checking with my spouse before I post something that would put myself or my family in danger. I think there have been about 3 posts my husband said “no” to because they revealed just a little too much. Other than that I haven’t had any other issues.

  7. Kathleen

    I don’t have any rules, but I do generally follow those you listed because my husband is the anxious sort and I know he appreciates it. We are also really open though, like you.

  8. Mrs C

    I’m in agreement with SJA and Rebecca.

    Mr C and I have access to each others computers and while we don’t use facebook or twitter (for privacy reasons and because we found that fb was a bit of a time waster), we do cc each other in on our emails when we are in (casual or non-work related) correspondence with members of the opposite sex. I also tend to run what I blog past him to make sure he’s comfortable with what I’m revealing online.

    In terms of our email set up, it’s not that I fear he or I will be unfaithful, it’s more that we’re aware of human frailty and the fact that when affairs do happen, they are usually preceded by a long history of seemingly innocuous exchanges and gradual emotional intimacy with some third party.

    For us it’s all about being prudent. Not needlessly uptight nor complacently lax. Just prudent.

  9. Elizabeth Mahlou

    I have spent most of my working life mainly with men with no “issues” so my husband has no concerns about online stuff. (After all, Anna Karenina did her cheating up close and personal.) As for him, he is an extreme introvert. He finally got onto Facebook about three months ago, and his first comment online was “Wow, this is a scary place!” He has not been on much at all since!

  10. Mama Kalila

    No rules… We both have close friends of the opposite sex both online and in person and we’ve discussed this whole subject several times. It comes down to we trust each other. But we’ve both have issues on the subject. Both of us came from families broken up by this subject. Neither one of us is ok with that… We know what it would do to our kids (and us). And we talk… if he sees a woman and is attracted, or gets hit on by a random woman… instead of hiding it he tells me. That doesn’t happen as often to me, but when it does I tell him… or when I hear from my ex. Despite living in diff countries (thanks to the internet lol) I do hear from him from time to time. Anyways, it makes me feel better that we talk like that…

  11. Roz

    MyFeminineMind said: The thing is, if one of us really wanted to cheat, some rule isn’t going to prevent that. That’s true indeed. But few start out wanting to cheat. From what I’ve heard, an enjoyable connection might turn into “an enjoyable connection I really miss if we don’t talk every day.” Then confiding something difficult and finding oneself supported and sympathized with could then lead to an increased feeling that perhaps the spouse would be “uncomfortable” with this, etc., so now we find ourselves not being quite so open about this friendship, which might progress gradually to outright hiding. And on and on.

    Although the “rules” mentioned are more cautious than I’d prefer, I’m in favor of clearly-stated boundaries, simply because I’m aware of my own capacity for self-deception. I don’t have many online rules, but a couple of things I do about face-to-face interactions are (1) never have lunch one-on-one with a man without telling my husband ahead of time and sharing a detailed description afterward, and (2) make a point of telling him about crushes I had in the past, situations in which I could be prone to become attracted to someone, speak matter-of-factly about the possibility that one or the other of us might find someone else attractive, and so on. This last keeps the subject open and on the table in case one of us has an unexpected flare-up in our emotional lives that needs “out in the open” treatment. Most of what we focus on is making sure our early-warning signals are functioning well, because temptation and sin could happen to anybody.

    I once attended a Protestant church that was thrown into turmoil by the senior pastor’s adulterous affair with a church staffer. The people involved seemed like very unlikely candidates for that kind of scandal. It caused many of us close to the situation to face the truth that the Devil has years of practice at persuasive lying, and we began to take steps toward more authentic humility, openness and accountability to prevent what we might have earlier thought was unthinkable in ourselves.

    Just my $.o2.

  12. Don Crowder

    On or offline, people like to flirt with one another. Flirting is fun and doesn’t hurt anyone. That being said, Whether it’s on or offline, some people don’t understand the rules and take it too far. That’s always, 100% of the time, a mistake.

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