A friend of mine confessed that, despite her efforts to deny it, she had found herself in the precarious position of being attracted to a coworker. Some people would be shocked by this. I barely looked up from my latte.
I could see that she was nervous bringing up the matter. She spoke in whispers. She’d only been married for five years, and another man was giving her the kind of butterflies that she had promised to put a lid on the moment that she said “I do.” The need for secrecy struck me as strange — that in 2020, having “impure thoughts” about another man should be considered as dastardly as plotting to steal the Hope Diamond from the Smithsonian.
If it weren’t for the unrealistic expectations that society puts on meaningful relationships, my friend might be able to see her work crush as an innocent interaction, as opposed to a mortal sin. After all, she had no intention on acting upon it. In a world that looks at monogamy as an expectation for setting aside any other potential sexually or romantically inspired emotions, being attracted to people outside of a marriage is considered disrespectful and crass.
But dare I say, as a woman who believes very strongly that denying your emotions is a one-way ticket to true heartbreak, that being attracted to someone outside of your marriage is actually permissible? In a society that is obsessed with the nature of the illusory “perfect” marriage, can we be honest enough to admit that an outside attraction is a distinct possibility during the course of even the strongest marriages?
Monogamy is typically defined as having sexual relations with one person. In a broader context, monogamy can also refer to the exclusivity of emotional intimacy. These are simpler definitions for a simpler time. With so many avenues of communication and connection available, especially over social media, these boundaries are no longer as clearly defined as they once were.
“It appears as though couples are generally more open to the discussion of what constitutes as infidelity.”
Cheating has always existed, but it has never been quite so accessible. We can thank the internet for that. Ashley Madison, the controversial dating site for people seeking an affair, boasts of over 30 million users, each of them looking for someone other than their partner. Perhaps less overtly, social media offers an avenue for users to form sexually charged or romantic connections that can potentially lead a person into hot water if they’re not in a secure relationship.
Having “eyes” for your partner alone was a concept that may have worked when our grandparents first said their vows, but it’s unclear as to how truly “faithful” older generations were. Although divorce rates were lower in previous generations, there is limited data regarding extramarital affairs. In an age where social standards have drastically changed, and the church plays a less active role for many married couples, it appears as though couples are generally more open to the discussion of what constitutes as infidelity, and what inspires a “happy marriage.”
The concept of emotional cheating (you know, that “close” friend that your partner doesn’t have to worry about) is nothing new. But cyber cheating has laid grounds for a new frontier into the question of modern fidelity. In fact, “internet affairs” have become so common that many couples see these online relationships as a form of cheating as insidious as the regular flesh-and-blood variety.
One of the biggest questions here is whether or not tapping that “like” button on a scandalous photo, or messaging a hot Insta-stranger constitutes a type of emotional cheating, or if it’s simply a workplace crush version 2.0. Just how many “likes” on an Insta-famous model’s photo indicate a wandering eye, heart, or other appendage? What if sliding into their DMs opens a door to something more contentious?
“Constant self-policing is the enemy of any healthy frame of mind.”
In my experience, I’ve found that obsession in any capacity is the gateway drug to ruin. Obsessing over fidelity as a general concept, as opposed to navigating towards an agreed dynamic between people in a relationship, can encourage affairs more than they deter them. The definition of an “affair” therefore shouldn’t come down to society’s idea of what constitutes as cheating, but to the individuals within the relationship and their agreed-upon boundaries.
If everything were considered cheating — the occasional glance up and down of a more striking specimen down the street, the intermittent “like” on a photo, or even the acknowledgement of a harmless crush — it will only serve to increase distrust. Constant self-policing is the enemy of any healthy frame of mind, especially if the goal is ensure that no romantically “problematic” thoughts may enter.
One of the healthiest conversations I’d ever had with my husband pertained to the emotional and psychological boundaries surrounding our relationship. We mutually agreed that it was OK to feel an attraction to other people within the course of our relationship, and that it was unrealistic to assume that we would never be attracted to anyone else. Openly acknowledging this, and knowing that we trusted each other to be open and honest, made me feel safe.
The safety, ultimately, has manifested in a relationship where we both feel supported by each other and free to experience the occasional fun of a wandering eye. As long as we respect each other’s boundaries, the fear of committing the sin of infidelity is completely moot.
I’d been a victim of self-policing in past relationships, and it only served to make me a lot more paranoid, and a lot less free to be myself. My friend agreed to that, especially when it came to her crush. A feeling doesn’t require action: sometimes, it simply needs space to be recognized before it can move on to become something else. She knew that her husband would feel the same way.
Critics may call my views disrespectful, but I respectfully disagree. Ultimately, each couple has their own idea of what a healthy relationship looks like, and the discussion surrounding their personal boundaries is integral to the overall success of a marriage or long- term relationship. Trusting your partner offers numerous benefits to health and wellness of a marriage overall, and establishes a firm foundation for a mutually supportive dynamic free from the toxicity of societal pressures and expectations. Fidelity is a matter of personal boundaries, but trust is the glue that will truly keep partners together.
You will never regret establishing a firmer trust in your relationship. To me, that is infinitely more valuable than anyone feeling guilty about a crush.
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