He hasn't jumped into bed with someone else but he hasn't been entirely faithful either. Victoria Stokes gets to grips with the murky world of microcheating.
“She was standing extremely close to him, with her leg pushed up against his, whispering in his ear,” recalls Joanne, 24. She’s talking about the night she caught her boyfriend of two years openly flirting with another woman. “We were at a club with friends when I realised I hadn’t seen him in a little while,” she remembers. “Then I spotted him. He was leaning against a wall standing next to a girl I didn’t recognise. I didn’t really know what to do but I was immediately unsettled.”
Then Joanne responded in a way many of us would. “I stormed over there and confronted him,” she explains. “But he acted as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. When we discussed it afterwards he said he hadn’t cheated per se, but I would have never done that to him. It would have felt wrong.”
In official terms, Joanne’s guy hadn’t been physically unfaithful, but he had microcheated. For the uninitiated, that’s just a blanket term for all the small misdemeanours someone can carry out without actually hooking up with someone else. Flirting, making a special effort to see another girl, and at the extreme end, sexting other women and using dating apps, are all examples. Basically, if they’ve done something they know you wouldn’t be comfortable with, then they’ve microcheated. And taking a long, hard look at yourself – can you say that you haven’t?
Sadly, just because it doesn’t involve locking lips with someone else doesn’t mean it hasn’t got the same potential to hurt, as Joanne can attest. “I was extremely angry for a time after that night,” she muses. “It shattered part of what I felt was a strong bond of trust. I even left the country for a week on a whim; I just needed space to figure out what I wanted to do. It hurt me so much to think that the person I loved that much would be the one to make me feel so low.”
Unsurprisingly, Joanne’s experience isn’t an isolated one. Hannah, 25, says she’s been microcheated on numerous times. “One boyfriend would always tell me how hot my friends were and suggest asking them for a threesome,” she recalls, rolling her eyes. “Another guy I dated was always in contact with his ex, who he worked with. He’d make plans with me, and then text me when we were supposed to meet up to say he’d been called into work. I’m pretty sure he was just finding ways to spend more time with her.”
So why do microcheaters do it? Trish Murphy, psychotherapist and author of the book #Love: 21st Century Relationships says it’s usually down to one of two reasons. They’re either looking for attention and are acting out to try and get you to fight for them, or they haven’t fully committed to the relationship and are keeping an eye out for who else is on the market.
What might be deemed as unacceptable behaviour in one relationship, could be perfectly okay in another.
The crux is that microcheaters have a major get out clause. They haven’t actually hooked up with anyone else, so in their eyes they technically haven’t done anything wrong. It’s a way of being a bit mischievous without having to deal with the repercussions that can come with actual cheating. Shady, huh?
Defining whether or not a person has actually microcheated is where things get especially tricky though. “It depends very much on the couple,” Trish makes clear. What might be deemed as unacceptable behaviour in one relationship, could be perfectly okay in another.
Take flirting, for example. “There are some relationships where one person is naturally flirtatious, and the relationship isn’t under threat because the other person enjoys seeing that side of them,” she points out. On the other hand, if your partner is flirty and it makes you feel jealous and insecure then that’s where there’s a problem.
The stats are equally ambiguous when it comes to defining what does and does not constitute infidelity. A 2014 study by online dating site JDate for example, found that 68 percent of women consider sexting and online flirting a break of trust, compared to only 51 percent of men. Similarly, 70 percent of women said forming a deep connection with someone else is cheating, while only 50 percent of men said the same. Really then, it’s up to the couple to term what’s okay and what’s not.
With the boundaries laid out though, what’s the best way to deal with things if your significant other has crossed the line? Trish advises getting to the root cause of your partner’s microcheating. “Ask yourself what’s actually happening,” she suggests. “If your other half is trying to get you to fight for them then you need to wake up and respond to that.”
If, on the other hand, your partner is just keeping their options open, the solution is a little more obvious. “If you’re not happy with this behaviour, then your choice is to either leave or accept the relationship the way it is,” Trish instructs. Basically, unless you’re okay with routinely having your trust broken it’s probably best to call it quits.
And what if you’re the one doing the microcheating? Trish reckons it’s time for you to grow up. “You’re in an adult relationship. You can’t have it all,” she makes clear. In other words, either commit to the relationship fully or get the hell out of it. It’s that simple.
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s May issue. Our June issue is on shelves now!
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