February, the month of love (*cue the eye-roll*) is finally almost over! For most of us, the only feelings that stir inside us when we pass by aisles and aisles of heart-shaped chocolates and over-sized teddy bears are those of disgust, or a sudden craving for vodka. At what point did we all become so cynical? It’d be easy to say that people who hate Valentine’s Day are lonely and single, with love lives that don’t extend far beyond Netflix dates with their many, many cats.
Lately though, it seems that those of us who are truly growing cynical about love are the ones who are, in fact, in relationships to some degree, but not living in bliss at all. Between stories of jealousy, cheating, lying and the many other couple crises that we encounter each day, whether amongst our own circles or as portrayed across all platforms of media, relationships are getting a bad rap — and it’s not hard to see why.
Arguably, the risk of temptation to stray from your partner is higher than ever — with endless dating apps and social media outlets; there is an ever-increasing number of ways to connect with anyone, from anywhere, at anytime. Cheating used to be as simple as whether you do or do not have sexual interactions with someone besides your significant other. But now, deciding what counts as cheating has gotten a lot more complicated. What about the more subtle things, like sending the occasional semi-flirty Snapchat to an old hook-up, or liking the gym selfie that the hot guy who laughed at your joke during lecture posted this morning? Where is the line between harmless flirting and crossing boundaries?
According to Melanie Schilling, an Australian psychologist, the little things may not be so harmless after all. While speaking to Huffington Post Australia in January, Schilling coined the term “micro-cheating” as “a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship.”
So, does that mean that every time you send a text to someone who is not your partner, but with whom there is even the slightest possibility of chemistry, you’re being unfaithful? It seems just a little ludicrous, perhaps a ploy to send jealous girlfriends and boyfriends into a frenzy of text-snooping and social media stalking. This is facilitated further by the absence of tone in digital interactions — how can you tell if your girlfriend meant that “good to see u” text that she sent to her ex in a friendly way or in a friendly way?
New research conducted by psychologist Martin Graff suggests that the factors that separate innocent online etiquette from the spark of an emotional affair are time of day and disclosure.
As you may guess, sliding into someone’s DMs after dark comes off much more suggestively than if the same message was received during the day. To avoid giving off the wrong impression, keep business-related conversations well within business-appropriate hours, or your capstone partner may read a little too deeply into your invitation to DJ’s happy hour on Thursday.
In considering the degree of disclosure, Graff’s research depicted that interactions in which two people share emotional or personal information beyond surface-level chit-chat is perceived as higher-risk for cheating. So, if you find yourself having a heart-to-heart with a Tinder match about your boyfriend’s annoyingly loud chewing or chronic lateness, maybe it’s time to check yourself, or rethink your current relationship status.
Rather than putting your phone on lock-down or overthinking every interaction you’ve had on social media in the past month, establish within your relationship where each of you draws the line. Perhaps you both agree that maintaining polite friendships with past hook-ups is okay, but spending half an hour on FaceTime with your ex, his mom, and their family dog every Sunday evening gives off the wrong message.
In short, to each their own, as long as the boundaries are clear and mutual.