Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Social Media a Loop Hole for Cheating?

While technology is often the catalyst that helps bring two people together, it can also be the thing that can ultimately tear them apart. Now we've all heard horror stories of techromance gone bad. Finding disturbing pornography on a significant other's computer, discovering an account they use to troll Craigslist for encounters in airport bathrooms and of course the email hack where you find out they boned their college sweetheart at the wedding where they were conveniently invited without a date. But there is also a more subtle form of cheating that can take place online--one that is almost more disturbing because it is less defined and harder to navigate. It happens in the form of comments, messages and tweets exchanged, a kind of digital flirting that creates a sense of intimacy that is questionable for someone in a relationship.

Photo via TechCunch and @adanzis
A Facebook study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found 80 percent of divorce attorneys say they have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years. Licensed psychologists, Steven Kimmons, PhD, of Loyola University shares the following: "We are coming across it more and more. One spouse connects online with someone they knew from high school. The person is emotionally available and they start communicating through Facebook. Within a short amount of time, the sharing of personal stories can lead to a deepened sense of intimacy, which in turn points the couple to get in contact." 

On twitter I see the worlds of tweeting and flirting colliding more every day. There is even a word for it called flittering and some users will go as far as warning against this kind of behavior in their twitter bio.

These anecdotes and examples lead me to the question of the hour: is it still cheating if the relationship only exists on Facebook, Twitter or another social networking site? To get my head around this loaded topic I reached out to Meryl Cooper, a wise friend and author of Be Your Own Best Publicist. I figured if anyone could bring social clarity to a subjective situation it would be her. During a train ride conversation we talked about the difference between fantasy and reality and she shared the following: "You are dealing with edited images of people that go way beyond photos. People manufacture their images online so it's easy to fall prey. But recognize it's likely more of a fantasy, you aren't seeing any warts. It's the same reason you fall in love with Jake Ryan or other charming figures. They key is to draw the line for yourself. If you feel uneasy about it or would hide it from your partner you probably ventured into dangerous territory."

Maybe there is just something about technology and sex that is almost impossible to separate. But where does that lead us? My advice: keep your online "friends" close but you significant other closer.


  1. "Marriages don't break up on account of infidelity. That's just a symptom that something else is wrong."
    "Oh really? Well that symptom is fucking my wife."

    Social media has come under alot of criticism lately in the wake of some pretty questionable Tweets by athletes and celebrities. And most of the dialogue about it seems to be directed at the medium itself rather than the content. Does Facebook/ Twitter create more opportunities for attached males and females to seek out secret trysts? Sure it does, but that's akin to blaming Budweiser for DUI's. Affairs are bourne out of a missing component in a relationship. Whether they involve "innocent" cyber flirting, or full blown "let me take cash out of the ATM so that I don't have to pay with my credit card, and there's no record of the Midtown Manhattan hotel room where I meet up once a week with my old college girlfriend for a few hours of sweaty, dirty sex," there's a fundamental deficiency that leads us down that path. The only question is how far down the rabbit hole you're willing to travel. Affairs in my opinion typically constitute boredom, or a lack of feeling desired by your mate. They almost never involve emotional connections, we just convince ourselves they do. It's a subtle high from knowing that you can still attract someone who isn't our significant other. The divorce rate in this country was pretty high long before social media peeked it's head around the corner. I suspect that all Facebook has done is speed up the inevitable.


  2. Nice use of tryst...and I thought it was just the name of a club in Vegas :)

    You are right there are varying degrees of the rabbit hole and I guess if a boyfriend of mine is engaging in flirtatious IMs on Facebook that beats having a nooner with some sl*t he met at happy hour.

    Even though I love social media I think it perpetuates "a grass is always greener mentality." Sure the cookie jar didn't make the kid fat, but he'd be skinnier if those were baby carrots in reach.

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