“Emotional Cheating” aka WTF is this Heteronormative Bullshit?

Hi folks! It’s been a while (because I’ve been busy failing derivative calculus, again! and continuing my personal study of philosophy which is going much better than the calculus), but today I’m having a pity party and y’all are invited.

Alrighty, let’s begin with the context. I first heard about “emotional cheating” when it showed up in the last season of BBC’s Sherlock; John Watson is married to Mary, but he meets this pretty chick on the train, they swap numbers and it’s hinted that he shares a budding quasi-romantic relationship with pretty chick through texting. From what I understood the “cheating” part was that he was actively keeping the texting relationship a secret from his wife and that there were hints of romantic overtones to the texts. I was like “okay, cool. Emotional cheating is bad. I got-cha.”

But, no, oh no-no no. That apparently is not what emotional cheating is in RL. According to my coworkers it’s “if you are married and you go to someone other than your spouse for ANY emotional needs [not just romantic ones] first- that is emotional cheating”.

Like, Whut. The. Literal. Fuck. Is. This. CisHeteroNorm. Bull. Shit.

Like, are y’all okay? Every fiber of my being is screaming the Mental Health First Aid steps and I feel like I should be asking all my cis-hetero coworkers if they are having suicidal thoughts BECAUSE:

  1. That’s a LOT pressure to put on one person
  2. What the fuck do y’all think friends are for? Emotional needs/support are IN the friend job description, and-
  3. This is totally ace and aro erasure and I will not stand for it.

So, this very rigid definition of emotion cheating is a modern thing that has no historical precedent (that I could find in a quick Google Scholar with a paywall) before social media was a thing. It also pisses me off because how the hell am I supposed to make friends now??? I thought that my lack of friends was something I did or was some weird aro-quirk thing, but oh, ho, no-no no. Turns out there’s so much wtf.ness going on at my work (and probably other places) that I had no idea was even a thing.

A number of my coworkers are Hispanic (I live in San Antonio, so go figure right?) and very Catholic and one of my coworkers said that’s where the strict rules on marrage comes from but….I don’t think so? I need more data, but I don’t think the Church is completely to blame because my Irish Catholic relatives are crazy for different reasons. I was always super confused because these specific coworkers liked to take a personal interest in my relationship status and I was trying to figure out what the big deal was. Apparently they ascribe to several well-known relationship tenets such as 1) guys and gals can’t be “just friends” and 2) once you’re married you’re spouse is everything and all else are just polite acquaintances.

So, I literally can’t be friends with anybody. I can’t be friends with single people because we’ll all somehow magically start dating (or fucking) because we’re all actually living in a 90s sitcom or something(???) and I can’t be friends with my married coworkers outside of work because their wives will find out and divorce them for “emotionally cheating” on them with an aromantic-asexual. I totally [do not] see the logic. Basically dreams of forming and epic Bromance with my fellow philosophy nerd coworker have crumbled into dust because he literally can’t come to me for anything resembling an emotional connection without checking with the wife first.

I see now why my coworkers put so much emphasis on romantic relationships because at the end of the day, apparently that’s all they’re allowed to have, but the problem with that system is it’s taken away the possible, healthy and fulfilling platonic-relationships I could have had if it wasn’t for this ridiculous societal norm.

So, in light of that I’m going to do what any well-adjusted adult would do in this situation-
I’m going to cuddle my cat and cry about it. *tears*


7 thoughts on ““Emotional Cheating” aka WTF is this Heteronormative Bullshit?

  1. Yikes! I think that John crossed some sort of line but I wouldn’t call it cheating, As for the rest it comes across as “never ever talk to anyone except your spouse about anything, ever. Maybe work stuff but that’s it. You’re not allowed to have friends, talk to your family, or converse online with anyone else.” And that is so much WTF I cannot even begin to comprehend it.

    I once wrote fanfic in which the main relationship had broken down and only got repaired slowly, and with the realisation that partner B needed to talk to someone else, needed a confidant (mutual friend, C). Because sometimes partner A was infuriating and that’s what B needed to get off his chest. Because sometimes partner A was canonically Not A Good Friend while B really needed someone to lean on. So A/B and B&C as well as A&C were all truly important to the fic.

    I did this again with a triad of A/B/C but with A&D being just as important, their friendship pre-dating the triad and never being tossed aside but being vital to A’s wellbeing, not least when the triad experienced some issues. I always maintain that while the plot was mostly about A/B/C finding their way to healthy polyamory, A&D was at the heart of the fic.

    So this idea that you can/should only rely on a sexual/romantic partner seems ridiculous to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Real Jane

      It’s GenZ codependent fantasy. Relationships won’t last long if you stranglehold your partner, cut off friends, or nag them about Thought Crimes. That’s insufferable.

      The secret to a long happy monogamous marriage is to allow each other the illusion of freedom. Serenely turn a blind eye to small stuff. Be charming. Play a long game. The Spouse holds the cards over any rival. S/he knows how to entice their partner home.


  2. Hey, I really appreciate this post. I’ve been confused for a while now about “emotional cheating” and what it means. It does certainly seem like a concept that can easily be used to reinforce amatonormativity, and, as such, I’m rather suspicious of it. You articulate very well my concerns about it.

    If it helps, I don’t think everyone has the same definition of “emotional cheating” as your co-workers do. I think for many people, getting emotional support from friends is normal, but at some point having too close an emotional relationship with someone other than your partner crosses the line into “cheating” territory. Where is the line? That’s the tricky part.

    The one thing I would take issue with is your statement that the idea of emotional cheating is “ace and aro erasure”. On the contrary, I think the concept fits in quite neatly with many ace and aro relationship models. The whole point of emotional cheating is that a primary relationship is about more than just sex, and so there’s more to adultery than just having sex with someone else. So, if you’re in an asexual romantic relationship or a queerplatonic partnership, engaging in non-sexual romantic activity or even really close friendship with someone else could be considered “cheating” on your partner. I’m not saying it should be. I’m just saying the concept isn’t inherently inimical to asexuality and aromanticism as popularly understood.

    That said, I do understand why you would find the concept hurtful, and even be moved to literal tears by it. If I had it defined for me the way your coworkers defined it for you, I would probably do the same. I also worry about the effect that concepts like “emotional cheating” may have and may have had on my relationships. As someone who can’t see the line between romance and friendship, it’s too easy for my relationships, and my feelings in those relationships, to cross the line into what other people consider inappropriately romantic territory. I wonder if some of my relationship problems of the past were because my friends were perceived as “emotionally cheating” with me. I worry that any close relationship I form in the future may incur the same accusation. Or, at the least, I fear that the belief in “emotional cheating” may keep me from forming the close emotional connections I want.

    So, yeah, I don’t know if the idea of “emotional cheating” is entirely bad. But, until the concept is better defined and understood, it seems like an obstacle to the emotionally liberated, friendship-positive, peace-love-and-happiness world I dream of!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the long reply!

      The ace and aro that I perceive comes from the non-negotiable aspect of the concept that my coworkers were expressing. I asked my mom (an older generation) about it and her way of explaining it made more sense to me. She said that the spouse should be the “home base” for emotional needs. To tell someone else about an important emotional issue and not tell the spouse is not okay but telling BOTH is okay. It’s also important to negotiate what the spouse wants under their purview. She said that my coworkers were being “Mike Pence extreme” about it where you can’t even have a girl bestie if you’re a guy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh goodness, yes, I’ve run into that one… even all the Christian cishet friends agreed that that bullshit would just make for codependent marriages and very lonely singles. All of the no.

    Way I understand it, the allosexuals have a vague clue that there’s more to relationships than sex and a bit of paper, so they wanted a term for when you’re having a romantic or aromantic relationship with somebody who isn’t your spouse/partner but you don’t have sex with them so it’s not technically cheating. Since the ace/aro community don’t define relationships by who has sex with who, but by their substance, who loves who, a term such as emotional cheating is completely superfluous to us. We’ve already got words, more useful and accurate words, to talk about being in love without wanting the sex.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mix in polyamory and all the different types of love you can feel to people in your life and it just fails as a useful concept.

      It’s like when American bible studies recommend never being alone in a room with people of the opposite sex. It just fails in Holland, where homosexuality has integrated enough that the gender of people you’re alone with really doesn’t matter. You just gotta trust each other’s decency. And gossip really doesn’t care whether about the gender of two people alone in a room together for a long time.

      So yeah… we’re like… so far beyond the point where we think sex and love-for-a-partner go together. Which I think is the assumption at the root of this concept.

      Liked by 1 person

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