Is It Really Cheating If There's No Sex?

Ask Demetria: There's no gray area when you date a married person -- you're having an emotional affair.

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(The Root) --

"How often are affairs nonsexual? I've dated married women before. Two relationships were not sexual -- not because they didn't want it but because I wasn't interested." --F.T.

Wow. I'm sure the husbands of the two women you didn't have sex with appreciate your lack of carnal interest in their wives. But you don't get any kudos, sir, for knowingly "dating" married women. The nonsexual relationship you allude to is most often referred to as an emotional affair.

In David J. Moultrup's book Husbands, Wives & Lovers: The Emotional System of the Extramarital Affair, he defines it as "a relationship between a person and someone other than [their] spouse [or lover] that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance and overall dynamic balance in the marriage." Even though there's no sex, the relationship you describe can be just as devastating to a marriage as sexual infidelity.

Unfortunately, the frequency of emotional affairs is hard to accurately quantify because few people confess, even anonymously, to an affair of any kind. Nevertheless, some reports say that emotional affairs are on the rise, thanks to the convenience of technology and the plethora of social networking sites that keep everyone so connected.

There's also the troubling issue of people who think like you do, who are having emotional affairs and rationalizing that what they are doing couldn't be so bad, since it's not as if there's sex involved. This could not be further from the truth.

Did these wives tell you things they didn't tell their husbands? If their husbands knew about you, did they downplay the relationship by saying "He's just a friend"? Did these women look forward to spending time with you more than they did their husbands? If you answered "yes" to any of the above, then you were having an emotional affair.

An emotional affair doesn't come with the pesky risks of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. But just like a sexual affair, it contains deception, secrecy and a breach of trust. You know those times when you wooed married women over cozy dinners or long walks by providing a listening ear and "just" allowing them to be themselves, with no judgment? In those moments, you were robbing a husband somewhere of his wife's feelings, time, interest and concern. You were a participant in stealing the soul of a marriage.

I'm guessing you probably don't care, and it's not as if you have to. As I told the woman who wrote in last week, wondering whether she should have a heart-to-heart with the woman she thought her man might be involved with, the third party -- that would be you -- didn't make any sort of commitment or take any vows to honor a relationship.

What I didn't say -- only because the subject then didn't call for it -- is that it's still all manner of grimy to get physically or emotionally involved with someone you know is in a committed relationship. It sends the message not only that you don't respect relationships but also that you don't have much respect for yourself, either.