THE BLOG
08/05/2014 03:07 pm ET Updated Oct 05, 2014

Can Virtual Flirtation Be Considered Cheating?

Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws via Getty Images

There's a reason why Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, was such a hit last summer, and it has nothing to do with Miley Cyrus. This song's popularity is a byproduct of the confusion that surrounds modern relationships.

In our "hookup culture" and digital society, the lines that define a relationship have blurred.

For example, can online flirtation be categorized as cheating when in an exclusive relationship?

According to a recent report conducted by JDate and ChristianMingle, 51% of men and 68% of women believe that texting or online flirtation is considered being unfaithful in a relationship.

Though that's slightly more than half of men and women, there is still a considerable group of people who do not equate this type of behavior to cheating.

Why is that?

In a world that thrives on instantaneous interaction with a vast amount of people, attitudes towards conversation have become increasingly casual. The etiquette of communication has changed.

For example, while it was once unheard of to call someone's landline phone too early in the morning or too late at night, texts and online messages are often sent at all hours.

Does this mean the attitudes about what constitutes cheating have become more lax, as well?

While online flirtation may seem less harmful than in-person flirtation due to the physical distance, it can actually be quite worrisome in many ways.

For one thing, there are less time restraints in a virtual relationship; two people can communicate all day no matter where they are or what they're doing. For another, people often say things via text that they wouldn't normally say in person. Digital communication allows us to say the things that would be considered too personal, awkward or inappropriate to say out loud.

As a result, relationships often progress faster when a couple communicates digitally.

In fact, in ChristianMingle and JDate's Mobile Impact on Dating and Relationships Study, 41% of respondents said that mobile [communication] makes it easier to flirt and get to know someone.

Let's think about that for a moment: "flirt and get to know someone." The consequences of digital flirtation are not always immediately obvious, but that statistic says it all. Beyond what could be viewed as harmless flirtation, mobile communication also makes it easier for two people to get to know each other on a more personal and in-depth level.

This is where the occasional or casual online flirtation can spiral into something much more problematic: emotional cheating.

So while the occasional flirtatious remark may not be cause for concern, the red flags are raised at the the possibility of those remarks eventually transitioning into emotional intimacy.

Perhaps an even more disturbing red flag, and one that paints digital flirtation as more problematic than many people believe it to be, is the fact that digital communication is more of a choice than in-person communication. In "real life," we sometimes find ourselves trapped in a conversation we don't want to be a part of. Sure, we can walk away, but the escape is not as simple as ignoring a text. We have to make up an excuse and a getaway to leave a potentially inappropriate situation, whereas when we receive an unsettling text message, we can simply ignore it.

So while virtual flirtation itself may not be perceived as a threat, it's the choice to partake that is disconcerting. To edge into this blurry territory is a conscious choice.

From this perspective, perhaps the lines are not quite as blurred as they seem.

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