I recently received a “Dear Lesbian” request via my Contact Form to write on the topic of emotional cheating and Lesbian couples. This link to an article entitled “Emotional Cheating And Lesbian Couples: Why It’s An Issue” was included as an overview of the topic.
This is an excellent question, and I appreciate that the reader took the time to ask me to write about it.
First, let’s define “emotional cheating”. Although there are many ways to define it and the definition is certainly open to interpretation (as it is certainly subjective to the people involved), I would define “emotional cheating” as when a friendship between one member of a couple and an outside person crosses an invisible but tangible boundary and veers sharply into the area of inappropriateness.
Some examples of one member of a couple veering into inappropriateness with an outside person include, but are not limited to:
- Flirting (Note: I don’t mean simply being friendly/fun and having a good time…I mean actually flirting in a way that is romantic/sexual, as if you are single and available);
- Fantasizing about kissing/contact/sex or fantasizing a relationship with the outside person;
- Being secretive by not telling your partner about your contact with the outside person (for instance: meeting for lunch secretly; sending private text messages without your partner’s knowledge; etc.);
- Telling the outside person intimate details of your relationship with your partner that you know damn well your partner would be embarrassed/upset about (for instance: complaining about your sex life, or lack thereof, with the subtext of “I’m on a bit of fishing expedition here to see if you will bite”);
- Telling the outside person significant things that you should be telling your partner (for instance: telling the outside person that you are unhappy in your relationship; or telling the outside person something significant that you haven’t told your partner like you lost your job 3 weeks ago; etc.).
Please note that I am not saying that you shouldn’t have an outside friend who you can confide in.
What I am saying is: When your behavior/thoughts veer into untrustworthiness, nefariousness, secrecy, affair-fantasies, flirtatiousness, and/or evasiveness, you have crossed the line into unsafe territory. (Get it?)
I think we all know the difference between being close to and confiding in a trusted platonic friend versus the slippery slope of emotional infidelity.
The article which was sent to me as an overview of the topic states that emotional cheating “happens all too often in lesbian relationships“.
I have no doubt that it does happen all too often in Lesbian relationships. However, I believe that it happens all too often in ALL kinds of relationships, not just Lesbian relationships. I truly don’t believe Lesbians are uniquely at-risk for emotional cheating, although I admit that the nuances can sometimes be trickier for Lesbians than it is for heterosexuals. (Probably the same is true of gay men too, but I cannot speak for them).
First of all, the situation is trickier for Lesbians because…well…we’re all Lesbians.
With heterosexual couples, it would not typically be kosher for a husband of one couple to call the wife of another couple and invite her out to lunch without the other spouses present. It’s a clear boundary that is typically not crossed.
But when everybody in both couples are Lesbians, how would anyone know when things are awry?
So let’s say Lesbian Couple A (let’s call them Xena and Gabrielle) meets Lesbian Couple B (let’s call them Idgie and Ruth) and they all hit it off. Next thing you know, these 2 couples are drinking beer and eating chicken wings every Saturday night at The Watering Hole on Main Street, USA. All is a-okay, so far.
But then let’s say one day Xena calls Ruth and invites her for lunch without their partners.
Hmmmm. As a Lesbian, I must say this would strike me as amiss.
But would it strike me amiss if Xena had called Idgie and asked her to go to the gym or to go play tennis?
No, it wouldn’t.
It is difficult to explain, because it is at least partly Lesbian intuition, rather than concrete evidence, that is guiding that gut-level feeling that something is “off”.
Additionally, this topic is difficult to explain to heterosexuals because heterosexuals basically seem to think that any 2 random women could suddenly start making out and POOF!, they are suddenly in a “
Lesbian relationship“. (Nope, it’s not a “Lesbian relationship” unless actual Lesbians are in the relationship).
My point is, heterosexuals don’t seem to understand that Lesbians aren’t attracted to just any female….instead, we, like everybody else, have our own tastes/preferences for partners. Lesbians aren’t simply interchangeable with each other like one-size-fits-all Legos; we’re not all going to be attracted to the same people. Like straight people, Lesbians tend to have a general “type” of person we are attracted to.
So, when 2 Lesbian couples meet, if they have a significant amount of things in common with each other, it’s often (not always, of course, but often) likely that the other couple will be similar to the original couple in their basic “types” (examples: Butch/Femme, softball dykes, golf dykes, Lipstick Lesbians…etc.).
This is most certainly NOT to say that this means that there will automatically be attraction with someone who falls within our general “type” though. Just like how all straight females are NOT attracted to all straight males, Lesbians are NOT attracted to all other Lesbians…not even all of those who are our general “type”.
My point being that if, in our hypothetical example, Gabrielle is Xena’s “type”, then it’s likely that Ruth would be Xena’s general “type” too. And if Xena is Gabrielle’s “type”, then it’s likely that Idgie would be Gabrielle’s general “type” too.
So crossover friendships between two Lesbians who find the other person in the friendship to be their “type” are potentially fraught with difficulty.
Does this mean, to use another example, that a Butch cannot be platonic friends with a Femme (or vice versa)?
No, it doesn’t mean that at all. I truly believe that mature adults can indeed be platonic friends and leave it at that. But it does mean that the Butch and the Femme involved in the friendship and their partners need to be fully informed and fully aware at all times. No sneaking, no secret messages, no flirtation, no coyness, no lying…basically, no bullshit at all.
Let’s give another hypothetical example. Let’s say Dirt and I met another Butch/Femme couple and started hanging out with them every weekend. (This scenario is highly unlikely, due to the rarity of Butch/Femme making it very unlikely that we would meet a local couple, plus the fact that Dirt and I are both extreme introverts, so we aren’t ever going to see ANYBODY all the time…but hey, it’s just a pretend example anyway, so let’s just go with it).
In our hypothetical example, it would be considered highly irregular for the Femme of the couple to start emailing/texting Dirt privately and/or for them to meet for lunch or coffee without me and the Butch in the other couple present. It would be a major warning sign…not just because of the secrecy involved, although that would be a big tip-off, but also because they would be each other’s “type” so it would be atypical to cross over like that.
Similarly, if the Butch suddenly started calling me privately to talk about personal things behind the backs of Dirt and her Femme partner, it would be a big warning sign.
Does that mean that they could never call/text or see us separately? No, of course not! There are plenty of reasons such contact might happen (for example: contact might be made with one partner instead of the other due to simple convenience, like if one person is more reachable than the other; getting advice about a birthday present or surprise party; needing specific advice on a topic that one partner knows more about; general interaction like wishing someone a happy birthday or offering condolences; etc.).
It does mean, however, that if the situation continued to occur all the time (beyond casual contact), escalated, and/or showed any of the warning signs above, it would be certainly be a problem.
Bottom line: If you feel yourself starting to keep things from your partner and start turning toward someone else instead of your partner, it’s time to stop and seriously consider what exactly is going on before proceeding any further. Deep down, under layers of rationalizations and denial, you know if you are romantically/sexually attracted to someone. And if you are attracted to someone, you need to admit it to yourself. You owe it to yourself and to your partner to be the kind of person who does the right thing. Be that person.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog is NOT intended to be professional advice, nor to substitute for the advice of a licensed professional. The reader should consult with an appropriate professional regarding all mental health needs.