Modern-day cheating: What is a 'social media affair?'

A simple swipe to the right. A little kiss emoji here, a few red hearts over there; maybe throw in a winky face for good measure. A month-long Snapchat streak with that "cute officemate," that nightly chat with your "new friend" you just met online – doing all of the above is perfectly fine – that is, unless you're taken.

Then there's a problem.

Cheating in the 21st century

"Wala lang yan." "It's harmless!" "We're not even sleeping together or going on dates!" "I told you – it's nothing."

Sure, the guilty party may throw these statements in self-defense – which, to be fair, isn't 100% false – but only to some extent.

"It's not cheating if we're not having sex or saying 'I love you'," some may say. But is that true?

"Not necessarily," psychologist and relationship expert Lissy Ann Puno, author of Affairs Don't Just Happen and Stay Connected, told Rappler. (READ: Does cheating 'just happen?' We ask an expert)

No longer limited to its textbook definition, cheating isn't just an emotional or sexual affair anymore. Thanks (or no thanks?) to the age of social media and tech, cheating has taken on different forms, just like how communicating with a friend is no longer done via mere physical meet-ups or phone calls.

Now there's Facebook, Snapchat, Bumble, secret Telegram chats, and even online mobile games to worry about.

"Social media has definitely expanded the areas in which infidelity and unfaithfulness may occur," Lissy Ann said. Simply put: as our means of communication evolve, so do the implications of cheating.

Cheating: a virtual reality

Cheating has gone virtual – and for others, its virtual nature is what it is – not real. "It doesn't mean anything," they may reiterate.

Lissy Ann, however, disagrees. "It's cheating if the time, effort, attention, and care your partner needs from you to love and build your relationship is being exerted someplace, or with someone else," Lissy Ann said. "That alone can already be damaging."

These "seemingly harmless" actions are already a distraction on its own, and these conscious distractions can put your already-vulnerable relationship at risk.

Your small, day-to-day choices to entertain another party outside your committed relationship accumulate – and the sum of these decisions can slowly, but steadily, turn your relationship "ripe for a social media affair," said Lissy Ann.

Defining a 'social media affair'

So, what does a social media affair actually involve?

Lissy Ann lists common actions that could inflict damage on your exclusive relationship:

  • Sending many text messages to someone you just met
  • Facebook messaging an old classmate you once had a crush on
  • Having late-night conversations with a work colleague you find attractive
  • Skyping with a “friend” you met on a dating site before

It may be "nothing" at first, sure – however, the accessiblity of social media, the idea that kilig is literally just at the tip of your finger, plus the instant gratification it so familiarly gives, makes it too easy to harbor an "obsession" that you didn't already know you had.

The seduction of anonymity

But what about people you've never even met?

"There are some social media affairs where parties never even meet one another, but maintain a 'relationship' via online chatrooms, online gaming, and dating apps," Lissy Ann said.

This, however, doesn't make it any less harmful – in fact, it could even make things worse.

"Such an affair can also involve intimate, sexually explicit communication between the taken partner and another party. Something as simple as a flirtatious, sexual question can easily snowball into sharing sexually graphic images, secrets, wild fantasies, and intimate life stories," she added.

All that to a stranger? Why? Well, that's the dizzying spell of hiding behind a screen – the greater the anonymity, the less the inhibitions.

Suddenly, you're braver and gutsier than you are in real life, and keyboard warriors and online bullies would know. Nobody knows who you are, so why hold back?

“Because there is no face-to-face encounter, they feel safe, free, anonymous, less shy or inhibited about expressing feelings, communicating in crude or vulgar ways, engaging in pretense, and eventually starting to believe in this fantasy world," Lissy Ann explained.

Why these hazards are harmful

The sharing of your whole self to another party may seem "innocent" to you – casual flirty banter, sexually-themed conversations, and 24/7 contact – but to Lissy Ann, is a critical hazard to watch out for.

"These actions do take away from the straying partner’s relationship," she said.

"By doing them, the image of your partner begins to diminish. And once it does, he/she becomes more negative, less attractive, and less 'shiny'," Lissy Ann added.

As a result, the "shinier" image of this new cyberspace boyfriend/girlfriend begins to appear glitzier to you – more positive, more attractive, better – and this, according to Lissy Ann, is you already being drawn into a social media affair without even knowing it. (READ: What makes a 'healthy and happy relationship?')

Guilty as charged?

Still not sure if what you're doing behind your partner's back is right? Just ask yourself, "Would I openly let my partner see these conversations? Would I be comfortable in transparently sharing everything with him/her? Would I let these series of exchanges be broadcast entirely?"

Yes? Then you're okay.

No? Then you may have some thinking and rebuilding to do. –

Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.