Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Are flirting, online connections cheating?

Is flirting cheating?

April 2, 2014

Q.Will you help my boyfriend and me settle an argument? Is flirting cheating? We’re faithful to each other, but I like to talk with all kinds of people, and that includes other guys. I’m not really interested in any of them, I just like to have fun. I’m outgoing and I don’t want to change. I don’t even think it’s flirting, but my boyfriend thinks it is. Let’s say he’s right. Is flirting cheating?


Mary Jo’s response: When you ask me if flirting is cheating, you’re asking me for my opinion. I will share my thoughts, but I’d like to remind you of a very important factor in your argument. The primary opinions that matter are those of you and your partner. The key is communicating your feelings and listening with respect to your boyfriend’s thoughts. If he believes flirting isn’t OK, his opinion matters.

What is flirting? The verb flirt is defined as behaving as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions. By its very definition, flirting isn’t serious. The challenge may lie in your personal definition of flirting. It sounds as if you consider it harmless banter and conversation – a way to connect. It seems as if your boyfriend is threatened by your behavior.

Try to discuss your feelings without arguing. Sharing your intentions may help. If your personality draws you to outgoing behavior and you’re happy, you need to be true to yourself and honest with your boyfriend. If he continues to be unhappy, your relationship may suffer. Relationships are “give and take.” It’s important to work out this challenge together. You may not be compatible; please remember dating is a chance to discover whether or not two people connect. Good luck.

Peer Educator response: It depends on how flirting looks. Does it seem like you’re looking to cheat, or is your boyfriend just jealous? Some people we know flirt a lot but remain faithful. It doesn’t sound like your boyfriend can handle it. If it’s cheating to him, then it’s cheating.

Q. I’m not a teen, but I have a problem and I didn’t know where else to go. I’ve been married 10 years. We have three great kids. Overall I’m happy with my husband. I thought he was happy with me. Lately, he’s been spending a lot of time on the computer. I thought he was just working. Then I shared my annoyance with his computer time with a friend, and she told me she thought he was watching porn. I checked his history and found out he isn’t, but he is connecting with another woman through emails and chats. I confronted him, and he said she’s just a friend and I shouldn’t be jealous because it means nothing. I feel like he’s cheating, which is weird because they’ve never met in person. But he spends hours “with her” online. This has been going on for over six months. He feels more and more distant to me. Is he cheating? He says I should just forget about it, but I can’t stop thinking about her.

Former student now

in her 30s

Mary Jo’s response

If you feel your husband is pulling away from you, I think you need to resolve the situation. If you’re uncomfortable and feel as if he’s cheating, your opinion is the one that matters.

Here are some guidelines for evaluating online relationships. Many counselors believe an online relationship can disrupt a marriage or committed relationship if these criteria exist. I agree. Share this list with your husband. An online relationship may be unhealthy if:

1. It has a sexual agenda: If the correspondence includes sexual fantasy or sexual overtones, it might take the place of intimacy in the marriage.

2. It takes away valued time from the relationship: The content of an online relationship may be innocent, but it’s a red flag if a partner is spending more time with an online relationship than with a real-life spouse.

3. It involves negative discussion about a spouse: Does the online relationship include “partner bashing”? If you’re facing challenges with a spouse, they cannot be repaired unless both partners are involved and committed to change. If a person feels an online companion understands more than a real-life partner, there’s another red flag.

4. It is prioritized first: To whom does your husband go with news – good or bad? Does he share important things with you first or with the online individual?

5. It is a secret: Your husband didn’t share this online relationship – you discovered it. Why was he secretive? What was he hiding? Would he be willing to share his online conversations with you?

6. It involves rationalization: The words “she’s just a friend” may be trying to justify the online relationship.

Bottom line: You’re uncomfortable with this online relationship. With three children, your life together has changed. Maintaining intimacy while parenting requires good communication, honesty, time together to rekindle your connection, a sense of humor and a desire to stay connected. Your husband’s relationship may be innocent, but your anxiety about it needs to be respected. I suggest counseling for you both. An online relationship is still a relationship. I hope you’re able to find common ground where you both feel at peace.



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