In our new social media age, the problem of cheating has become more complex. Before social media, we generally considered cheating to be sexual activity; flirting wasn’t moral, but it wasn’t quite cheating—and it came with a good deal of risk. Flirting required secret phone calls, furtive assignations, covert letter-writing. Now, flirting is just a click of a button away. Even pornography—immoral again, but not quite cheating—required effort.
Now, as with most things modern, effort is no longer required. And that means plentiful flirting—or, as Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love, terms it, “micro-cheating.” Tashiro defines micro-cheating as “a relatively small act of emotional infidelity with someone outside of a person’s committed relationship,” often via social media. Tashiro says that such acts can be highly damaging to relationships, since they amount to a betrayal of trust. “When one betrays a partner’s trust there are always emotional consequences for the partner’s well-being and the integrity of the relationship.”
Human beings are, by nature, risk averse. Taking too many risks means being killed in the wild. Taking too many risks inside a relationship is similar: it means destroying the chances of long-lasting happiness. But the availability of social connection via the internet reduces those risks dramatically. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, 45 percent of men and 35 percent of women have admitted to an “emotional affair.” 60 percent of such affairs begin at work. A 2008 Australian study found that 10 percent of adults in a relationship had formed an “intimate online relationship.” According to a 2015 U.S. YouGov poll, 56 percent of women say you're cheating if you start an emotional relationship with someone else, whereas only 38 percent of men believe that counts as cheating.