in: Dating & Relationships

When (Exactly) Does Flirting Cross the Line?

Bryan Belenson

To flirt or not to flirt? That is the question. Bryan Belenson walks us through the often-grey areas of “harmless” flirting.


The concept of flirting is a very broad and subjective topic, often with unclear boundaries that can wreak havoc on a relationship if both parties are not on the same page.

Some people might be wondering, What’s the big deal? It’s just flirting. The truth is, flirting can be a gateway that leads to more promiscuous activity which isn’t so harmless in terms of commitments and fidelity. This is precisely why couples should clearly and honestly define a mutual understanding of flirting: what actions and behaviors are acceptable? Which ones are not, and why would these behaviors be hurtful or harmful in an existing relationship?

Although each couple may have a different understanding of what flirting is and where it may cross the line, this is a neutral starting point for hashing out the subject with your significant other.

Harmless Flirting

This can mean buying a drink in a social setting, freely giving compliments, side arm hugs or other non-sexual touches, a platonic friendship. The term “harmless” is only applicable if you are willing to disclose this behavior (without shame or concern) to your partner. When your partner starts to show signs of discomfort or concern that is a big red flag that your harmless flirting may be placing strain on your relationship.

The key to a lasting relationship is respecting one another. Chances are, if your actions have even the slightest ability of disrespecting or hurting your significant other, then it’s not harmless at all. Many couples disagree on flirting because they fail to understand the emotional toll that may occur from jealousy and personal insecurities. Regardless, if you choose to be in a committed relationship with someone, you are committed to the whole package—which includes their stance on flirting—even if it is not very lenient.

Crossing the Line

Flirting crosses the line when the actions becomes covert or so emotionally connected that you pursue said behavior over furthering your committed relationship. Making arrangements to spend time with this ‘crush,’ sending suggestive emails or text messages, or intimate, physical behaviors are clearly crossing the line of acceptable if you are in a committed relationship with someone else.

Flirting is a topic with a lot of gray area, so it is up to you and your significant other to decide together which aspects can be made more clear and distinct.

When it’s Cheating

Cheating entails any behavior or activity where you are emotionally compromising the commitment that you have made to someone else, regardless if sex is involved or not. Being physically attracted to someone else is not necessarily considered cheating, but acting on those attractions and pursuing conversation or communication with that purpose is a slippery slope that certainly isn’t doing your current relationship any favors. Despite the fact that flirting and cheating are somewhat subjective in definition, both can be detrimental to a relationship.

To be clear, unless there is a mutual understanding between you and your partner, sex always equates cheating, even if you aren’t emotionally involved with that person. Although flirting is gray and has a lot of unclear edges, intercourse is a very black and white issue. Typically, there is no debate in whether or not sex has taken place, and trying to defend oneself by saying that there was no emotional connection is ludicrous.

Sex = cheating. Always.

When to Call it an Affair

An affair is basically repeated instances of cheating and almost always includes numerous sexual interactions as well as a deeper emotional connection that drives the desire for multiple encounters. Regularly seeking sexual and/or relational satisfaction from outside of your relationship is considered an affair. Some people may argue that a chronic addiction to pornography is a form of an affair. It certainly meets the definition on paper, but some couples may not feel that pornography is harmful to a relationship, but rather fosters intimacy.

Flirting, cheating, and affair may be defined differently depending on personal preferences and relationship history, so for the health and longevity of any relationship, it is imperative for couples to discuss and identify exactly how they feel regarding these topics.

[image: via Guian Bolisay on flickr]

About the Author:

Bryan Belenson Bryan Belenson

Bryan Belenson lives in Denver, Colorado. He is a Dating and Relationship specialist for the modern dating world. Whether you’re tired of being single and need help navigating the online dating scene or you’re in a great relationship and you’re trying not to blow it, he can help. He loves jazz, wine and a good conversation. You can learn more about Bryan at BryanBelenson.com or you can visit him on Facebook and Twitter.

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