Is Flirting Cheating? (Plus When It Crosses The Line)

No, flirting is not cheating.

Before you burn me at the stake, let's break down the nuances of flirting and cheating:

Things to know

  • Flirting and cheating are two different things, but they can overlap in certain situations. Flirting is a playful and exploratory exchange that can be used to determine attraction and interest, while cheating involves going against agreed-upon boundaries in a committed relationship by getting involved with someone else physically or emotionally.
  • The key difference is intent and actions that follow. Flirting can be harmless and even beneficial in some situations, but if it's kept a secret from a partner and leads to deceit and violation of trust, it can be considered cheating.
  • Ultimately, whether flirting is considered cheating depends on the context and the interpretation of the parties involved.

There's still more to explore; here's what we'll be looking at:

Understanding Flirting

Flirting is defined as acting in an amorous way without serious intent. It’s usually a sign of attraction and interest. In social contexts, it's a natural process that encourages relationship development. Flirting is a playful and exploratory exchange until one party makes their intentions clear. Research has found that when it comes to flirting people's intentions may include:

Starting a relationship

Flirting is like a delicate dance. They move, you move. A touch here, a touch there. They take it up a notch, you take it up a notch too. It's about reciprocating the subtle hints until they aren't so subtle anymore. All is well if you're single and ready to mingle. Flirting is the logical first step to starting a romantic relationship after all.


Studies have shown that sex is a major driving force behind flirting. Flirting can be a sexually charged affair used to determine sexual attraction. When sexual interest is reciprocated, flirting usually results in the development of a sexual relationship.

Relationship development

Flirting can contribute to a healthy relationship. Long-term relationships have been proven to benefit from flirting and partners who flirt are likely to build a stronger emotional connection.


Flirting is communicating. The more we communicate, the better we get at it. Frustratingly, most attempts to flirt fall flat. Additionally, being unable to flirt is the leading cause of involuntary singlehood. So it only follows that people would try to get as much practice as possible.


By virtue of its definition, flirting is intended to be a form of amusement. Nothing sinister there, especially if you're not spoken for. If you’ve ever bantered with a stranger at a party or sent text messages with one too many winky face emojis you'll agree that harmless flirting can be a fun way to pass the time.

Relieving stress

When life has got us down, flirting has been proven to keep our stress levels down. Even a little flirting in the workplace is said to be harmless and beneficial in reducing stress.

Boosting Self-Esteem and Confidence

Just admit it. There's nothing like that high. You're attracted to someone and they're attracted to you too. You're stealing glances at each other and the sexual chemistry is through the roof. You play along, this leads to some banter, maybe a few innuendos. Even if nothing more happens, you both go your separate ways feeling desirable and confident. That's the magic of flirting.

Undoubtedly, most of these intentions may spell trouble if one is in a long-term monogamous relationship. It's no wonder flirting is caught in the middle of a fierce debate.

Flirting isn't the issue - it's merely a door. The issue is a person's intent and the actions that follow.

Understanding Cheating

Cheating is going against agreed-upon boundaries in a committed relationship. It's when you violate your partner's trust by getting involved with someone else either physically or emotionally.

There’s rarely a single cause for cheating. It’s been attributed to a complex set of psychological patterns whose intent ranges from conflict avoidance to passive-aggressiveness.

Distinguishing Between Flirting and Cheating

Cheating is associated with secrecy and deceit while flirting is associated with playfulness and fun.

It’s often argued that flirting is a violation of fidelity, that it’s a slippery slope because innocent flirting can progress into cheating.

But if you really think about it, cheating isn't flirting, and flirting isn't cheating.

Flirting can lead to cheating and that's where the debate usually begins.

Quick question.

Every time you eat there's a high possibility you could choke. Could you then say eating is choking? (pretty basic example but hopefully you see the point)

Opportunity is not causality. Just because you've got the opportunity to do something, doesn't mean you will.

Where Flirting and Cheating Collide

Whether flirting is cheating remains a contentious issue. It's a hotly debated question, right up there with pineapple on pizza.

One thing is clear though, flirting is a gray area. Even relationship experts agree.

So, when does flirtatious behavior stay in the white, and when does it cross over into the black?

Well, here's where things get tricky. Flirting is different across cultures and societies. That pearly smile you just flashed at a stranger or that slight brush of the arm you just gave your co-worker could be interpreted in many different ways by many different people.

The general consensus is: if you're in a committed relationship the only interpretation that should matter is your partner's.

The behaviors below might have started out as flirting but they've crossed over into dangerous territory and may very well be considered cheating. Flirting may have started the conversation but cheating has entered the chat.

You're keeping it a secret

If you're keeping your 'flirting' from your partner you are cheating. If the thought of your partner reading those messages between you and a coworker makes you break out into a cold sweat, that's a major red flag.

Keeping it a secret implies you know it's wrong and that your partner will probably be hurt by it. It feels nice to call it harmless flirting. It probably even keeps the guilt from eating you up inside. But let's be frank. You're not flirting, you're cheating.

You're crossing relationship boundaries

Monogamous relationships demand a certain level of exclusivity. Going to someone else for things you should be getting from your current relationship, like emotional support or sexual attention, is usually a violation of trust. Cross those boundaries long enough and sexual infidelity or emotional infidelity will surely follow.

You’re making excuses

‘I mean nothing by it.’

‘It's just a bit of harmless fun.’

‘It's not a big deal …’

Let me stop you right there. If you feel the need to rationalize it in the first place, then you must know something is wrong. Are those flirty messages on social media all that innocent?

Aren’t you playing out your sexual fantasies online at the cost of your actual relationship? Much like flirting in person, flirting online may progress to physical cheating. Again, you're not flirting anymore, you're cheating.

You’re doing it all the time…with the same person

You keep telling yourself that it's innocent, that it's nothing more than harmless flirting but you're doing it all the time, with the same person.

You feel incomplete unless that specific person makes heart eyes at you. Like a junkie, you crave your next dose of flirting.

It's not about your partner's attention anymore, it's about this new person who puts that pep in your step. You're telling them all your secrets and depending on them for emotional support. If you've become emotionally dependent on flirty interactions with a specific person, you're having an emotional affair and have officially crossed over into emotional cheating territory.

The Verdict

Flirting is not cheating.

Aside from the obvious difference in meaning from an etymological standpoint, there's one key difference - intent. One is a playful, innocent consequence of our human nature to communicate. The other is a willful and concealed form of deceit against someone you've probably made a lot of promises to.

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