Flirting Is Not Cheating, No Matter What Anyone Thinks

by Susie b Cross
Originally Published: 
A man and a woman flirting while her partner is sitting next to her
Thomas Barwick/Getty

In terms of flirting, I have never advanced beyond 4th-grade tactics. I have no idea how to titter or bat my eyelashes, and I have never had the confidence to slip someone my number. I would feel much more comfortable kicking my conquest in the shin or pushing them off a snow mound and screeching, “Who’s king of the mountain now?!” I, personally, cannot imagine anything sexier than that.

Clearly, I am a novice flirter, and there certainly are masters out there. But, the question isn’t really about who’s fabulous at flirting or not. The overriding question to end all questions is this: is flirting tantamount to cheating?

The answer is a loud and confident no. And that, my friends, is that.

I don’t really understand what the hubbub is all about, to be honest. If we’re going to define flirting as cheating, we have to start by establishing what cheating is – and I would love for someone, anyone, to provide a definitive explanation. You’d think Merriam-Webster could, but this trusted source says that to cheat is “to be sexually unfaithful,” and that definition just sends you down the rabbit hole to the words “sexual” and “unfaithful.” And when you look those abstractions up, you’re really getting no closer to understanding anything. I hate you Merriam, and you too, Webster.

Brides’ Cathy Meyer really muddies the waters. Her bottom line? “If it feels like cheating, infidelity, or adultery to you, then it is,” she writes. Her oh-so-murky rationale is clearly insane. So, if your partner’s uneasy with the way you sensually squeeze honeydews in the produce section, is that supposed to be cheating? Basting a turkey? Is keeping an eye glued to the TV — focused solely on tight-shirted Anthony (easily the hottest of the original Wiggles) —suspect too?! A certain type of person could read infidelity into pretty much anything.

One source, outfitted in a dri-fit tank and gold chain (his attire seems relevant), insists that “flirting is definitely trying on the single hat during a relationship.” Of course, that might be true in some cases, but the problem remains: if we can’t universally agree on a definition of cheating, how in the world could we come to a consensus regarding flirting? We can’t.

According to another source, there are five types of flirting. A Playful Flirt enjoys banter, and a Physical Flirt will “lean into you, adjust their stance toward you, play with their hair or put focus on their mouth.” The Traditional Flirt is typically introverted, reserved, or passive; the Sincere Flirt will do spicy things like talk to you about a book you’re reading; the Polite Flirt “won’t want you to misread their interest for sexual attraction, and they’ll be focused on building a relationship in well-mannered way.”

Okay, the first two types jibe with my cockeyed understanding of flirting – but, my God, the leftover three categories absolutely confound me. In what universe is courteous, passive literature talk beguiling or enticing or the least bit flirtatious? If someone wants to call that stuff evidence of flirting, so be it. It just sounds more like being stuck in a garbage disposal of grinding boredom to me. Shows you how much this middle-aged crone knows.

Meanwhile, the pundits at Urban Dictionary just add to the confusion.

One expert describes a flirt as “a person who is innocently overly friendly, especially the type of friendliness that is interpreted as seduction. Actions may include: giving away [your] number, blowing kisses, caressing, and free lap dances.” Another is convinced that flirting is “You dinking around with the opposite sex. Complements [sic] and shit.” I think that when complimentary rump-to-crotch wriggling is lumped together with air kisses and “dinking,” we can all admit that the spectrum of what constitutes flirting spans far and wide.

And so, you just can’t say that flirting is categorically cheating. That makes as much sense as equating mahjong with infidelity. I guess, if you throw some in some gratuitous writhing, the game could be pretty sexually enticing – but mahjong could also just be an innocent tile competition played by a bunch of innocent players. It’s all about context.

In closing, I would like to mention that my husband maintains that I am an unabashed and relentless flirt. Like I said, I don’t see it, unless poking someone in the eye with a stick somehow qualifies. His bogus allegation only proves one thing: this guy has no idea what flirting is, just like the rest of us. I rest my case.

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