Flirting Online or an Internet Affair

There's nothing wrong with a little flirting online ... or is there? How do you draw the line between simple fun and full-blown online cheating?

British TV presenter Vernon Kay is one person who recently got busted for his online indiscretion. "I've been stupid and daft but I'm not a sex pest," he declared last week. Kay had been accused of "Twitter cheating" on his wife, Tess Daly, by conducting private online flirtatious conversations with a number of female acquaintances. The subsequent public outcry forced Kay to apologize on his radio show, in a bid to save his career, and, one presumes, his marriage.

In an attempt to explain his behavior, Kay said the online messaging started out quite "innocent" but quickly developed into something more explicit. He thought the messages were no more than "harmless banter."

That was until his wife came to find out about his overly social networking and helped change his opinion. The incident shed some light on the private online lives of seemingly happily married persons.

It also raised a number of questions. For example, at what point does "harmless banter" become a betrayal of trust? Is "sex texting" cheating in the strictest sense? Can you ever fully trust your partner's online chats and private tweets?

With millions of people now using social networking sites such as Facebook on a regular basis, the online lives of our partners, wives, husbands and friends are becoming more and more relevant in our real-world relationships. Not only can we vet potential partners through their online profiles, but their contact with others can also be tracked

Susan Ahern is a 32-year-old make-up artist living in London. In her experience, online networking can have adverse effects on relationships.

"I have been in situations where I'm dating guys and I can't help but take a sneaky look at their Facebook page," she admits, "A few months ago I was dating a guy and really fancied him. Then he added me on Facebook. He lived in a different country and every now and again I'd peek at his profile. He was constantly adding all these scantily clad females from various countries, and that massively turned me off him. I mean if this is what he was doing behind my back at the start of a relationship, it didn't bode well for the future. So, we broke up."

Not that Ahern is taking the moral high ground. She admits to catching the social networking bug herself, which created difficulties in her relationships.

"I know it's a difficult issue because I've been doing it too. A recent boyfriend got annoyed because I became pals with the ex-love of my life on Facebook. This is someone I thought I would never speak to again. I added him while I was in a relationship. At the time my boyfriend was completely anti-Facebook and thought it a total waste of time.

"We'd be hanging out together, and I'd be sitting down on the couch next to him on my computer chatting to my ex. It was nothing sexual, just that I was curious to find out how he had progressed. It was nice to know he was still single though."

In future, Ahern says, she will be more wary about prospective partners and their online activities. "If I met someone and it became serious, I wouldn't set strict boundaries, as I wouldn't like him restricting me. But I would like to think he was respecting me and not being sneaky about it. It's too easy now to cheat on Facebook."

Another Irish girl, who asked not to be identified, believes the online chat world is a huge temptation for men who want to feel they can still attract female admirers.

"I was talking to a male friend on Facebook last night," she said. "He's in Manchester and said he was going through problems with his girlfriend and having doubts as to whether or not to keep on the relationship.

"We've been friends for donkeys' years and I was always his secret friend on Facebook. But the other night he was suggestive during messages, and I just wasn't going to feed it.

"It's definitely a guy thing and comes from a need to prove to yourself that you can still pull, especially if you are in a longer- term relationship."

Ronan Leonard, a 29-year-old single man who maintains an active online presence, doesn't agree that men are more likely to use online networking to flirt. He points out that flirting has always been part of the human experience -- it's just that nowadays technology has made it easier to engage in it.

"People are not writing lust-filled letters anymore," he says, "and online communication is a lot more spontaneous. I have never believed there is a gender divide when it comes to flirting, and that's the same for online conduct.

"Trying to establish when the line is crossed and it becomes betrayal is tricky. I think in a relationship the old general rule still applies -- if you're unsure whether or not your behavior is appropriate, then ask yourself if your partner was doing it, how would you feel?"

While there may be more chances and opportunities for partners to cheat through online connections, Leonard admits his last long-term relationship broke down due to the old fashioned kind of infidelity.

"I did cheat on my last partner. Our relationship was a long distance thing," he says.

"A lot of the build-up to our relationship was conducted through Facebook. The act of infidelity, though, had nothing to do with being online. It came about as a result of old-fashioned social networking.

"I met her in a pub."


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