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Is emotional cheating actually cheating?
Or, to put it another way, when is cheating not cheating? I think cheating is only cheating when it involves something physical happening by interacting with another person.
This debate came up because Gabe and Dominic, the two main characters in And Then That Happened, both have boyfriends when they meet. At first they are friends, but then as it becomes apparent there are a whole host of issues in their own relationships, they look to one another for emotional support and solace. Evidently, this is emotional cheating. Or is it?
If you read the reviews on Goodreads And Then That Happened really divided opinions. One reviewer said it was, ‘a beautifully rendered portrait of the death of a long-term relationship and the long, slow birth of a new one.’ Another review said, Dominic ‘was emotionally cheating on Luke the whole time, which in many ways is worse imo.’ Personally I’m happier to have made some strong reactions from the story than to have been faced with a sea of meh whatever reviews. Just to let you know, Dominic and Gabe end up together at the end of the story – it’s not a massive spoiler really is it, because it’s a gay romance, so a happy ending is expected. I’ll come back to the reaction it got from readers and why I think that is.
I think this concept of getting emotional support from someone other than your boyfriend isn’t cheating. I’m quite black and white about this; if something physical happens with another person that’s cheating. Going to someone for emotional support; discussing personal problems with someone other than your boyfriend; even beginning to fall for someone else emotionally – for me, none of these count as cheating.
At its most basic level, if your boyfriend falls in love with someone else you can’t stop that from happening. You can’t make people love you or fall in love with you; it just happens. In And Then That Happened, Dominic and Gabe realise the full feelings they have for one another gradually. So if your boyfriend’s fallen for someone else there are a few choices: you leave him to be with the other person – a sort of if you love him set him free approach. Or you fight for him to stay with you (and in my experience he’ll leave you anyway a few months later.) In short, once he’s fallen in love with someone else, the love in your relationship is on its way out the door, so you’re probably both better off out of that relationship. This applies to falling in love with someone, not physical cheating which is a whole different kettle of fish we don’t have time for here.
As for all the rest of the emotional ‘cheating’ this indicates for me that emotional support is lacking in your own relationship, so the partner can’t come to you for this, he turns to someone else. Or it may be that the emotional cheating is about your relationship, and that the partner has tried to talk to you about it, but you’re not interested in hearing it, so who can blame him for seeking emotional support from someone else? For me, this is definitely still NOT cheating. And if you do think it’s cheating, then I put it to you that you’re focussing on the wrong thing. Instead, how about trying to focus on why he’s discussing your failing relationship with someone else, or what’s gone wrong emotionally in your own relationship?
Same gender friendships
What struck me about the reaction to And Then That Happened on Goodreads was how some of the reviews were so black and white about this emotional cheating aspect. I’m going to try and unpack why I think that is. I can’t know this without actually talking to the people who left those reviews, but based on statistics in the gay romance genre, 70% or more of the readers will be women. I think what’s happened is these women may have imposed their ideas of emotional cheating from their straight relationship with a man into the gay friendship between Gabe and Dominic. (I know not all the female readers will be straight women, some may be bisexual and others may be lesbian, but again, based on the general readership of the genre, and the population overall, the majority tend to be women who identify as straight.)
And here’s the problem with imposing a straight set of values onto a gay friendship and gay relationship: most straight women tend to have close and sharing emotional relationships with other straight women and not straight men. Hence the likelihood of this emotional cheating happening between a straight women and her straight male friend are relatively low. However, most gay men tend to have this sort of emotional sharing and close relationship with either a straight woman or another gay man. (Again, this isn’t based on anything scientific, except my friendships, those of my friends, and others I know of. I’m not saying gay men aren’t friends with straight women, it’s that gay men’s friendships with other gay men that include emotional support are more common that straight women’s friendships with straight men that include emotional support.) And in the latter situation – two gay men being friends – unlike the former – two straight women being friends – there is the possibility of sexual physical cheating happening.
So what does all this mean? Just like Dominic and Gabe’s friendship in And Then That Happened, it is common for two gay men to have an emotionally supportive friendship where what could be viewed as emotional cheating takes place – but in many gay men’s support systems that is the only option they have for this sort of support, whatever it’s about. The fact the two gay men emotionally support one another behind their boyfriends’ backs is due to them having that close emotional bond (in the same way two straight women could be very close friends). And the fact that these two gay men could physically cheat on their boyfriends with each other, doesn’t mean that 1) they will and 2) that the emotional support is cheating or 3) that gay men shouldn’t look to one another for emotional support while being in a relationship.
That’s pretty complicated isn’t it, and only now having written it down do I realise how complex it is, although it’s something I’ve taken for granted my whole adult life as I’ve had many close friendships with other gay men, while we both often had boyfriends.
If I got funny about Himself having close gay male friends he wouldn’t have much of his close friendship group left. Many of these guys are his ex boyfriends anyway. Similarly, I’m still friends with quite a few of my ex boyfriends, because you know, people move on, relationships end, and gay men can be friends with other gay men before and after sleeping with each other, and it’s all fine.
If you think you’d like to read about two men starting as friends and ending as lovers in what I hope is a realistic portrayal of gay male relationships, I’d love you to try And Then That Happened.
It’s 1999 and 28-year-old Dominic’s carefully planned suburban life with his boyfriend Luke is perfect. His job as a nurse, his best friend Matt, his relationship with his parents, everything is just right. He and Luke have been together ten years, seen each other through friends’ deaths and their parents’ ups and downs, and even had a commitment ceremony.
Gabe isn’t happy with his boyfriend, but he stays with him, because, well it’s complicated.
Fate throws Gabe into Dominic’s life. And then that happened. Gabe’s open relationship, impulsive nature, enthusiasm for life and straight talking advice are fascinating to Dominic. They’re friends, they click over a shared love of Goldie Hawn and Gabe shows Dominic there can be more to life than planned and safe. So why can’t he take his own advice?
And Then That Happened is about finding a new kind of happiness, even when what you have is already perfect. And how sometimes perfect isn’t quite what it seems