Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Does This Count As Cheating?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been dating my girlfriend for a year now and things are going great. My girlfriend doesn’t have a problem with watching pornography and vice versa. The problem is that recently when I was on a chat site, a random stranger started giving me compliments and it lead to us sexting (without webcams, just text). Now I have no plans on talking to this person ever again, so it was just a one off masturbation session in front of my pc, but is this worse than watching a porn, or even a form of cheating?

One Free Hand

DEAR ONE FREE HAND: It’s definitely not the same as watching porn. Porn is a one-sided event. You watch the video, maybe interact a little if it’s a video game, but ultimately it’s a solo endeavor. There’s you and a box of tissues, that’s it. Porn doesn’t care about getting YOU off specifically; it’s put out into the world for a general audience. Whomever gets off to it is ultimately irrelevant as long as the company that produced it gets the MSRP, clicks or subscription fees. Striking up a sexting session with a stranger from Snapchat, Chatrubate or some other app, on the other hand is interactive. There’s another person involved, even when it’s just text back and forth. It’s the difference between watching someone on a porn-site and paying for a one-on-one webcam show where the same porn star performs specifically for you. It’s not just masturbating, it’s interaction. Someone else is directly contributing to your resulting orgasm.

So no, this isn’t the same as a solo session with the Pornhub open with your mouse in one hand and you in the other.

But is this a form of cheating? Well that’s where you get into a questionable area. Some people – and you’ll be hearing from them in the comments – will tell you that yes, that is unequivocally cheating. Some would argue that it’s not that different from going to a strip-club and getting some high-contact lap-dances. Some will say that because there was no actual contact involved, it’s not quite the same; at the very least, it’s a lesser offense than actually going out and having massage with a happy ending.

Ultimately it comes down to the arrangement you have with your girlfriend. Some people have complete monogamy – no kissing anyone but your partner, no touching of breasts, butts or genitals, no outside help getting any orgasms at all. Some are more monogamish — hat tip to Dan Savage — where there is somewhat more leeway in what is or isn’t cheating. Maybe someone else masturbating you is ok but oral sex isn’t. Or oral’s cool but no penetration. Still other couples are have open relationships; sex outside the relationship is allowed, within the agreed-upon rules

But the key to all of these is that they were negotiated in advance. Going outside what everybody agreed to means that yes, you’re totally cheating.

Because of the way our culture tends to view relationships, in an exclusive relationship, traditional monogamy is the assumed default unless otherwise specified. I think that’s a mistake and people should make this part of their Defining The Relationship conversation… but most people are going to assume that outside contact isn’t permitted.

So was this sexting session cheating? Well, let’s put it this way: do you feel that if you were to tell your girlfriend about this, she’d be upset? If so, then it’s probably a safe bet that she’s going to consider it cheating and your ass is going to be in trouble.

And to be perfectly honest, she’s not wrong to be upset about it. I’ll freely admit that my views on cheating are nuanced and that not all affairs are equal, this was still a crappy thing to do. This isn’t what I would consider a relationship-destroying event, but it’s definitely something that would put you in the doghouse until your girlfriend decided to forgive you.

Now, it’s entirely possible that she might not consider it cheating. You don’t know until you’ve talked with her. And hey, this may be your impetuous to define terms and make sure that the two of you are on the same page with regards to what is and isn’t allowed in your relationship.

But if you want a definitive answer as to whether this was cheating? You’re going to have to ask your girlfriend.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a sophomore in college, wrapping up my second year. I’m fairly heavily introverted, and I tend to relegate my free time to online gaming, which is more socially manageable. At least that’s what I tell myself.

About three years ago, I was introduced to a female gamer, “Player X,” by a male online acquaintance of ours, “Player Y.” Unfortunately, it was at a time when I was headed out the door as far as online activity goes. I had just finished high school and gotten a crummy full time job until college. For all intents and purposes, I dropped off of Player X’s radar for two years. During that time, she developed a close friendship with Player Y, although they don’t call it more than that.

At the start of my sophomore year, I got back into the gaming scene with the release of a new MMORPG that caught my attention. I reconnected with Players X and Y, and we’ve been doing online activities together almost daily for the past nine months or so. I’ve really taken a liking to her, and I awkwardly let them both know, individually, in December. Player X didn’t confess a reciprocation or flat out reject me in the moment, and she seems to have taken it well. However, Player Y finally admitted to me that he also has feelings for her; he’s apparently been patiently waiting for her to turn to him in a romantic sense all this time. My relationship with Player Y has been strained since then.

In the past months, Player X and I have become somewhat closer at the expense of my friendship with Player Y. He’s somewhat jealous and controlling, which has led to a certain distance between the two of them. They recently “patched things up” after a lengthy ordeal that hasn’t fully resolved. I’m worried that their relationship is unhealthy, but I went out of my way to support her by letting her know that I was ok with him being around if that’s what she wants. It’s difficult because I can be passive aggressive about these things.

In June, Player X will graduate from college. I don’t know how available she will be for online activities, and I’m guessing that she probably doesn’t either. She’s got her whole life ahead of her, after all. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m approaching this unfathomable cliff as time rolls on. She’s shared a decent amount of her personal life with me up to this point, but she’s held onto her anonymity this entire time. Somewhere along the lines, it got into my head that I could blink and she’d be gone. I’ve asked about contact information previously on a similar matter (I was going to be away for work for a couple of weeks), and she gave me an email address associated with her online pseudonym, keeping her identity on the quiet side. Neither of which were comforting but accepted.

Lately, I’ve been wanting to talk to Player X about slowly moving our friendship from online to offline. I want to meet her someday for lunch, drinks, a concert, dancing, etc. I don’t know where to begin to communicate any of this with her without potentially pushing her away. I’ve been working on building trust and stability between the two of us, but it hasn’t been easy with her attention divided between Player Y and me. The whole thing seems like a mess when you get down to the details, and there’s days when I feel like walking away from it all. However, spending time with her has become an integral part of my life, and it I don’t want to give it up. Any advice you have would be welcome.

Thanks for your time,

Player Z

DEAR PLAYER Z: I hate to say it, Player Z but you’re not playing the game you think you are.  You think you’re on the road to romance with the mysterious Player X. You’re working under the idea that every time Player Y comes into the chat room with the two of you, somebody’s just stepped up, slapped down his quarters and he’s competing with you for the hand of Player X.

In reality… not so much.

You and Player Y aren’t in competition here because a) women aren’t a prize to be won and b) she doesn’t want to take things offline.


I hate to be the one to tell you this but if X was interested in getting in contact with you out in the real world, she wouldn’t still be holding off on giving you her real name or she wouldn’t have given you a burner email account that’s not connected to her real-world identity. You’ve been hanging out with her and your buddy/rival Y for the last 9 months – that’s more than enough time for her to get comfortable enough with you to at least give you her first name, which she hasn’t. This should be your big clue as to where this is all going. She has made the conscious decision to keep you at a few steps removed from her real life. You’re not Facebook friends, you don’t follow each other on Twitter or Instagram. You just have the game. And that’s where she wants to leave it.

Maybe she has reasons. Maybe this is her fantasy life and it doesn’t resemble her real one at all. Maybe she’s had a bad experience with stalkers. Or maybe she doesn’t want to encourage your crush but doesn’t want to hurt you by outright rejecting you either.

This has nothing to do with her relationship – platonic or otherwise – with Player Y and it has this has everything to do with the one she has with YOU. The fact is that you’re a gaming buddy, maybe a Guild-y but that’s it. Even if Player Y were to suddenly disappear in a cloud of logic and sulfur, Player X just isn’t into you. If she were even slightly interested in being more than a gaming bud – even just platonic friends –  you’d know more than her handle. But you don’t. And that, ultimately, is that.

(And as an aside: Player Y isn’t exactly covering himself in glory by waiting for her feelings to turn romantic. He’s likely going to be waiting a long, long time.)

The best thing you could do is accept this and move on. There will be other women – women who want to actually get to know you in real life and actually go do date-type things out in the real world instead of in the hub between end-game raids.

Good luck.

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