Episode 26: Flirting or Cheating

What if your partner has always flirted in a way you define is cheating and now they want to be non-monogamous?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic - True or False: “I know how to stand up for myself”.

Listen below. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers.


Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript


I hope you can help as I’m in a situation where I’m not sure what to do next.

Basic summary: I am a 36 year old bisexual male and have been with my current bisexual female partner (29) for 7 years this August. In October last year she professed a desire to be non-monogamous. Not to date, but to just sleep with people, especially women, as she had not done this in her Uni years and early 20’s and feels like she missed out on getting to do it, as she's only ever had male partners and those have been long term and loving rather than short and sexual, or one-night-stands. She had been keeping this desire secret from our relationship for over 3 years.

We are, as of now, still monogamous.

I want what’s best for her, I always have. She is absolutely the bright spot at the centre of my universe! If there’s something she wants, I don’t want to stand in her way. But this makes me so stressed out that my mental health has been seriously affected. I’ve had to go to therapy to try and work through things. It plays on my insecurity and my anxieties (mainly around my looks and self worth and self confidence, I think she's absolutely gorgeous and I'm just fine) so badly that I can’t get it off my mind and I feel awful pretty much all the time. It’s been on my mind every day since October last year when she first brought it up. I just think I might fundamentally not want to do it. Not that I have problems with others doing it or the concept of it itself, just not for me.

When she goes out I worry about what might happen, she assures me that she wouldn’t do anything and wouldn’t cheat, but I have been told on several occasions by different people that her behaviour really gets close to the mark. I think she has a hard and fast line that cheating is purely physical, as long as she doesn’t make out with anyone or sleep with anyone then anything else is below that line is ok.

For example, I’ve been told that whilst with a group of friends (who are mostly polyamorous and have over the years all been together in different set ups with each other) that she (before we’d had *any* conversations) told the group that we were in fact, polyamorous. This lead to a bisexual woman in the group getting very close to her that evening, flirting and dancing in a very close way and touching, and when this other person wanted to move it to the next level of making out and inviting her back to her place for sex, she held her hands up and said she couldn’t and she’d got the wrong idea. They haven’t spoken since.

On another occasion she was with a friend in a bar and wrote a note to an attractive woman in a bar and passed it to them, telling them that she thought they were incredibly attractive. The woman read it and before anything could happen, my GF panicked and left the bar.

On a friend’s birthday night out, she was very touchy-feely with them and told her she was “sexy”, this person then invited them to dinner where she confessed strong sexual feelings towards my GF, which she reciprocated, but needed to check with her BF if she could sleep with or do anything with my GF. He ultimately said no (on the Saturday) but my GF had the ‘talk’ with me on the Thursday. She also has had flirty evenings with a specific male friend, who has said he’s very attracted to her and wants to sleep with her.

Both of these things, she says had zero bearing on her having the conversation with me and opening the dialogue. I want to believe her, but the timing makes me suspicious that as she suddenly had two very good opportunities on the horizon that she wanted to have the conversation with me to allow her to progress. I felt terrible feeling that she’d waited until she had something fully lined up before she spoke to me, despite her saying it was a coincidence.

From my personal experience when I’ve been out, on a recent night out for a birthday when she’d had a few drinks she got extremely tactile with people, constantly touching them and when she wants to talk to them wrapping her hand around their head and leaning right into their ear to talk to them. I had to double take because I thought she was making out with them as did a few others. She does this with female friends in the poly group, but also male strangers.

I saw this, the men in question are then buying her drinks and getting very close and I saw one of them running his hands on her body and groping her. As we hadn’t had any further discussions or set any boundaries, I got quite upset seeing this behaviour because I was there and she was doing this so I feel like she probably does this when I’m not there. I got upset and left, and a friend came to talk to me as i was so upset and eventually i went back to the house we were staying at.

My GF did not come and speak to me, despite me messaging saying I was upset. Eventually when she came back at 4am with a group of men, at least 2 of them who have messaged her and are definitely interested, she walked straight past me. I waited a few minutes and went outside to see where she was and she was sat on a chair, with her legs draped across so closely her butt was on his outer leg, the guy who hours earlier told me he was really interested in her and told me that I was a “cuck”.

I got even more upset, stormed off and told her i was going home. Some time later she caught up with me, we had a big row and I said I couldn’t cope anymore and we should probably break up. We were both probably a little too drunk to continue that conversation. The next day she came home at around 6pm, showered then came in to my workshop to see me, I apologised for my behaviour as I feel I should communicate my feelings more if she's doing something that upsets me, and she apologised for her behaviour as well (the getting up in and on people when she’s drunk, insisting she’s just being friendly but also acknowledging it may be perceived as flirty) and that’s basically where it was left. We haven’t discussed it since and again, I know I’ll have to be the one to bring it up so we can confirm where we’re at and where we’re going.

I raised that it’s been really hard and I see it as unfair on me to constantly be the one trying to work through the situation and always the one who has to bring it up as it wasn’t me who brought this into our relationship. It weighs on me every day, and some days I’m so sad and tired that I just can’t face bringing it up. Her response to this is that she’s wanted to bring it up but hasn’t because when she comes home I’m always there for her, always ask about her day and give her hugs and affection, we go for nice walks and I cook the dinner and then we snuggle up on the sofa and watch tv or listen to a podcast; and she doesn’t want to not have that on days when she’s tired and she doesn’t want to jeapordise what we have and lose it from her life by bringing it up and going down the path of non-monogamy in case she ends up losing me.

I feel like there are two versions of her, the one that wants this stable relationship and the one who wants to go out and sleep with others, and I’m not sure how this will play out or what I want to do. I don’t want to lose her, but I don’t want to get into something like ENM just to keep her in my life, as that i’m sure will ultimately end in heartache. Sometimes I think it would be nice to kiss someone else, but when it all seems to come up I seem to struggle with the anxiety and jealousy or the whole situation and it puts me off.

Since I started writing all this (it's taken me a few weeks), we were both due to go out to the Goth night where all this seems to play out but a few hours before my GF said that she didn’t want me to go as she was stressed by the potential of me going in case we ended up having another argument. I pointed out that we’d had a talk, established that communication from me and relaying how what she does makes me feel and also we’d been out a few times since then and not had arguments.

But, she was worried about me being in the environment regardless as the other nights out had been 'different'. So I decided I didn’t want to potentially put any dampeners on her night and I wanted her to enjoy, so I stayed at home. She had a gig (she’s a musician) the next day so said she’d be home by 3am. She eventually came home at 5am. I was a little worried the following day as like I mentioned earlier, I worry about her behaviour and her safety and I’m starting to realise I have some trust issues with her as while I do not feel she lies to me, I do think she may not be 100% truthful with me and herself.

This was unfortunately (I think) proven accurate as the following day she handed me her phone to take some photos of her and when I went into her gallery there were dozens of photos of her and one of the previously mentioned men who are interested hanging all over each other and being very close. While I was seeing these (I had her phone for a while, about 30 minutes), she received a message from this guy saying he really enjoyed dancing and being with her and could she send him the photos. A friend also told me that on the night my GF was pestering a female friend she has previously said is attractive into making out with her.

I just don’t know what to do. I want to stay with her because I love her so much, we click and are absolutely perfect for each other in so many ways, but this ENM stuff and her new behaviour with people with people when she is out is really upsetting for me. I really don't like that my perception is she's flirting, but she says she isn't that she's just being friendly so I don't know whether she's trying to make me feel better or i'm just misinterpreting and being sensitive. A few other people have said her behaviour seems too close to the mark to be innocent and friendly, so I just don't know.


So you keep saying that this “ethical non monogamy stuff”. What she's doing now is is not ethical at all. It's um… the thing of it is like… there are people who are naturally very flirty people and they don't really intend to be flirty. That's just kind of how they interact with people. And that's absolutely fine. And this is kind of why I think that when people get together they need to kind of establish what cheating is because as you've said, she seems to think that it's a very hard line and it has to be that she's made out or slept with someone else. And that's definitely cheating, but everything else isn't.

It's okay. Like I'm not— I don't think that there's necessarily one definition of cheating that is right for everyone. I think it's important to come to an agreement because you know, you might have a couple who both of them think that watching porn is cheating. And I don't necessarily agree with that. But if both of them agree with that and that's their definition and that works for them and I think that works for them and that's fine. Clearly, you don't have the same definitions and I don't think it's completely ridiculous for you to feel like you know, specifically the like groping and the touching… I think it's okay if that makes you feel uncomfortable.

But it would be different if that was all that was going on here. The thing that really really is making the red flags kind of come up here is that the first instance you talk about where she's with a group of polyamorous people and she tells them that she's polyamorous. There's a lot of instances of her making moves on people and then sort of getting freaked out and backing off. I think it's totally fair for you to feel upset by the fact that it seems like you know, she's insisting that these two incidents of people that she's kind of lined up, and that it's no coincidence— it's absolute coincidence that this happened. And that does kind of tend to happen sometimes where people

want non monogamy and I'm not— I don't think this makes her necessarily a bad person.

Sometimes people really want non-monogamy and it is the interest in someone else who is physically there and the opportunity being presented to them that actually makes them push to ask for it. But they have to kind of be honest about that. And the fact that she's not being honest about that is a little bit worrying. She's lying about things which isn't really cool. And I don't think it was cool that you went through her phone pictures. Like a I do think that was a little bit you know, you don't snoop unless you are prepared to act on the things that you find and snooping in that situation doesn't give you very good ethical leverage.

But she is kind of lying about what's going on. And she is, you know, you hear from other people… it's interesting because you say that she thinks this hard line of cheating is making out or sleeping with someone, and yet you're hearing on multiple instances where she's trying to make out with people and she may not be successful in that, but that still doesn't make that not cheating. You don't have to actually do it for it to be cheating.

I guess for her like she's trying to pull back the definition of cheating as much as she can so that she can do as much as you can without being guilty. But even if we were to say okay, you know all the touchy gropey stuff and dancing with people and the flirting isn't cheating but making out and sleeping with someone is. Okay. If that's the case, then her trying to make out with someone or directly saying such as in the last example that you gave where, you know, she is literally trying to get someone to make out with her. That is cheating.

Even if she isn't successful in getting that to happen, it's still cheating. And it's really not acceptable. You know, I'm really— the thing that really kind of bothers me is that you can have very different definitions of behaviours. And some people like I said, are naturally flirty, and they don't really mean it. And they… or even if they do mean to be flirty, it's not a relationship thing for them, or it's just something that— it's just a way they enjoy interacting with other people. And that's fine. Like for some people, it’s— it doesn't have to mean anything deep. It's just… They just like being flirty, and that's fine.

But what bothers me about this, and if this were different, I would try to you know, help you kind of get over that a bit— but she's not really acknowledging that her behaviour hurts you. And that's kind of the thing that that worries me about the situation. It would be one thing if she was a bit flirty and maybe was a little bit not realising how flirty she's being. Because there are you know people can be like that as well. It's just that she's flirty and she also, when you bring it up, doesn't seem to be apologising for that.

And in fact this last example you give where you both want to go out, she actually just wants you to stay home rather than— she doesn't want to deal with the emotional responsibility that her actions have. And unfortunately that's not a good sign in general because part of being polyamorous isn't the fun bit— or even non-monogamous so even if she just wants to sleep with other people, it's not all fun and games. And if that's what you want, you kind of have to be willing to deal you know and help your partner in some instances and be supportive towards them.

And here you are, you're like, “Oh, I don't want to I don't want to dampen her night and I want her to have whatever it is that she wants”. But is she really doing that for you? She's not really emotionally supporting you in any way. In fact, she's trying to avoid emotionally supporting you. She’s— now she's getting to a point where she's like, “No, I don't actually want you to come” because she wants to be able to, you know, flirt and do whatever it is she wants without you having a problem with it. And it'd be one thing if she came at you with this and was like, “Look, you know, I clearly am very flirty with people, and that upsets you and I don't want to upset you. Maybe, you know, we can go out this other time together at this other place”.

It would be one thing if she was kind of willing to acknowledge that her behaviour has the potential to hurt you and be there for you when that happens. But she instead just wants you not to be there. And then she she sort of says, “Well, I don't want to bring this up because we're having such a good time. And I don't want to have to spoil our good night where you cook, can you cuddle me and support me and I don't want to have to bring it up because it'll dampen the mood”. Like so what? Like tough shit. That's kind of how being in a relationship works.

Sometimes it's not all fun. Sometimes you have to have difficult conversations, and you can't put them off just because you don't feel like it. That's not helping anyone. You know. And you on the other hand, you seem to be willing to have those conversations, you seem to be willing to get through the difficult parts and talk about it. But she doesn't even want to talk about it. How— you know, you said it yourself that you are the person who's kind of having to bring stuff up and push the communication and that's just not a very good sign. It would be one thing— because I do think you could be in a situation where you could try ethical non monogamy, if it was ethical— and I really hate using the word “ethical non monogamy” because it's sort of like the word “consensual sex” or you know, like, if it's not— if sex is not consensual than it's not sex. It's rape. If it's not ethical non monogamy, then it’s cheating.

You know, you could be polyamorous or in an open relationship, I think very well, but you can't pull the weight of the whole relationship for you both and you can't do all the communication for you both. She has to be willing to not have a great day or deal with the kind of emotions that sometimes opening a relationship brings even if it's not, you know, full on other relationship. And she just doesn't seem to be willing to do that.

And she's also kind of— the biggest red flag is that like being with polyamorous people and saying that you're polyamorous and it turns out, you're not like… that is not okay, under any circumstances. And I bet there's no— it's not a coincidence that she hasn't spoken to those people again, or at least to that person that you know, tried to invite her back to their house because polyamorous people like, on the whole like, I mean, people are people and different in different places, but that's not a cool thing. Like we don’t— polyamorous people and polyamorous communities don't tend to like it when people are dishonest about that kind of stuff, because the whole point of it is not to be dishonest.

So yeah, I wish that there was something better I could tell you in this situation. You know, you could get a couple therapist, you could try that. But at the end of the day, you cannot force someone else into, you know, trying to talk to you about this. You can't force someone else into communicating, if they're unwilling to communicate and she just doesn't seem to be willing to communicate. She doesn't even seem to be willing to figure out a way to handle her flirtiness with other people and make you feel better. Because I do think like— I don't necessarily think that someone flirting, even being very tactile, some people are just very tactile people. I don't necessarily think that it automatically like makes her a terrible person.

And I don't think that she necessarily has like some deep ulterior motive. It may just genuinely be that she doesn't realise just how flirty she is and how she comes off. But there are points when she kind of has to be Little bit more cognisant of that and and how it affects you, and at least make an effort to making you feel better and or at least acknowledging what it's done to you or how it makes you feel. The fact that like as well, the behavior that you talked about when she— you know, you were very, very upset clearly and she comes home with like a load of guys, and one of the guys calls you a cuck. And like, she doesn't even acknowledge you and like walks past you like all of that it's just really shitty behavior. It's really shitty behavior, honestly, like, at the very least, regardless of how flirty she is, or isn't with other people, the second someone calls her partner and name and, you know, insults them, she should stick up for you and say, “Excuse me?”.

Unless you know she didn't hear it, but she should care about that. Like, you know— I don't know if the guy who called you a cuck is the same guy who sent her all the pictures are wanted to see all the pictures or whatever the hell that is. But yeah, she’s showing you on on multiple occasions that she kind of wants to do what she wants to do. And it'd be one thing if she was just flirty and didn't realize it but was still willing to work with you and still trying to help you and still trying to be sensitive to the fact that it is upsetting you, she doesn't even seem to be willing to do that.

And I think that if she's not willing to do that, then there really isn't much you can do about the situation and it's you know, this isn't even about whether or not you can do non-monogamy or if non-monogamy is for you. This is about the fact that you're kind of with someone who genuinely doesn't seem to care about your best interests and in her actions. Maybe in her words, she cares about you, but she is not really proving that with her actions. Unfortunately, she's just kind of doing what she wants to do and not really caring about the effect it has on you and really wanting deal with the effect it has on you and just putting that off or avoiding it completely which is— doesn't really spell anything good to be honest.

So yeah, in summation, like, what she's doing isn’t ethical. This isn’t  an ethical

non monogamy. It's really important to have an agreed definition of cheating but I think you're kind of well past that right now. Because based on your definition, a hard line of someone— her making out with someone or sleeping with someone, if she goes after a person with the intention of making out with them, then that is still cheating. It doesn't matter if she's successful or not. It's still cheating because she had the intention. She probably might disagree with that. But as you can tell like this is— this is a problem is somebody basically kind of trying to redefine cheating so that they're not cheating is an issue.

Clearly doesn't even matter if it meets the specific definition of what cheating is it still upsets you. And that's what's important. Like it doesn't have to be cheating to upset you. And she needs to acknowledge that and the fact that she's not willing to acknowledge the hurt that she's causing,

is kind of the biggest problem here. And the fact that you're kind of having to bring everything up, the fact that you're kind of having to have these conversations and she doesn't want to have them really, really doesn't spell a very good future for you both.

And I wish— I genuinely genuinely wish that I had something better to suggest. But I just feel like, you can try getting up polyamorous friendly couples therapist who may be can make her work on being more aware of her behaviour and acknowledging that with you and having these difficult conversations— because I don't necessarily blame her for not wanting to have shitty conversations. Like I don't blame anyone for that. But she just at some point, you got to put your big adult panties on and deal with it. That's just life and you can't force her into growing up, unfortunately.

So yeah, maybe find— if you have the access to it— a non-monogamy friendly therapist who can work with her on that if she's willing to work. If she says she is, but you need to really think about Plan B. Because if she continues to behave this way, and doesn't acknowledge it, then I don't think opening up the relationship is going to fix that. Because if anything, she'll have permission, but she's still not going to care that something is hurting your feelings and doesn't seem to be willing to fix that and until she's willing to fix that, or at least address it and have conversations about, it just doesn't spell very good things.

But I do think— you know, it is tough. I do genuinely hate it when like my best advice to someone is okay, maybe try a therapist, but it's not looking good. And maybe you should think about seeing other people. But at the end of the day like this is wearing down your mental health and you don't deserve that. You really don't deserve to feel so insecure and have good reasons for feeling insecure and feel so you know, frustrated and in this situation you don't deserve that. So I hope that helps and good luck.

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