Dating and relationships are touchy subjects with my friends these days. We’re at that strange point in our lives where half of us are in committed relationships and half of us are single but all of us are still trying to figure out what the hell we want. I recently had dinner with several of my friends who are either married or engaged and the conversation centered on emotional affairs and what was acceptable in relationships.

To start there was a basic disagreement about what constitutes an emotional affair. The men tended to believe that an emotional affair only evolves into infidelity when an agreement is made to consummate the relationship. Flirting, dirty talk and the like were all fair game as long as no one crossed the emotional-physical boundary. The women tended to believe that an emotional affair becomes an infidelity when it effects your committed relationship. The basic rule being if you don’t feel comfortable telling your partner about it then it’s wrong.
 A couple of my male friends admitted that their partners let them get away with more because they are young, black and educated. They admit that they have taken advantage of the media painting them as rarae avessince they were in college. That the picture of being an eternally single educated black woman has shocked their partners into allowing them to get away with almost anything. I will attribute the difference in opinion between my male and female friends to a difference in urgency. As one of my girlfriends put it, there is more expectation placed on (southern) women to settle down and have families. So they are more likely to dedicate themselves fully to their committed relationships.

Before this conversation, I never thought about what would be an appropriate emotional affair. I have always considered any emotional affair inappropriate. I don’t think you should ever give someone else what should be reserved for your partner. That includes sharing the most innocent things, including your innermost thoughts, hopes and dreams. I have always believed that any (romantic) emotional energy invested outside of your relationship is an infidelity. I was surprised to find that I was alone in looking at it in such a rigid way.

Are we redefining what it means to be in a committed relationship? What does that mean for the institution of marriage? When does an emotional affair cross the line?