Where's the line for online opposite sex relationships for committed people?

Where is the line for how a person in a committed relationship should act with single online friends of the sex they are normally attracted to? Where are the boundaries that a married man or woman shouldn’t cross, or allow their single online friend to pull them across? What specific behaviour would you consider over the line if your spouse was engaging in it? How do you know where your lines are in a relationship, and that a line has been crossed, rather than a spouse just over-reacting?

I’ve seen this topic come up various times both online and during in-person conversations. One of the common responses I see, and which I happen to agree with, is to ask whether what you’re doing is something you’d be afraid for your spouse to find out.

In other words, is your flirting to a degree that you would be ashamed or worse if your spouse were to see what you were typing? If so, you’re probably over the line in terms of your relationship’s boundaries.

But in re-reading your OP, it seems that you might be asking more about what’s morally OK, which may or may not coincide with how your spouse feels about it. I’m not sure you can really make that distinction. If your spouse isn’t OK with what you’re doing, then it doesn’t work for the relationship. If you feel strongly that what you’re doing is OK, and your spouse feels strongly that it isn’t, then there’s a problem in the relationship that has to be addressed, or the relationship won’t work.

I’m getting ready to leave work, so I apologize if that wasn’t as coherent as I’d hoped. I may revisit the issue when I get home.

Is it something you would do in front of your SO? Is it something you would be embarassed/ashamed for your SO to find out about? If it’s something you wouldn’t want your SO to do to you - it’s not right for you to do it to them.

Most of my friends are girls and I am married. I don’t really have a lot of boundaries other than no sex. It is really about quantity. If I wanted to take a female friend out to dinner once, it wouldn’t be a big deal. If I wanted to do it every Thursday, it would. I don’t even believe much in the secrecy rule in an absolute way. All my relationships have secrets or activities that are exclusive to it even if it is rather mundane. My spouse and I have one of the most important relationships but it isn’t the only one. I don’t believe relationships are a linear hierarchy but rather a bubble chart where some bubbles are bigger and they are all connected in different ways. I believe that my relationship with my spouse should have a bigger bubble than other non-family females but it doesn’t dominate all of them simultaneously either.

I am going to disagree with this a little bit. We have to treat our loved ones by their standards, not our own. If something bugs your SO, it doens’t really matter if it would bug you or not–it has to be dealt with. That doens’t mean that what you are doing is wrong, or that a person always has to change if their partner doens’t like something, but you can’t just make the standard “well, it wouldn’t bug me”.

This goes for little things–I mean, a horribly dirty kitchen bugs me more than my partner, but he chips in and helps keep it clean because if it matters to me, he’ll respect that even if he doesn’t understand. But it also applies to big things, like relationships–if something makes your partner uncomfortable, it has to be worked through and a compromise reached, even if their concern doesn’t make any sense to you.

If a compromise can’t be reached–they can’t be happy with any form of the relationship that you can be happy with–then you have to decide what’s more important–the happiness you get from your relationship with your spouse, or that other relationships/the freedom to have that sort of relationship, and they have to decide fi they’d rather have you with that relationship or not at all. And it’s totally reasonable for either party to leave over something like that.

You user name indicates you are a female. What if you said something in a forum here and I thought it was great and we e-mailed back and forth about it. It certainly doesn’t have to be sexual or it could be in an indirect, joking sort of way. Then, either SO reads the e-mail and gets furious over nothing in both our views. Would that be reason to stop e-mailing me, reading my posts, or dropping the SDMB another. I think not and there is tons of stuff I say here and elsewhere that I just don’t want my SO to know because is doesn’t concern and she would probably find it confusing out of context. Most relationships big and small are that way to some degree.

Well the if-your-SO-gets-upset standard won’t work if your partner is a chronic over-reacter. I would say, however, if this is a problem, you should probably reconsider the whole relationship. Chronically over-reacting not only shows that there are deeper issues that need to be contended with, but it’s also something that will be a problem in all aspects of your life, not just with jealousy.

There’s nothing I’ve posted on the SDMB that I would be afraid for my Hubby to see, and I’ve been posting for seven years. It’s my opinion that if you’re thinking thoughts about your SO that you’re afraid for them to know, you already have problems. Communication is essential to a good relationship. If you have to hide that you’re feeling frustrated, or angry, or unappreciated, etc. you’ve got really big problems.

I don’t think there is a “the line”. There’s what the people involved are comfortable with and what they’ve agreed to.

I think in a lot of relationships people just presume that their partner knows “the rules” and this tends to come back to bite them on the ass when said partner does something that’s “against the rules” and suddenly it becomes clear that they’re not using the same playbook at all. I prefer having agreements explicit so that people don’t get surprised by them, and even with that preference I sometimes wind up blindsided by one of those “But I thought …” moments.

(Consider a monogamous relationship; both parties agree that they’re exclusive. Is exclusivity violated by going out to dinner with a friend? Snuggling? Flirting? Flirting with people recreationally, with no actual relationship context whatsoever? Expressing attractions or desires? Having attractions or desires? Emotional attachment? Sexual attraction so long as it doesn’t involve actually having sex? Having sex so long as it doesn’t have emotional attachment? I’ve seen different people have different answers to all of these.)

I don’t think there’s an answer to “how do you know” that doesn’t at some point come down to talking about things with one’s partner and figuring out what your respective comfort levels and senses of what matters are.

Exactly. When my boyfriend and I got together we actually sat down and discussed our boundaries - unusual, at the very least, but we got some important stuff out of it:

  • His daughters are more important to him than me. And that’s something I agree with - if he put me above his daughters I wouldn’t be dating him, because he’d be, in my opinion, a horrible person.

  • Holding hands, cuddling, kissing, having sex with anyone other than each other - BIG no no. Those are things we both believe that you only do with someone you love and are in a relationship with (we’re weird about PDA).

We also have an agreement that if Dexter Holland of the Offspring comes to the door for me, or Meg Ryan for him, all bets are off (for sex - we can’t leave each other over that, but we can have sex). We’re weird. lol.

I generally agree with everyone about “if you wouldn’t want your s/o to find out about it,” you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule. My personal boundaries are that if you start falling in love with someone else, but love me too, that’s cheating - a crush is one thing, actual love is another. Pick one or the other, you can’t have both. Then again, my boyfriend doesn’t really use the Internet much. And I’ve never been one for online dating anyway.

I’ve never done anything online that I would be afraid to let my boyfriend read.

~Tasha

Exactly - that’s why I posted it the way I did. I know how my SO would react to what I do; I don’t know how anyone else’s SO would react to the exact same thing. My husband is a RN; he works with a lot of women and gets phone calls from them. When a woman calls for him, I don’t have a hissy or ask “who are you? What is this about?” - I give him the phone if he’s home or take a message if he’s not.

Only you know when you are crossing boundaries. What is unthinkable for one couple might be routine for another. I am a big hockey fan, and because of my husbands work schedule I more often than not go to games without him. Have I made male friends? Yes. Have I had affairs? No. Some of my hockey friends have become my husbands friends also.

If I am doing something and have to wonder if it would bother my husband, that is a sign that I probably shouldn’t be doing it. But again, that will vary from couple to couple, and may change as the relationship ages.

I used to think that the rule of “don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want your SO to see” was good enough, but I’m starting to think that online relationship issues are more complicated than that. What if the friends are the ones who have trouble finding the boundaries, and your SO doesn’t realize what he’s involved with? If the spouse with the close friends isn’t concerned, does the other spouse have no grounds for worry either?

In any interaction you are involved in, online or real life, you have to set the boundaries you are comfortable with. I have IM friends I’ve never met in real life, but we don’t engage in sex talk - we mostly swap cut cat pics we’ve found online. I would never have to worry about my SO walking in while I was in the middle of an IM and reading over my shoulder.

Your e-mail buddy’s SO may be comfortable with them having sex talk online. Some people are of the opinion that “that’s not cheating”. Your SO may be very hurt by you engaging in sex talk with someone else online. It all varies on what your and your SO have set as your personal boundaries.

I think I’m with Shagnasty on this one. But I admit that I have found myself in trouble to some degree more than once.
The whole “could I do it in front of him/her” thing doesn’t work for me. I liken that to a parent-child relationship and even children who reach a certain age deserve some level of personal privacy.
The whole subject bothers me in a lot of ways and the only conclusion I can come to is that people and relationships are imperfect at best.

(Bolding mine)

OK, let’s say my SO has an online female friend. I think she’s a little too involved in their friendship, although he doesn’t think it’s anything. I guess it’s up to me to tell him that I feel she’s crossing a line, and he needs to handle that. Because, to paraphrase Shagnasty, I’m the big bubble (and to diagree with him, I think that we - our family unit, that is - trump all the other bubbles all the time). That “line” may bend and sway from interaction to interaction, so you (or the SO) might have to point it out from time to time, just to make sure you both know where it is.

I guess I’ve just never felt the need to keep things private* from my Hubby. I married him because I could talk to him about anything. There’s no one in the world who has been told more of my secrets or who knows me better. He’s my best friend.

He doesn’t read over my shoulder, or go through my posts, but if he wanted to, he could. I wouldn’t care.

*Of course, bathroom activities are different.

That’s how I am with my husband. I don’t hide anything from him. But then again, he doesn’t look. We’ve been married for almost 16 years (and knew each other 11 years before that) - I don’t go in his dresser drawers. He puts up his own undies and socks, because that, to me, is private. I don’t go into his wallet - if I need cash from him, I bring his wallet to him, which frustrates him beyond belief.

*Bathroom activities are different, but you never realize how much you appreciate being married to a nurse until you have 69 stitches in your forearms and can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself.

What about a female friend who tells your husband her secrets and expects him to keep them from you?

Hubby’s very open about the fact that he doesn’t keep anything from me. The people with whom he works know this and they know he’ll likely ask my advice/opinion. I suppose if they insisted they didn’t want him to say anything to me, they just wouldn’t tell him the secret. I dunno. It’s never come up.

A refusal to keep secrets from me is why Hubby declined to join the Masons. They told him that he had to keep the ceremonial aspects of their meetings secret, so he told them thanks, but no thanks.

What about sexual fantasies? Do they count as something that should be shared? What if they involve people other than your spouse?

Just asking.

Sure, they should be shared. Why is it necessary to keep them secret? It’s human nature to find other people attractive, and it’s not cheating to imagine. It only becomes worrisome when it’s a fixation and you don’t find your partner attractive because they’re not like the object of your fantasy.

I’d be sad if Hubby didn’t think he could trust me with his innermost thoughts.