Is Using Dating Apps While In A Relationship Cheating?

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
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Although it's pretty much universally acknowledged that being cheated on sucks, that doesn't mean cheating is a black-and-white issue. Every couple has different boundaries for their own relationship — but when it comes to using dating apps while in a relationship, is that a hard no, or are the lines a little blurrier? A new survey of 3,500 college students by ABODO Apartments — an online apartment marketplace helping college students find their next off-campus rental — found that 69 percent of people felt using dating apps while in an exclusive relationship counts as cheating, no matter the context, while others had different ideas for when dating app use wasn't okay.

"What constitutes cheating is different for every couple because each partner comes to the relationship with different beliefs and definitions of infidelity," Samantha Burns, dating coach at Love Successfully, tells Bustle. "It’s essential to set clear boundaries at the beginning of a relationship by directly discussing the topic and making your expectations known. Emotional infidelity, watching porn, and swiping on dating apps without the intention to meet up may fall into a gray area for some couples, so unless you talk about it you may be operating under different assumptions."

When Does Dating App Use Cross The Line?

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Although the majority of those surveyed by ABODO weren't at all comfortable with the idea of their partner using a dating app, others were a bit more lenient.

Around 16 percent of women, 20 percent of men, and 25 percent of non-binary folks said that they only considered using dating apps within a relationship cheating if flirty messages were exchanged.

There's a real reason for dating burnout these days; too many people lack the directness about their intentions."

"Since many, many people talk to people with no intention of ever meeting them, people don't assume that connecting with people for attention is a real problem," Stef Safran, Chicago-based matchmaker and dating coach at Stef and the City, tells Bustle. "However, there's a real reason for dating burnout these days; too many people lack the directness about their intentions."

Others surveyed by ABODO were even fine with messages — so long as there was no in-person meeting. Eight percent of men, four percent of women, and 14 percent of non-binary people said they draw the line at meeting up with someone from a dating app.

Is It OK To "Just Look"?

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Even if you only have dating apps on your phone as a means of procrastination or a way to curb your boredom, it's worth examining why you might turn to dating apps to fulfill those needs.

"I find this 'just looking' mentality extremely concerning," Burns says. "In public or at work when someone attractive walks by you may check them out or think to yourself that they are good-looking, but that’s where it should end — just a thought. However when you’re logging online you’re specifically seeking these situations out, which means you’re putting yourself in a high-risk situation for infidelity, especially when someone attractive with a great profile messages you. You may try to convince yourself it’s just for fun, you’re bored, or you want an ego boost, but your intentions aren’t really that innocent."

Instead of looking for validation via dating app, Burns says those in healthy relationships will seek that emotional connection, praise, and affection from their partner, rather than turning away from the relationship.

But When Should You Become Exclusive?

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When you meet someone via dating app and actually start dating them (instead of, ya know, being ghosted), that can feel like a modern dating miracle in and of itself. But then comes the ultimate dilemma: how do you ~subtly~ figure out whether or not they've deleted their dating apps yet? According to Burns, there's no wrong or right time to define the relationship, because every relationship develops at its own pace.

"Because so many singles utilize dating apps, they’ve become a standard part of the exclusivity conversation, which now requires a specific inquiry about the deletion of your profile," Burns says. "This is the time to dive into gray areas and define what constitutes unfaithful behavior in your eyes. What do you consider crossing the line? Is 'just looking' OK? Are you cool with your partner exchanging messages without the intention of meeting in person? What about flirty convos or cyber-sex? Only you can define what’s comfortable for you, and your partner is not a mind reader."

The Bottom Line?

The only way to know what does and does not constitute cheating in your relationship is to have a clear-cut conversation with your partner. No matter what you decide you want your relationship to look like, the most important thing is to be open and honest with your partner, and respect whatever boundaries you both agreed upon. As long as you both love, trust, and respect each other, your relationship has the potential to be super fulfilling and last a lifetime.