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Advice – What is considered emotional affair?

I (27/F) am very upset that my relationship has ended because my ex boyfriend, “Todd” (30/M), thought that I have an inappropriate relationship with my best friend, “Zach” (27/M).

Zach and I met over a year ago and quickly became best friends. We are in the same professional program and rely on each other a lot. He is also my lab partner and I am required to spend at least 3-4 hours with him a week. Todd and I met four months ago, and our relationship had been incredible aside from his issues with Zach. He checks all the boxes, and I could see us having a serious and long term relationship.

Now this is what I don’t understand. I do talk to Zach everyday. We text frequently about school or ongoing drama with our friends. We’ve never had a romantic or physical relationship. However, I’ve told Todd that I don’t have an interest in Zach as anything more than friends, but Todd still sees the relationship as inappropriate due to the frequency that Zach and I talk, and because we’ve talked about intimate details of our lives. Nothing too graphic, but Zach supported me when I was having trouble in school and when my dad had a health scare. I would say that Zach has been an excellent friend to me and one that I can trust.

Todd doesn’t like Zach because he thinks Zach would sleep with me if given the chance. And thus, this is why Todd thinks I’m having an emotional affair. He thinks I’m too close with Zach and he shouldn’t have to “share me” with anyone. He thinks it’s wrong that I asked for support from Zach and that I’m leading Zach on. I can see his point – Todd should be the number one guy in my life. And I thought he was.

So I guess what I’m asking has two parts. How do I get over Todd’s judgment when I feel like I haven’t done anything wrong? And was my relationship with Zach truly inappropriate and emotional cheating?

/u/TomorrowProof9689, Reddit.

Dear Tomorrow Proof,

Let’s start by defining an act of infidelity. An act of infidelity is loosely defined as an intentional violation of any explicit or implicit relationship agreement(s). There are few socially agreed-upon and implicit relationship agreements, such as “Do not have sexual encounters with other people while we are in a monogamous relationship.” However, most of the specific relationship agreements are for the people in that specific relationship to determine.

Based on what you have shared, I don’t get the sense that “Do not have close friendships with someone of the opposite gender” was not an explicit relationship agreement. As such, I don’t think that we can qualify your deep and rewarding friendship with Zach as infidelity.

Even if we look only at the emotional infidelity, I don’t think we can qualify your connection with Zach as an emotional infidelity. In general, emotional infidelity is even more ambiguously defined as any pursuit of forging a romantic connection without a physical/sexual component that usually earmarks any infidelity, which is distinctly untrue for your connection with Zach.

It is difficult to fully gather Todd’s rationale on how he saw your connection with Zach. But I think we can make some educated guesses based on what he said and what made him feel insecure before we get to what this means for you personally.

Let’s first talk about what Todd said.

Todd said that he saw your connection with Zach as inappropriate because:

  1. Of how frequently you and Zach exchanged messages;
  2. Of the depth of your connection with each other.

Both of those rationale speak more about what he personally assesses as inappropriate, completely without any reflection from what your actual stated intentions were. In fact, the context of your connection with Zach alone should have explained the frequency of your communication with Zach (since you two are in the same professional program) as well as the depth of your connection (since Zach helped you manage your emotional labor associated with school as well as with your dad’s health scare). So in his words, he not only disregarded the context of your connection with Zach but also disregarded your own words that defined your lack of romantic intention toward Zach.

I also want to touch on Todd’s comment about how he thinks Zach will sleep with you “if given the chance”.

What does “if given the chance” even mean? Is he implying that you have poor judgment and therefore should feel unsafe around Zach because he will disregard your lack of interest and disregard your complete lack of consent? Or is Todd saying that he doesn’t take you at your word when you declared your lack of romantic or sexual intention toward Zach?

I get the feeling that his animosity towards Zach is more likely a product of his own projection rather than one that is grounded in the reality of your connection with Zach.

That gives us a better idea on what made Todd feel so insecure.

In modern monogamous relationships, we are so often programmed to believe that we must be everything for our partners – emotionally, physically, and sexually. And any failure to fulfill all of your partner’s needs is immediately unbecoming of you as a partner. It is at core an incredibly faulty and dangerously unhealthy premise because asking one person to meet all of your needs for your entire life is too much of a Big Ask. A much more reasonable expectation to uphold is that you’ll do your best to meet as many of your partner’s essential needs as is reasonable.

It could be that when you sought out Zach’s emotional support, Todd could have felt like he was unable to meet your emotional need in that specific way. And that inability to meet your need fed into his insecurity about your connection with Zach, which in turn manifested through his underlying animosity toward Zach for providing that which Todd himself could not or were not made available to provide. Note that what Todd believes as his perspective on your reality is very different from your own perspective on your own reality. This is important.

You can also see his rationale spreading and manifesting in your retrospective justification as well.

He thinks it’s wrong that I asked for support from Zach and that I’m leading Zach on.

Just because he thinks that it is inappropriate for you to seek emotional support from a friend doesn’t mean that you should think so as well. Just because he thinks you are leading Zach on doesn’t mean that you are actually leading him on. Zach knew that you were in a monogamous relationship, and you knew you had no romantic or sexual feelings towards Zach. You are grounded in your own beliefs and needs; and if you believe that diversifying your emotional support portfolio by maintaining close connections with multiple people of different genders is better for your mental health, it isn’t your partner’s place to judge you or critique your connections. And in a way, it looks like his projection of his own insecurity has morphed and manifested in self-internalized guilt for you (“I can see his point – Todd should be the number one guy in my life. And I thought he was.“).

So let’s go back to the two-part question you asked at the end of your post.

I’ll answer the second question first (“And was my relationship with Zach truly inappropriate and emotional cheating?”). No. I don’t think the connection you have with Zach qualifies as cheating. It is perfectly okay to maintain a close connection with anyone who feels good for you to stay connected with as long as you feel confident in your own ability to set appropriate boundaries.

As for getting over Todd’s judgment, it is okay to feel some guilt over the end of any intimate connection. Your feelings are real and valid. And if you feel that you did nothing wrong in fostering a deep connection with a platonic friend in Zach, then your feelings also have weight. Regardless of the happenstance surrounding the end of your relationship with Todd, give yourself some space and time to grieve the end of your intimate connection with another human being. Allow your feelings to complete the cycle.

It is important to remember that the narrative you want to create from here on out is yours and yours only. Will you choose to beholden to a twisted story that your ex will weave in order to avoid resolving his insecurities, even as an echo? Or will you choose to write your own story based on your own experiences using your own words?

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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