When Adam Levine’s cheating scandal broke, he didn’t call it an affair, but the other party did. What exactly is emotional cheating and is it worse than physical cheating?
In September, we wrote about feeling kinda ick about Leonardo DiCaprio dumping his Victoria’s Secret catalogue picks before they turn 25. Later that month, Instagram model and social-media influencer Sumner Stroh, 23, released a viral Tiktok video saying she’d had an affair with musician Adam Levine. Four other women subsequently came forward about Levine, 43, sending them inappropriate messages. IDK, male celebrities in positions of power treating hot women as interchangeable – it just doesn’t sit right, right?
Levine, whose wife Behati Prinsloo is the third Victoria’s Secret model he’s ever dated (did he and Leonardo ever meet up to flick through the catalogue?), released a written apology on Instagram. He denied having “an affair” but admitted to sending inappropriate messages. Prinsloo, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child, returned to Instagram on October 14 by posting a throwback photo of herself giving the middle finger while sticking her tongue out. I can only imagine the comments she got on that post. She deleted it a day later.
Was that middle finger meant for her husband, Stroh, gossipers, or a F**k You to the universe? Because, man, being cheated on is one thing, and the world knowing about it is another. Especially if your husband asks the other woman if he can name his baby after her. YES, FOR REAL. For context, Stroh, who stated that she made the Tiktok video because her friend was trying to sell the story to a tabloid, also said that she had been under the impression that Levine’s marriage was over.
The exact words matter here. Stroh said: “Essentially I was having an affair… Adam and I were seeing each other for about a year”. His statement said: “I used poor judgment in speaking with anyone other than my wife in ANY kind of flirtatious manner. I did not have an affair, nevertheless, I crossed the line during a regrettable period of my life. In certain instances it became inappropriate.” In response, presumably regarding his use of the word ‘affair’, Stroh posted “someone get this man a dictionary”.
Is one of them lying? Not necessarily. If it was emotional cheating, but there were no in-person physical encounters, he might not call it an affair, but she might. But if (for speculation’s sake) there was sexting, phone sex or FaceTiming, would that qualify as cheating? (I think most of us are nodding our heads.)
There’s no universal definition of the word “cheating” when it comes to relationships. But there’s a distinction between “physical cheating” and “emotional cheating” (obviously cheating is often both physical and emotional). “Emotional cheating” is when it’s deeper than just physical cheating (and may or may not include sexual encounters). This could take the form of texting, emails, phonecalls, FaceTime, workplace interactions, or communicating via dating apps.
Who knew that men and women find one kind of cheating worse than another? The largest study on infidelity, ‘Research on Jealousy: Impact of Sexual vs Emotional Infidelity,’ conducted by Chapman University in 2015, was based on a survey of nearly 64,000 participants.
Participants were asked to imagine what would upset them more: their partners having sex with someone else (but not falling in love with them) or their partners falling in love with someone else (but not having sex with them). The findings? Heterosexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to be most upset by sexual infidelity (54 percent of men vs 35 percent of women) and less likely than heterosexual women to be most upset by emotional infidelity (46 percent of men vs 65 percent of women). (There was no such significant gap, however, when it came to bisexual and gay people.)
The evolutionary perspective is that heterosexual men are hardwired to want to know the babies they’re providing for are theirs. And, as the study’s author says, for men, a woman’s sexual infidelity can “bring into question his sexual prowess and therefore threatens his masculinity”.
Meanwhile, if a heterosexual woman is more hurt by her partner’s ongoing workplace flirtation than a random pash at a bar, might this come down to the evolutionary instinct of not wanting to a lose a male protector?
Are there are different ‘levels’ or ‘degrees’ of cheating? There are certainly gray areas. A flirtation that hasn’t turned physical – it that cheating? Is a reciprocal crush with a colleague cheating? What about Justin Timberlake putting his hand on then-co-star Alisha Wainwright’s knee and holding her hand?
Well, the concept of cheating can differ from relationship to relationship.And within a couple, each individual’s perspective may differ. But, basically, it boils down to boundaries – spoken or assumed – within a relationship. Someone cheats when they violate those boundaries.
Psychologist Gregory Kushnick told Bustle.com that “a universal definition of cheating is less important than what a couple jointly defines as constituting a deviation from the agreement. Cheating can be physical, emotional, and/or digital. Cheating involves channelling sexual energy or deep, emotional support toward someone who could potentially represent a sexual partner. It usually, but not always, involves some form of deceit and neglect of your partner’s needs.”
In a survey of Bustle.com readers, 82 percent said their partner sexting someone else would be a dealbreaker, and 93 percent considered sexting as cheating. More than half of readers had been cheated on, and nearly a third were the ones who cheated.
Bridgette Jackson, founder and CEO of divorce-and-separation coaching company Equal Exes, sees a lot of emotional cheating in her practice. Yes, it often happens without physical cheating.
“Emotional cheating is defined as intimacy that’s deeper and more intense than solely sexual [cheating]. It’s really interesting that many women think emotional cheating is worse than physical and sexual cheating. Whereas with a physical relationship, sometimes deeper emotional feelings aren’t there.”
“Some American research said 45 percent of men have reportedly had an emotional affair. But it might not register with them as cheating because they haven’t consummated the relationship. A man might say ‘I didn’t sleep with that woman so it doesn’t matter, doesn’t count’. Some men don’t even realise they’re violating boundaries. Interestingly, 60 percent of emotional cheating happens in the workplace.”
For instance, a woman might consider her partner’s ongoing flirting with a colleague as cheating, and the man might not. If, for instance, that flirtation turns into confiding in each other at regular coffee catch-ups, perhaps that’s a dealbreaker.
“In one survey,” Jackson adds, “88 percent of women reported they were far more concerned about their husband being emotionally unfaithful than if they’d just had sex – which is twice as high as men in the study.”
“I think women genuinely forgive men for physical cheating more than men do women. Men, due to ego, tend to leave when they’ve been cheated on because otherwise they’re perceived as weak so that’s more internal; whereas for women it [leaving] can come from social pressure. It can feel shameful for a woman to deal with the pain of the affair and also how they’re perceived [by others] if they take their partner back. There’s that ‘you can’t stay with that person’ attitude from others.”
When two people become a couple, or if an established couple haven’t had the conversation yet, Jackson says it’s important to establish relationship boundaries, including what is considered cheating. Be upfront about expectations, boundaries and values, she says, so there are no blurred lines.
As for Levine, his new collaborative music video was released on October 20. Clip showing him shirtless are interspersed with shots of a model who resembles Stroh. Nope, not a good look, Adam.