I thought we might have killed the term a couple years ago, but it's making a disconcerting reappearance this week. "Micro-cheating," a supposed thing your partner does that you can't call cheating but still take offense to is a radically poor use of labeling - and quite frankly, equally antiquated.
I'd love to call this NY Post article the most egregious one I've come upon, but it's not. "Micro-cheating is a relatively new term for all the tiny ways you can be unfaithful without actually exchanging any bodily fluids or sweet nothings," it begins. It continues into dangerously restrictive territory: "Ever sent your ex a message reminding them of a good memory you share? Micro-cheating. Have inside jokes or nicknames with someone other than your partner? Micro-cheating."
In the age of phrases like "monogamish" and the wisdom of Esther Perel, it had seemed like we as a culture had begun to take a closer look at the unflinching, unnatural definitions of monogamy, making more room for human nature. While most couples still practice sexual monogamy, we've at least started to understand that it's human nature to find someone else attractive. That couples need a little space and freedom if they want to maintain a stable bond and fulfilling relationship. That having friends - even of the opposite sex - that we practice emotional intimacy with is important to our mental health. To become some wholly involved with your partner that you never see anyone else isn't natural.
Yet suddenly, those among us who don't want to practice the kind of self-awareness that might yield a little insight into the emotional landscape of relationships opt for the phrase "micro-cheating." Two Thought Catalogue posts that I had initially hoped were satire list things like "addressing a man by his name unexpectedly (e.g. “Hey, Doug” instead of just “Hey”), which breeds a strangely powerful sense of intimacy" and "reaching out to a girl who’s 'just a friend' for a recommendation or advice on an issue he could easily Google the answer to because he feels like bantering" as examples.
Granted, the NY Post linked to a Huffington Post article about the same topic that had slightly more substance.
"If your partner is having private conversations or online chats that he/she quickly shuts down when you enter the room; if they are reaching out to an ex to mark an anniversary or other significant shared, intimate event; perhaps they are offering compliments to other guys/girls that they don't say to you; or maybe they meet up with someone of the opposite sex under the guise of a business meeting, when you discover no business was actually done... these are all signs to look out for."
But these, I'd argue, aren't instances of "micro-cheating" either. If you can't call it cheating, it's not cheating. Relationships are all unique, and partners are all comfortable with different things. If your boyfriend has a close friendship with a female coworker and it makes you feel nervous, just be honest about your feelings and discuss it with him - don't accuse him of "micro-cheating." Don't fuel your own blatant insecurity by controlling what your girlfriend wears when she goes out under the pretense that it's her that's in the wrong. If someone is emotionally cheating on you, call it that. If you partner is inconsiderate or shady, they're not "micro-cheating" - they're just shitty, and you should find someone less shitty to be with.
We have words for all these things - words that aren't a slippery catchall for unexamined emotions.