Jillian M., a mom of two who is in a committed relationship and who has been flirting with a co-worker, is wondering if that makes her a bad person. Most of her friends say that flirting with a co-worker "is a definite no-no," but Jillian feels that her flirtation is harmless. There's "no touching or sexual advances whatsoever," she explains, and it's hard to end it because it satisfies her need for "a pick-me-up."
Jillian's situation is far from unique among moms. Many Circle of Moms members admit to occasional attractions and flirtations with friends, co-workers, or strangers, and many wonder how and where these innocent flirtations — whether their own or their significant other's — veer into dangerous territory for a couple in a committed relationship.
Here, Circle of Moms members offer three warning signs that an innocent flirtation could become a doorway to heartache and humiliation.
1. Are You Disrespecting Your Partner?
Krista E. and Kelly L. are among many moms who agree that it's normal for married people to have occasional crushes. Flirting is natural, they say, but it becomes unacceptable when done in secret or when it causes discomfort: "I think it's perfectly fine as long as your husband knows about it and is OK with it," Kelly explains, adding that it has to be done "with no other intentions."
Krista draws that line a little more strictly: "Does the activity honor your spouse?" she asks. "If not it shouldn't go any further than that."
2. Are You Living Online Instead of in Your Marriage?
Kylie H. feels that a little bit of flirting is fine at parties or social events, where everything is out in the open. It's Internet flirting that's dangerous, she says, because it transforms and intensifies quickly into the kind of connection that truly threatens a committed relationship: "an emotional affair." She would be livid, she says, if her husband was flirting or "having sexy chats with some chick on the net."
Cathy C. agrees that online flirting is "a recipe for disaster," and Jennie M. says it's more than clear when digital sparring has gone too far. Her husband reconnected with several old girlfriends through Facebook, spending more and more time online and eventually destroying several marriages. (She doesn't say whether hers was among them.)
For Tyanna H., who discovered that her partner was hanging out on dating sites, the line in the sand is felt in the gut: "If you have a feeling flirting has gone too far, it probably has," she wryly offers. Mel H. suggests a more concrete sign: when online flirting starts to involve cyber sex, dirty pictures, or flirting in chat rooms, something she indulged in herself until her partner discovered (and was hurt by) it.
3. Does Your Marriage Need Your Attention?
Finally, some moms, including Polly J., believe that "there is no such thing as innocent flirting." The goal of flirting is to attract another person, she explains, and there's no place for that in a marriage.
It's simply "disrespectful," agrees Louise G.; a husband and wife should be flirting with each other rather than with other women and men. And a mom named Shauna feels that flirting is, simply, cheating: "You made a commitment to someone and flirting is making advances toward another man who is also in a relationship." She asks moms to consider not only how flirting can impact a spouse, but also how it might affect the kids.
Elaborating on that theme, Lindsay H. suggests that flirting crosses the line when it distracts from an underlying problem that is all too common for people with children and that can be quite serious: that your relationship with your significant other needs more of your energy. "I'd say if the desire is there to meet someone online and be flirting, the current relationship may need to be evaluated," she cautions.
What rules do you have about flirting?