Girl Talk: Flirting Over Social Media? That’s Micro-Infidelity

As I’ve watched the Weinergate scandal unfold over the past few days, I’ve related to the particulars in a discomforting way. Six months, I also found myself with a partner who flirted with a woman (at least, one woman that I know of) over the Internet. The unfaithfulness on my ex-boyfriend’s part — or his micro-infidelity, as I’ve come to think of it — is an indubitable reason why our relationship tanked. Although Rep. Anthony Weiner’s transgressions over Facebook and Twitter far exceed the ways my ex-boyfriend violated my trust, I nevertheless feel some woman-to-woman solidarity with Weiner’s wife, State Department aide Huma Abedin. She, too, is likely wondering where on the relativity scale — from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hidden love child(ren) to dick pic tweets — she should classify the way her partner was unfaithful to her.

“There was a time when I might have said that flirting over social media, even sending photos, was no big deal and not tantamount to “real” cheating. But having had this experience, I know firsthand the violation of trust and the sting of unfaithfulness feels just the same. It really and truly does. It’s micro-infidelity and it’s completely unacceptable.”

I really didn’t see it coming. That’s what was saddest about my story. In his press conference yesterday, Rep. Weiner said this his wife was aware he’d been flirting with women over Facebook and Twitter before they married, but he had lied to Abedin about flirtations he’d had after they’d wed. She must have been dismayed, to say the least, but not entirely surprised. When my ex-boyfriend was caught carrying on with a woman he met over Tumblr, I was utterly shocked.

It started at Christmastime. The buildup to Christmas had been incredibly exciting for me: my ex-boyfriend was a talented home cook and over the summer I’d bought him a set of seven gently used copper pots. They were shipped to my parents’ house in Connecticut and a few weeks before Christmas, I went home for the weekend to polish every single one. I wrapped each pot up in a huge box and heaved it under my parents’ Christmas tree. I felt more excited for him to open his gifts than for me to get a gift myself.

It was all worth it, of course: when he opened my present to him on Christmas Eve, the grin on his face expanded from ear to ear. He even joked to me that since there were seven pots and pans, I’d be set with Christmas presents for the next seven years. To everyone in my family, he seemed as happy and in love with me as always.

Two days after Christmas, his behavior took a Jekyll-and-Hyde turn. Like, really Jekyll-and-Hyde. The Frisky was being sold to new owners at the beginning of the year and with any corporate changing of hands, lay-offs might be imminent. Because I didn’t know if I’d still have a job in the new year, I’d been sending out resumes and job applications for weeks. Despite a few successful interviews, there was no job that I really, really, really wanted to take as much as I wanted to stay working at The Frisky. After a third round of interviews the Monday after Christmas — third round, mind you! — I told my ex-boyfriend that I felt “meh” about the particular job I’d been interviewing for and hoped I wouldn’t have to take it. I expected him to say “there, there, everything will be fine.” I mean, that’s what any boyfriend would say, right?

What he actually said was A) I was being lazy, and B) wasn’t doing enough to find a new job. Where did this come from?! (Especially since it just wasn’t true.) I burst into tears and asked why he was being so mean. All I’d done with my free time the past several weeks was apply to jobs, go on interviews, and take edit tests! But he just smirked at me and walked out of the room, leaving me crying alone in our bedroom. The fact he walked away from me while I was crying spoke volumes. I went into the shower, where I could truly have privacy, and sobbed. He apologized for his behavior later that evening and I chalked it up to just “one of those things.”

But over the course of the next week, which included New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, this behavior repeated itself four or five times. He would pick a fight with me by insulting me somehow — he wanted me to lose weight, he thought I should wear cuter outfits, et cetera — and I would start crying as I started to defend myself. Even I’d make these promises to him to change — I’ll apply to more jobs! I’ll lose weight! — frankly, he just continued to act like a dick. It was the weirdest thing, I thought to myself at the time.

And it was awful. Each new day and each new fight sapped my energy even further. Not only was I stressed out from looking for imminent work in case I lost my job at The Frisky, but the man who loved me had inexplicably morphed into an utter a**hole in a matter of days. By New Year’s Eve, after a full week of these completely uncharacteristic fights with him, I physically felt tired from all the crying — weakened, even.

The second-to-last straw was on New Year’s Day. I was folding his laundry at his parents’ house (where we washed all our clothes) and he criticized me, extremely rudely, right in front of his father. I am folding your f**king underwear and socks, you dick, I thought to myself. How dare you talk to me in that tone of voice? And in front of your father?! The absolute final last straw came the next morning, a Sunday, when he turned to me in bed that morning and asked, “How do you know we love each other?” Mind you, the night before in that very same bed we had had sex — and New Year’s Eve at his parents’ house we had also had sex. Now my boyfriend of two years, with whom I’d been planning to become engaged, was asking how we knew we were in love? I couldn’t take this BS anymore. I called my father in Connecticut, told him I needed to get away from my ex-boyfriend, and asked him to drive to my apartment in New Jersey to pick me up. And Dad did, no questions asked.

I thought I’d only stay at my parents’ house a couple of days. (I ended up staying three months, but that’s another story.) I thought my ex-boyfriend just needed some space for an attitude adjustment. And I thought I’d need to keep myself entertained while I was away. So I packed a few books, but also our iPad.

Why it never occurred to me to suspect unfaithfulness before, I don’t know. I truly loved and trusted my ex-boyfriend. I believed he truly loved me right back. And I suppose, deep down, I am too trusting and naive. But it wasn’t until I’d arrived at my parents’ house that I suspected something fishy was going on. So I did something I had never, ever, ever done before and I signed into his email account on the iPad and started reading.

That very afternoon that I had left, my ex-boyfriend had taken a photograph of himself sitting on our living room couch and sent it to some woman I’d never heard of in Boston. I repeat: I was driving in a car with my father, 60 miles away, to give him space and he was snapping pics of himself and sending them to some other chick. Emails exchanged between my ex and this woman dated back several weeks and there were several photos exchanged between them. None of the ones I saw were explicit. But damn if I gave a shit by that point.

I called him, livid, and confronted him. Just like he’d smirked at me almost a week prior when he’d picked the first fight, he brushed off what he’d done and downplayed it. She was just an acquaintance from over the blogging site Tumblr, he said. They’d never met in person, he claimed. Sending photos was innocent, he insisted. He wasn’t cheating, he promised. And, oh, by the way, why was I breaking into his email account? (Because I don’t trust you anymore, you dick.)

Two days later he broke up with me. A few weeks after that, I moved out of the apartment we’d shared together. I’ve written about all that at length already, so it’s not worth rehashing. The whole thing got uglier and uglier and uglier — a 360-degree reversal of the two loving, respectful and happy years we’d spent together.

I’m not proud of the fact that I continued to read his email, his Facebook messages, and his Twitter DMs for two to three weeks after we broke up. It was all too easy to do over the iPad, where we had both our accounts on every social media app. I’m not proud of it because I’d never snooped on anyone before. I had previously believed that you shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone if you don’t trust them and think you have to snoop to find out the truth. I still feel that way now. But for two or three weeks after I saw that first photograph he sent of himself to the woman from Tumblr — him on our couch in our apartment, which I’d left earlier that day in tears — I felt like it was my prerogative to sleuth into what was really going on. He obviously wasn’t going to tell me himself. I deserved to know the truth. And so I snooped. (And that’s how I learned he went on a date with this woman in Boston literally days after we’d ended our two year relationship and how, adding insult to injury, he used the $160 gift certificate to a super-fancy New York City restaurant that his father had given both of us for Christmas to take this woman out. Gross, right?)

I don’t want to sound like I condone snooping. I don’t. But I’m glad that I did because it gave me the information I needed to know he was committing micro-infidelity. In my case, my ex-boyfriend was being shady as hell and unlike Rep. Weiner, I don’t think my ex would have been foolish enough using social media to get caught redhanded. My ex wouldn’t have come clean about sending photos to the woman from Tumblr — and whatever else they were doing, because who really knows — for the same reasons Anthony Weiner didn’t. He knew it was wrong and he was embarrassed. He knew it was unfaithful and he felt guilty. And he was being too much of a p**sy to just break up with me himself without going behind my back first.

There was a time when I might have said that flirting over social media, even sending photos, was no big deal and not tantamount to “real” cheating. But having had this experience, I know firsthand the violation of trust and the sting of unfaithfulness feels just the same. It really and truly does. It’s micro-infidelity and it’s completely unacceptable.

I like Rep. Weiner’s political positions and I regret how he’s tarnishing, if not ruining, his career over his Twitter and Facebook transgressions. But I don’t feel a lick of sympathy for the guy. Just because he sent pictures of himself and flirted, instead of physically climbing into bed with a woman, doesn’t make it any less bad. I hope for the sake of her dignity and self-respect, his wife feels the same way.

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