The interwebs can be an awkward place. It used to be the on the internet, no one knew you were a dog, but now someone can, within minutes, not only find out what breed of dog you are but what brand of collar you wear and also your credit score.
Some would say this freedom liberates us from the stifling social norms that have inhibited human expression for centuries.
Those people are rude.
The rest of us live in a constant state of trepidation about how to transfer real-word manners into the realm of Facebook, eHarmony and Youtube videos of chimpanzees riding Segways.
The Internet Etiquetteist can help.
I’m in a long-term relationship and essentially happy. Unbeknownst to my partner, however, I harbor a craigslist addiction. I can’t get enough of the casual encounters listings and I frequently swap smutty emails with males whose ads catch my eye. I don’t intend to ever meet anyone, but still, is my craigslist/cybersex addiction cheating? It’s not like I use my real name/profession/pictures.
Let’s start with an intellectual exercise: image telling your significant other exactly what you’ve been doing. Imagine telling them every detail no matter how seemingly insignificant. I’m talking 100% honesty here.
How do they react? Are they like, “Oh honey, that’s so adorable. I love it when you masturbate to explicit emails you send back and forth with strangers”?
Or is reaction something more like, “what the fuck are you doing? That’s awful! I’m going to go into another room a cry for a seemingly excessive number of hours.”
If the more likely reaction is the latter, than what you’re doing is cheating by the only definition that matters–your partner’s. If your partner views what you’re doing as a violation of their trust, then you’re going to get in trouble if/when they find out.
Whether something fits an abstract, Platonic ideal of “cheating” or not doesn’t matter. The only way it would actually matter is if this you wanted your partner to catch you, get mad, break up with you and then, when you justified the whole thing to various third parties, you could say, “but it wasn’t even cheating.”
And that would be crazy.
See, you’d be technically correct, but the only people who exclusively care about things being technically correct are the type of people whose friends are given a hard time whenever they bring them to parties.
You say that you’re “essentially” happy in your relationship but that’s quite a bit different from “actually” being happy. If you were entirely satisfied in the relationship, it’s possible that you wouldn’t need to clandestinely find sexual gratification elsewhere.
This isn’t to say that what you’re doing is “essentially” a bad thing. There are a lot of moving parts in a relationship and the masturbating to smutty stories part isn’t always the most important (although its almost always in the top ten).
On the other hand, maybe this is an itch you don’t need to scratch with a complete stranger. Maybe you could trade sexy emails with your significant other when you’re both at work. If the secrecy and sneaking around is a big part of what gets you off, secretly writing sex fantasies instead of doing whatever it is the Lt. Governor does every day*, you’re going to get a similar rush. If you keep it all plain text, none of the Nosy Nellies in your office who are constantly looking over your shoulder will have any idea what you’re doing.
Unless, of course, ascii porn [NSFW] is involved. In that case, you’re beyond help.
If this isn’t something you can share with your partner, either because they wouldn’t appreciate it or they’re functionally illiterate, you’re going to have either cut it out or do a really good job of hiding it. If this is a real addiction, try giving Sex Addicts Anonymous a shot.
If know you’re not going to quit, stop and think about all the possible ways your partner might stumble upon your little hobby.
Not using your real name/profession isn’t just good because it helps disguise your identity, it also lets you pretend to be a sexy astronaut, which is irresistible) to people who frequent Craigslist (or so I’ve heard).
Even so, it would be smart to take at least a few more precautions. Create a new email address that you don’t use for anything else and only correspond on Craigslist though that.
Remember to put your browser in private mode whenever you do it, so a record of your activities isn’t saved in your browser history that your partner could accidentally come across while using your computer. Virtually all web browsers these days have a private mode that’s ostensibly for buying surprise birthday/Christmas but in reality is exclusively used to allow people to shamefully touch their underparts in peace.
These precautions aren’t completely secure, and they won’t come close to assuaging your guilt about your clandestine textual infidelity, but it’ll keep your secret safe.
*See what I did there?
Have a question for the Internet Etiquitteist? Send him an email.