If you’re in a relationship, looking at others in a sexual or romantic light is known as having a “wandering eye.”
Whether this is OK depends on your individual relationship’s boundaries.
Having a wandering eye could include blatantly checking out someone other than your partner(s) or flirting with them.
It could also include admiring someone’s physical beauty, commenting on them, or touching them.
Some people also use the term “wandering eye” to mean you simply find others attractive.
Some people might define having a wandering eye as cheating.
It depends on your definition of having a wandering eye and your definition of cheating — some people believe flirting is cheating, while others don’t.
You might consider having a wandering eye to be the same as micro-cheating.
However, a wandering eye is usually about someone checking someone else out and flirting with them, but not necessarily engaging in a sexual or romantic relationship with them.
With that said, many people believe that these behaviors could lead to cheating later down the line.
This depends on your personal definition.
For example, “wandering” might look like:
- flirting with someone other than your partner(s)
- telling someone that they’re sexy, attractive, or beautiful
- attempting to make plans to date or cheat with someone else
- blatantly checking out someone else
- talking about your sexual desires or fantasies with someone else
- fantasizing about someone or masturbating to the thought of them
Sometimes the issue is comparison-based. In a social setting, someone might give more attention to a friend instead of their partner(s). This might make their partner(s) feel like they’re second best.
Again, the above scenarios might be perfectly fine for some couples. For example, many people are totally fine with their partners fantasizing about another person.
In general, having a wandering eye refers more to words and thoughts than actions. Actions like having sex with someone else or dating them would usually be considered cheating, not just having a wandering eye.
In terms of social media, having a wandering eye might look like following someone for the purpose of checking them out, flirting with them (either openly in the comments or privately in the inbox), or “liking” their photos.
This might feel worse if it seems that the partner is paying more attention to their phone and social media than to them.
Some research shows that, although many people feel that technology has had a positive impact on their relationship, 25 percent of people in a marriage or partnership felt that their partner was distracted by their cell phone when they were together.
However, the boundaries really depend on your relationship. For example, many people might not mind their partner “liking” someone’s photos, but would mind them flirting with another person on social media.
In another example, some people don’t mind their partners flirting with or interacting with others on social media, as long as it’s not done in person.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether you’ve crossed a line.
Finding other people attractive is normal and not necessarily meant as a sign of disrespect. But where do you draw the line between finding people attractive and blatantly checking them out?
- Have my partner(s) and I talked about this boundary before? What did we conclude?
- If my partner(s) knew exactly what happened, how would they feel? Would they be OK with it?
- If I was in my partner’s situation and they were the one with the wandering eye, how would I feel?
In general, if you feel guilty about it and you think you’ve crossed a line, it’s probably a good idea to sit with that feeling and think about it. Consider talking to your partner(s) about it.
Moving forward after you’ve crossed a line can be difficult. It’s not always easy to figure out the next step to remedy the relationship.
Should you tell your partner? That depends on your relationship. Ask yourself the following:
- Have we discussed this before? Where do they stand?
- Am I telling them because they’d appreciate the honesty, or to soothe my own guilt?
- Will the lack of honesty have a negative effect on our relationship? What about my own mental health?
Remember that no two couples are the same. There’s no answer that will work for every couple, because the way you move forward will depend on yourself, your partner(s), and your relationship.
It might be that you didn’t know that your actions were out of line. Without clearly defined boundaries and expectations, it can be difficult to know what’s OK and what isn’t.
It’s important to apologize, even if you didn’t mean to make your partner(s) feel bad. Emphasize that you’d like to set clearer boundaries so that you’re on the same page when it comes to interacting with others.
If a partner has a wandering eye, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a reflection of your value or attractiveness. With that said, it’s perfectly understandable if you do feel hurt or disrespected by their actions.
Talk with your partner. It’s ideal to do this when you’re both feeling OK (and not angry or annoyed).
Explain the issue clearly, detailing:
- exactly what they did or said that felt upsetting to you
- how it made you feel
- what boundary you feel they crossed
To broach the topic, you might want to use a line like, “When you flirt with other people, it makes me feel unloved/disrespected/hurt” or “I want you to know that I’m not OK with you checking out other people in public.”
From here, it’s important to set clear boundaries that you both agree on. You should both feel comfortable with those boundaries so that neither one of you feels disrespected or controlled by the other.
If you feel disrespected by your partner’s wandering eye, or if they feel disrespected by yours, it can be difficult to move past it, especially if it’s a constant issue.
Agreeing on boundaries is a good start. Talk about what you’re not comfortable with as well as what you’re comfortable with. Discuss what you consider cheating. The definition varies from person to person!
For example, is it OK to give a friend a forehead kiss? Is it OK to “like” suggestive photos on Instagram? Is fantasizing about others OK?
It could also be helpful to take time to connect with one another. A wandering eye could point to deeper issues in a relationship.
For example, you might seek attention outside of the relationship if you’re not getting much from your partner. You could try scheduling sex, dates, or even a quick getaway for the two of you. Try a new hobby together, or embark on a new exercise routine as a couple.
It’s a good idea to revisit the conversation on boundaries from time to time.
If something changes your relationship — for example, if you become friends with an ex-partner — try re-evaluating your boundaries and checking in with one another.
If you’d like, you can try couples counseling. Here, the counselor will help you and your partner(s) work on the relationship together. Through counseling, you can work on improving communication, setting boundaries, building trust, and more.
Having a wandering eye might be considered cheating by some people. However, in order to have a healthy and happy relationship with your partner(s), it’s best to define your boundaries clearly.
This helps you each understand your expectations and navigate the relationship better.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.