What's So Wrong?
Hey, we're not made of wood -- what's wrong with a crush? "I had a flirtation with a guy at the restaurant," says Gail, 30, a Boston bartender. "But it was part of the work environment, and No Touching was clearly the rule. Outside of work I didn't give him a second thought -- but the extra dose of feeling attractive actually helped my relationship with my boyfriend."
But No Touching doesn't always mean Harmless Flirting. "I had a close relationship with a married man: late-night calls, meaningful lunches, intense sharing," says Liza, 39, a social worker in Philadelphia. "A male friend said, 'If you're not having sex, there's nothing wrong with it.'"
Actually, say experts, there's plenty wrong.
"It doesn't matter that 'it could be worse,'" says Vaughan. "There's deception going on." That's the risk of a seemingly harmless affair: The more you rationalize that it's okay, the more it escalates, and the more you're compelled to hide. "You wind up depending on the other person more for daily peaks and perks, and that sucks the love away from you and your partner."
What's toxic about an emotional affair is exactly what distinguishes it from a fleeting, fun crush: secrecy. "The number one way to know if you're having an emotional affair is if you're hiding it from your partner," says Vaughan.
"When you 'end up' out to dinner sitting kitty-corner with that guy from work that you can't get out of your head, that's a date," Lana, 29, a Toronto attorney, says (from experience). "Saying you have a boyfriend doesn't count -- all he'll take from that is, 'Then why is she out with me?' You both know the illicitness makes it all the more exciting and tempting. And you know when you cross the line because it's that thing you'd never tell your boyfriend, that thing that would freak you out if you found out he did it."