Once upon a time, cheating was all about lipstick on the collar, the smell of perfume on a lapel, or an incriminating receipt in a trouser pocket. Even with the dawn of social media, there were clear clues – a full-on kiss in a party photograph, or someone checking in somewhere they shouldn’t. But now, in an age of dating apps and DMs, things are a lot more complicated.

Enter micro-cheating: the latest buzzword in the realm of infidelity. As the name suggests, it’s all about little things you might think aren’t that naughty, but can be. And therein lies the dilemma – if it can include subtle actions, how do we define micro-cheating? And can there really be such a thing as ‘cheating but only a bit’?

Yes, says Dr Martin Graff, a professor of psychology at the University of South Wales, who is something of an expert. He wrote about this modern dating dilemma in a recent article for a psychology journal, explaining how infidelity has evolved as we live more of our lives online.

Dr Graff defines micro-cheating as any act or behaviour by someone in a relationship which might suggest to a third party that they are emotionally or physically available. Before smartphones, micro-cheating might have been the sneaky removal of a wedding ring before a night out, but in the digital age it’s easier than ever to signal to someone that you’re available – anything from ‘deep liking’ (when you go way back into someone’s Instagram feed to like very old posts) to sending sly direct messages.

Nichi Hodgson, who has written a book about the history of dating, agrees that micro-cheating is a new name for old behaviour. “Even as far back as the 18th century, people were flirting via inappropriate letters or revealing inappropriate thoughts in their diaries,” she says. “What has changed is that we now have tools which make it far easier to commit micro-cheating than ever before.”

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