Based on the findings of the two studies, it seems that flirtatious interactions with internet strangers are far from harmless to our romantic relationships. In fact, in the first study, those who were flirted with had worse perceptions of their current partner (consciously and unconsciously) than the control group.
And in the second study, those who were flirted with were more likely to desire and have sexual fantasies related to an alternative partner than their current partner, compared to the control.
All together, these findings point to a risky apparent truth with online flirting: Even if you’re not reciprocating or acting on the flirtations, being the recipient of someone’s flirting online may still unconsciously lead you to view your partner in a less positive light and to desire alternative options more.
As study author and professor of psychology Gurit Birnbaum, Ph.D., explains in a news release, “My findings highlight the circumstances that weaken resistance to temptations of alternative partners, pointing to a route by which online interactions may diminish relationship well-being and lead to offline affairs.”