I used to be one of those self-righteous types who declared I’d sooner break up with a man than stoop to snoop. This stance wasn’t because I was noble or had never been tempted—I’m not and I have. I just remember all too well the day my mother read my journal aloud to my entire family. I was 17 and, as you can probably imagine, that book was bursting at the seams with embarrassing, angst-laden, mawkish, teenage drama. To say I was mortified … well, that doesn’t begin to describe the way I felt.
Since that day, I’ve always been very respectful of other people’s privacy, in particular my partners’ and, unfortunately, often to my own detriment. I’d listen to suspicious friends’ tales of hacking into their boyfriends’ emails or reading their texts and waste no time voicing my disapproval.
But as you get older, you stop seeing things in black and white and realize there are shades of gray and people don’t always behave the way you’d like them to.
When a live-in ex started “working late” and getting snippy with me on the rare occasions he was home, perhaps I should’ve gone through his wallet or dropped by the office to see what was up. Maybe I would have noticed that he’d started schtupping his coworker.
When Janet’s boyfriend of nearly seven years started disappearing for hours at a time and not picking up her calls, her gut told her something was up. Naturally, her man denied it, claiming she was just “crazy.” (Don’t you hate that?) So she went through his call logs and searched his internet history. Her Nancy Drew sleuthing revealed that her boyfriend was calling sex chat lines and hiring prostitutes. Janet didn’t want to reveal that she’d been checking up on him, so she just insisted she “knew” something was up. He guessed that she’d been nosing around and had the nerve to get angry at her!
Dr. Ian Kerner, Ph.D., couples counselor and the author of She Comes First (among other books), says that sometimes a person is left with no choice but to snoop. “In a committed relationship, I don’t think there should be anything to hide,” he says. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a degree of privacy, like your own bank account, but when it comes to the important stuff, secrets damage relationships.”
Nor does he feel that you should apologize for peeking. “I don’t think you should be embarrassed about following your gut and finding something—that means you weren’t paranoid, you were on track.”
But what about when you don’t find something? For example, my friend Linda secretly read every single one of her boyfriend’s journals, going back years before they got together. She wasn’t looking for evidence of wrongdoing; she was just being nosy. “If you snooped and don’t find anything, you should ask yourself—are you jealous? Are you paranoid? There’s a lesson to be learned there as well.”
Kerner feels that a certain amount of snooping—or verification—can actually help a relationship. “Sometimes what gets discovered is more of an emotional infidelity,” he says. “For example, you snoop and find out he has a flirtatious relationship with a coworker. That betrayal is less of a clear sexual betrayal and that’s an opportunity to create clearer boundaries.”
Which, I supposed, can keep an affair from becoming physical in the first place? “Exactly,” he affirms. “An emotional affair can get out of control—or it can be nipped in the bud.”