Kathryn Lindsay
May 05, 2016 4:00 am
iStockphoto

On January 3rd, 2014, I was sitting at a train station in Boston. I remember the date because it’s the day after my birthday, which I had spent in the city with my boyfriend. I remember the date because it’s when we had to say goodbye for another six months, since I had been spending the academic year abroad in England. And I remember the date because it’s when I opened up my laptop and found out he had been cheating on me.

Obviously, that’s skipping over a few important details, ones that I only started to admit to my friends in pieces. While yes, he had left his Facebook logged in, I was the one who made the choice to click on “Messages.” I didn’t stumble across it, and I wasn’t blindsided. I went looking for something deep down I already knew was happening. The only innocence I could claim was that I had remained faithful and honest, and with that in mind, I scrolled.

While I saw several conversations that made me uneasy, the unequivocal proof was just a few messages back in a conversation with a mutual friend. It was right there, written in flippant men’s-locker-room-style language, probably typed and sent while I was waking up and looking forward to our weekly Skype conversation. I will never not want to throw something when I think about it.

When I started opening up to friends about what actually happened, I’d cringe, waiting for their disapproval of my snooping. Instead, I was met with universal understanding. “Oh yeah,” they’d say, shrugging. “I’ve done that.”

“It’s very common for partners to secretly look through each others’ cell phone histories,” said April Masini, the relationship expert behind AskApril, a column and forum all about relationships and etiquette. “When people sneak a peak in a partner’s phone or computer history, it’s occasionally because they’re simply curious,” April explained. “But more often than not, it’s because they’re suspicious of cheating and they want to confirm those suspicions.

She continued, “Sometimes a woman has specific evidence of an affair or an indiscretion and she wants to go through a partner’s phone to confirm what she’s found. Other times she’s just got an instinct that something is wrong. She wants to go through a partner’s phone to see if her instinct was correct.”

However, April warns that just because snooping is common doesn’t mean it’s healthy. “Sneaking around and looking for evidence of infidelity isn’t a very peaceful way to live or to be in a relationship,” she says. “It’s normal to expect a partner not to go through your phone or computer if you don’t share that phone or computer on a regular basis.”

It’s not the right thing to do, and my reluctance to admit I’d done it was proof that I was breaking his trust, no matter that he had broken mine many times prior without my knowledge. So why do we do it?

Beyonce actually sums it up perfectly in her song “Hold Up” on her new album Lemonade: “What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy?”

It’s a familiar question for anyone who’s gone through a rough patch in a relationship and it puts the person who thinks she is being cheated on between a rock and a hard place.

“I’d rather be crazy,” Beyonce sings, and that makes sense. Asking the question “Are you cheating on me?” up front can come across as jealous, insecure, or not trusting. However, if you do it in secret, doing the “crazy” thing by finding the answer for yourself in their private messages, nobody has to know you ever admitted a weakness.

Whether or not there’s anything to find, feeling a need to go behind your partner’s back and snoop is a warning sign that you’re not comfortable in the relationship. This is a big deal and it warrants a face-to-face discussion rather than what can be gleaned from reading messages without context. Remember that your feelings are valid, but so is your partner’s privacy. The only way to respect both is to be open and honest.

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