We’ve all at one point or another participated in some variation of the following call from a frantic friend:
Friend: “Girl, you will never believe what (insert name) was doing! I told you I knew he was cheating on me…I’ve finally got proof!”
You: “What happened? Did he leave something lying around? How do you know?”
Friend: “Well, I waited until he got up to go to the bathroom. And then I went through his cell and saw his texts back and forth to some woman I’ve never heard him mention before. Talking about how he can’t wait to see her again…how good she smelled! I can’t wait to confront his lying behind!”
You: (In a feigned surprise tone of voice) “You did what???!!!”
A recent survey done by the computer security company Norton found that women are 52% more likely to have snooped through their partner’s email, or Facebook and other online accounts than men. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. As much as we sisters like to pretend that we’re above the behavior, many of us will resort to espionage in order to track a partner. Yeah, men snoop too, but the average brother I know would rather eat glass than admit he felt insecure enough about their relationship that they resorted to digging through their girl’s email account.
I’ve got a confession: I’ve snooped in the past. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of today, and I wasn’t proud of it then. At the time I was caught in a tailspin of fear that sent me off heading off into the land of the relationship crazies. I justified my behavior because my Spidey Sense was on high alert about my then mate’s potential for shady sexual behavior and I was searching for a way to confirm my fears. I had already confronted him about my suspicions, but like a good defense lawyer, he denied, denied, denied. So like a good prosecutor, I took matters into my own hands with his unspoken it ain’t what you know, it’s what you can prove position and snooped to prove my hypothesis.
And yes, I ended up confirming that he was up to no good. But instead of leaving, I chose to stay in the relationship anyway for another mutually mistrustful year. Why? Because I believed that once I knew the truth that I could get him to stop his cheating. This points to a larger issue behind many a snooper’s behavior, which is control – the ridiculous belief that we can change another human being by sheer willpower. Self-worth is also a factor: many of us have failed to love ourselves enough to walk away before we sacrifice our dignity.
If you find yourself cracking your partner’s codes, know this: snooping may or may not give you proof, but it will definitely fan the flames of fear. Proceed down this path long enough and eventually you’re going to find things that you may not want to know and often don’t have a right to know. Intimacy does not equal ownership. For the sake of your own mental health–and that of your partner– it’s best to adopt a no snooping rule. It’s true that if there’s smoke, there’s often fire. But the greater question you should be asking yourself is why you would want to stay in a relationship in which you’re so out of control with fear that you need to be a C.I.A. operative in order to stay.
There are a few things to take into consideration if you’re the snooping victim who has discovered that your partner has violated your privacy. First, if you confront your snooper, you need to make a firm statement of what you are willing or unwilling to tolerate in their behavior. Don’t bother trying to argue with them about why it’s so wrong. They aren’t operating from a rational state of mind. By the time someone has become a super sleuth, all sense of proper relationship protocol has gone out the window. Second, if you choose to leave, make sure moving forward that you keep tighter defense protocols so you don’t encounter another security breach with your next partner. And if you choose to stay, realize you’ve only got two options: be an open book or change all your passwords.
Some will cry foul, but I can’t say definitively that snooping is 100% unacceptable. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that make it necessary, but that’s a line you should only be prepared to cross if you’re ready to walk away from the relationship. The bottom line is this: no matter what the rationale, snooping is a signal that there is a larger issue in a relationship or individual that needs to be addressed. Instead of focusing on the symptom, start working on the real issue: trust.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai’s advice? Email SilLai@ebony.com to have your love questions answered in a future column!