“How can my snooping friend tell her partner she’s mad about what she found?”

Hello. I just can’t seem to help a friend of mine out. What should she do if she has found out that her boyfriend has created an email account specifically to e-mail a woman she has never approved of him being acquaintances with, let alone having any kind of emailing going back and forth she’s completely unaware of. I know that her guy and this woman, who I know of (who has a bad reputation) have chatted and hung out in the past a few times on a friendly basis. Yet this woman, at one point showed specific interest in my buddy’s boyfriend, before they were a “couple.” Can ya offer me any good advice to pass along? I’m kind of stumped on this one myself. I’ve had to admit once to snooping in an email account when I suspected some fishy behavior of another nature, so I’m not a great go-to. Just a side note, she told me there was a draft email that wasn’t completed yet to this woman.

Wow, very complicated question will get a long answer.

Let’s start with her actions:

First of all, snooping is an ancient relationship issue. Email is just a new form. However, it’s still the same privacy violation, and the same trust violation. It is wrong, period. Your friend was apparently doing some extensive snooping indeed to find not only a new account, but also to break into it and read the messages. (Very important “side note” there!)

This is inexcusable, and I hope she recognizes that. If she won’t admit she was wrong, or excessively rationalizes this behavior, then she’s a little bit cracked and needs some professional help or she will never be in a healthy relationship, because she is not trusting or trustworthy. So that’s the first thing: Does she agree this behavior was wrong and that she should not have done it, and if they work out this issue, that she will not do it again? (Warning: Snoopers snoop, like cheaters cheat. If it happened once, it’s more likely to happen again, though perhaps it’s not inevitable. I believe in rehabilitation. 🙂 )

Secondly, I am uncomfortable with some descriptive words you use: “never approved of him being acquaintances with” and “bad reputation”. Really, what right does she have to approve of his acquaintanceships or friendships? Do you support this idea that partners can give a thumbs-up or -down to the other’s interactions? I can support this idea only if the “acquaintance” is clearly not platonic. (Full disclosure: In some cases, I have agreed to cut off communication with former flings, however, in others, I won’t end communication with men from my sexual/romantic past who had transitioned into platonic yet still rewarding real friendships. There’s a difference: Sometimes showing respect for your partner’s feelings has to take priority, but not always. The reasonable partner can make requests, explain why the outside friendship bothers them, but cannot make demands.)

Your friend must also learn to accept she cannot dictate who her partner speaks to, for two reasons: It’s controlling and counterproductive, but also impossible. He will do what he wishes, covertly if he must. It also removes the option for him to understand her concerns and come to his own decision like a grown-up in a grown-up relationship.

This is true even if the “other woman” in question has what you describe as a “bad reputation”… srsly, WTF are YOU talking about?

I have said it before and will say it again: A partner can only be stolen if s/he wants to be. I have heard NUMEROUS stories from men about the ridiculous, embarrassing things women have done and said to tempt a man who isn’t interested. I don’t care what this girl does/says/has indicated in the past. If your friend is doing all the right things by her man AND he really wants to be with her in a fulfilling exclusive relationship, he will not compromise their relationship not matter what any woman — of “bad reputation” or otherwise — does. Really.

Jealousy is not only pointless, it (again) is counterproductive, as jealous people are less enjoyable to be with and drive partners away. Very self-fulfilling. Again, counseling might help.

OK, enough beating up on your friend.

The boyfriend is also in the wrong, though less so, nonetheless, he is acting like a little boy. If he wants to be friendly with this woman, he should tell his girlfriend he is going to be, and she will have to deal with it. However, out of respect to his girlfriend’s feelings and worries, he should make a great effort to help her deal with it. He can listen to and acknowledge her fears, and be extraordinarily transparent about his interactions with her. He should mention every time they talk and see each other, and generally what they discuss. He could let the woman know that he may share their discussions with his girlfriend, with discretion if requested. He should invite the woman and girlfriend to be in the same space whenever they like. If he’s going to hang out with the woman, he could invite the girlfriend, or invite her to drop in during the visit.

(Examples from my own experience: I was newly in a monogamous relationship with a guy who had a fling with his next-door neighbor. They lived in Queens; I was in Brooklyn. I did not trust this girl at all. I asked that he tell me every time he saw her or they hung out in their neighborhood bar (that was how they met and both continued going there frequently, so the whole thing, including the alcohol factor and convenience, made me uncomfortable). He agreed to do so. As our relationship evolved, I grew less nervous, as he was demonstrating how much he cared for me. Eventually, I said he could stop telling me every time he saw her because I was no longer worried, and bored with it besides.

Flip side: I was meeting an old fling for dinner, hadn’t seen him in many years. (Facebook is crazy!) Although the guy was now a dedicated family man, this made my bf very uncomfortable. So I said we would meet in a public place and if the bf would please give us two hours to catch up alone, he was welcome to meet us at the restaurant anytime after that. He did, and the three of us had a while to talk together — which was good for everyone involved. That trusting compromise offered the private catch-up convo I wanted, but the transparency and inclusion that our relationship needed.)

By superficially caving to the girlfriend’s demands and creating a secret account (which he didn’t even hide or password-protect very well, so I question his dedication to this secret), he justified her suspicions, creating a higher obstacle to trust, and demonstrated he is not trustworthy, either. Even if “nothing happened”, something bad for the relationship has already happened.

Basically, it sounds like immaturity on both sides. Here’s the concrete advice. Your friend should go to the boyfriend when it’s a good time for both of them (no hurry, pick a time/place where there’s no competition) and say she is very sorry, and ashamed of herself, but she snooped on his computer and found the account. She MUST start from the humble position of admitting she was wrong and accept his inevitable anger about this, though he shouldn’t get to go on and on and on about it. Then she must say, “I want to work on my jealousy in the future, but that being said, you are being secretive and doing something you know makes me very uncomfortable. That hurts me a lot, and makes me feel more jealous and insecure, and that’s bad for us too.” She should not accuse him of anything, but state facts as much as possible and share her own feelings with as little anger or self-righteousness as she can. Defensiveness of her wrong actions would further weaken her already weaker position.

Then see how he reacts. If he doesn’t care that he’s hurting her, or makes it all out to be her problem, then that’s disrespectful to her. She should ask how important this woman’s friendship is to him and really listen to the answer. She should vocalize and itemize her concerns — is it this particular woman or all unknown women? What does that mean for next time this comes up? If your friend can suggest the transparency compromise above and he goes for it, that’s a good start.

Of course, this advice only applies if they actually want to fix the problem. If she just wants a way to accuse him that doesn’t make her look bad, you came to the wrong advice-giver.

It always comes down to this: If two people don’t like and trust each other and share values, what’s the point of being “together”? Move on until you find someone you don’t suspect or someone who doesn’t try to control you, etc. Why suffer?


About amywinns

Semi-snarky, semi-sincere, occasionally ranting, always paying attention. Feminist who can work a skirt and crack a joke. Grammar nerd who is also fun at parties. Mid-career writer/editor with 15 years’ experience in newspapers & magazines who now helps developers at a major media corporation communicate with the suits who write the checks. Pro-women, pro-family, pro-choice, pro-workingclass, pro-entrepreneur, pro-farmer. Like every other bourgeois Brooklynite, I choose local/organic/raw food — mostly vegetables — whenever possible/reasonable/affordable but I’m not a smug asshole about it. Hometown: Atlanta. Weird hobby: lindy hop. No pets, no kids, no thanks.
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