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love out loud: trust, betrayal and email

Once upon a time, I had a boyfriend who had an ex-girlfriend who had a facebook account. I knew they were in contact, but the way he described their relationship was the way we are always told is indicative of their being truly over it: brief and amicable.

Nonetheless, when he accidentally left his account logged into facebook on my computer one day and I came across an email from this particular ex-girlfriend beginning with the words ‘I miss you’, I was not without suspicion.

But, she was in Scotland and he was in Australia and wanting to take the course of action that was less likely to label me as unhinged, I logged out of his account and never mentioned it.

A year on and they were living together.

Could I have avoided this situation in which I continued a relationship with someone who was invested in someone else? Should I hold myself in some greater regard because I took the moral high ground even though it was ultimately to my detriment? Was I even entitled to know the details of conversations which did not include me?

These are questions that often arise when we are presented with the dilemma of whether to invade our partner’s privacy for the sake of potential self-preservation. The fact that my suspicions were correct is somewhat irrelevant; the greater issue was that I did not trust the person I was with enough to believe he was acting in our relationship’s best interests. The perceived need or desire to look through a call list or read a diary is merely a symptom of the distrust that has arisen in a relationship.

We are all so intently focused on what someone will find out should they have a glance through our inbox that we rarely think to ask ourselves why our partner would feel the need to do so. In most healthy relationships, no information will be found out through this avenue that is likely to change someone’s mind about continuing the relationship and the fundamental mistake we make is ignoring what has propelled the dishonest behavior. People who feel comfortable and secure in their relationship do not tend to monitor their partner’s interactions with others, not least of all because personal correspondence is shit boring (unless you’re dating Emily Dickinson). Yet, creating a situation where someone feels they must resort to these measures for validation does not leave their partner free of fault.

Admittedly, this mindset does overlook those who are paranoid and mistrusting beyond reprieve, but it is often those of us who are generally well adjusted but who cannot elicit an explanation for a change in behavior or relationship dynamic that then resort to secretive and desperate means to seek out this information. Given that trust is so fundamental to the foundations of romantic liaisons, the lack of it that evokes somewhat unbalanced behavior is of perhaps even greater concern than the violation of trust that occurs when one’s phone or computer has been hijacked. If someone is not willing to put our fears to rest (or cannot do so because they are indeed acting in a way that is damaging), then they need to take some of the responsibility for this outcome too.

This invasion of privacy tends to be a simple battle of who was more wrong after the fact and the punishment that befalls the invader is based on whether they found out anything the invadee shouldn’t have kept from them. But this isn’t really the issue at all. Whether their suspicions were confirmed or disproven does little to address the problem of one partner not trusting the other, and this is a far greater threat to a relationship than a few flirty emails.

So would my ex have been less at fault if I’d been wrong about the nature of his relationship with his ex? Well, yes, where emotional fidelity is concerned. But it makes little difference when considering his responsibility to treat me in a way that would’ve made me feel comfortable and secure in the relationship. Chances are, this was not something he could offer largely because of his attachment to the no-longer-ex-girlfriend. Whatever the reason had been though, he was not fulfilling the expectations I had of him.

Ultimately, I cannot advocate hacking into email accounts as a way to better your relationship but there is no easy way to handle the suspected dishonesty of a partner, especially if they make no attempts to settle the unease of distrust.

But if I had access to a time machine, would I go back and read the Scot’s message?

You bet.

(Image credits: 1.)

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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