The internet and technology have totally changed sex and relationships, we know you — you adults, anyway, this column is not for children! — have questions about the world of sex. In order to answer them, we've asked our friend Stoya — a professional sex-haver — to field any inquiries. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you at least 18 years old?
My girlfriend (3 months) and I just broke up because I wouldn’t let her read text messages between a female friend of mine and me. I’d like to get your take on whether and when a person should be entitled to view the private communications of his or her significant other.
Yesterday I received text messages from two different girls in relatively short succession. One was a simple "No problem" response to an apology I sent to a neighbor friend who I had just brushed off because I was running late for a meeting. The other was from a close long-time friend who I haven’t spoken to in months and haven’t seen in over 5 years. My girlfriend saw my response — she was sitting right next to me and I made no attempt to conceal it. Here’s the full exchange:
Friend: I had a dream that we traveled to a place with jumping baby kittens.
Me: Lol, I love it. How are u? I miss u.
Friend: Haha good just working like crazy. I’m getting LASIK tomorrow
My girlfriend flipped out. I explained that this is just a friend, who I do miss, but we have never had any romantic involvement. My GF wasn’t satisfied and demanded to see my phone so she could scroll through previous conversations. I’m fundamentally opposed to this, but in the heat of the moment I thrust my phone into her hands and said to go ahead. There was nothing scandalous to find, but she was still furious all day. Finally that night, after speaking to her friends, she decided to forgive me and invited me over.
The phone, or the relationship
The next morning, however, the moment we woke up, she demanded to see my phone again to go through the text messages between my neighbor friend and me. I told her no — that I don’t believe it’s right for her to violate my privacy like that. She took this as effective proof that I must be hiding something and delivered an ultimatum: the phone, or the relationship. I told her that if that’s all our relationship was worth to her, it would have to be the relationship because I was not going to give her my phone.
We’re both quite stubborn — the relationship is over. As a matter of fact, she wouldn’t have found anything remotely concerning had I given her the phone. But I don’t believe that what she was asking for was acceptable, so I took a hard line. What do you think?
For what it’s worth, I don’t frequently text other women. Receiving two texts back to back like that is uncommon for me.
Catching a glimpse of a text conversation while snuggling with the person who is texting is a common occurrence and usually completely innocent. Demanding full records of all communication is different. Whether you’re a romantic partner or the NSA, demanding to dig through a person’s phone — or, even worse, letting yourself into someone’s accounts without permission — is an invasion of privacy.
Who you text, what their genders are, and how frequently you text them aren’t the real issues here. Also not the issue: whether it is acceptable for your girlfriend to view your communications. It’s your phone, your personal boundaries, and your relationship. If you didn’t consider it a violation of privacy to have your phone looked through, most likely you’d fight about another boundary. See, these (exhaustingly common) disagreements over privacy and autonomy regularly turn out to be about a core issue in the relationship, like insecurity. Or jealousy, which tends to grow out of insecurity.
It's your phone, your personal boundaries, and your relationshipWhile you did say the two of you just broke up, you continue to refer to her as your girlfriend throughout your email. So I’m going to work from the assumption that you’re still emotionally invested and might be interested in continuing your relationship.
If the two of you do try to continue dating, you might be tempted to agree to give her some amount of regular access to your phone. Don’t do that. It tends to lead to further encroachment on your boundaries with every successive fight. When a person is looking for reasons to be suspicious, they will find those reasons everywhere they look.
Remember how texting isn’t the real problem? Allowing her to look through your phone won’t solve the actual issue, and it will distract you both from the work you need to do to figure out what that issue is. If you can’t identify the underlying problem, you cannot come up with a solution.
Allowing her to look through your phone won't fix the real problem
So what can you do? If you do want to continue pursuing a relationship with this woman, then you need to sit down with her and have at least one big long talk in which you prioritize figuring out what the hell is going on. Do not try to make her feel bad about reacting so strongly to the texts; make it clear she isn’t allowed to make you feel bad about having both female friends and boundaries. Maybe she’s been afraid to express insecurity and ask for reassurance. Maybe you’ve been unwittingly encroaching on her boundaries and that made asking to invade your phone seem reasonable to her. Maybe she’s got some unreasonable ideas about the differences between intimacy and invasiveness. Three months is a very short time, so maybe one or both of you have pre-existing behavior patterns you haven’t examined and are struggling to navigate around. Maybe the issue is something else entirely, or a combination of things. Only you and your (ex?)girlfriend can figure that out.
If you don’t want to continue this relationship, try to learn from it. You don’t indicate how much dating you’ve done, but — if this girlfriend wasn’t your first — check for patterns. Did your other exes have trust issues too? If it is a recurring thing, you can save yourself (and your partners) a lot of headache and heartache by figuring out why it happens — and how you can avoid it. Maybe you aren’t very demonstrative about your affection; there are two solutions here. Either date people who don’t require much demonstration, or put extra effort into building those skills. Maybe you read The Game too many times and are engaging in pick-up artist tactics like "negs"; are you bashing your intended lady’s self-esteem? Even if you have been, there’s still no justification for forceful invasion of your boundaries. But you might want to think twice about purposefully undermining your dates’ confidence if you want to avoid behaviors that people become tempted to indulge in when they’re feeling insecure.
The lines between cuddly and creepy have been blurred in the media for decades A third — but by no means final — option: are you conflating controlling behavior with love, and leaving yourself vulnerable to controlling people? While you’re considering how healthy the relationship examples in your life have been, don’t forget to look beyond who you date to your family and close friends. Are there negative models you might be replicating? The lines between cuddly and creepy have been blurred in media for decades. Notable examples include The Police’s "Every Breath You Take" and, well, all of Twilight. I’m only here to suggest possibilities for you to consider. You’re the only real expert in what your relationships have been like and what recurring themes have popped up.
Personal boundaries matter in relationships, whether we’re talking about access to private communications, the hours spent together, or frequency of sex. Because this is life and not a Disney movie, it’s possible your partner won’t give you what you need or want — your ex-girlfriend might not understand why you have this boundary. If that happens, you’re going to have to make a decision between doing without the privacy you need or doing without her — and, perhaps, wishing her well in her search for someone who loves having their cell phone surveilled.
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