DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My boyfriend and I have been together for over 2 years living together most that time. We both have been married and divorced. We were best friends in high school and remained friends our whole life. When we started dating, he told me that when he is in a relationship the woman he is with is his whole priority. He has female friends, which, whatever, we are adults, I have male friends.
Last night, he got arrested and put in jail for fighting with his brother. I had his phone, and a message from another woman popped up. I didn’t answer it, but I got curious and started looking at his messages. I saw where another woman was trying to hook up with him. She had sent him photos provocative ones. He also sent just a photo of him from when he was fishing. He didn’t tell her he had a girlfriend nor did he dent her advances. She asked him if he would like to hook up and He replied “Ya, when ya thinking?”. It never actually happened because he eventually said maybe another day.��Seeing this broke my heart. So my question is, do I confront him and let him know I invaded his privacy by reading his phone? Or do I just sit back and keep an eye on his conversations?�I don’t know what or how to handle this situation, or what to even say to him.
Advice appreciated please.
Who Do I Trust?
DEAR WHO DO I TRUST: I realize that I say “the problem you have isn’t the problem you think you have” a lot, but if I’m being honest, I’d be a little more concerned about the fact that your boyfriend went to jail for fighting with his brother. That strikes me as being more significant than messages on his phone.
Leaving that aside: there’re reasons why snooping in general is a bad idea. You’re drastically increasing the likelihood of seeing things that you’d rather not see and can’t unsee.
Now that being said… I’d be curious to know more of the context surrounding some of these questionable messages. The way that you’ve presented them, it doesn’t sound to me like your boyfriend was actually responding to the woman hoping to hook up with him – or, rather, I could see ways that things that seem damning could, in fact, be relatively innocent.
Not mentioning that he has a girlfriend isn’t necessarily proof of anything, especially if they already know each other in person, for example. You can’t know if he’s mentioned you to her previously. Similarly, if she’s sending “provocative” pictures (which honestly covers a pretty wide range) and he’s responding with a picture from a fishing trip… that doesn’t sound like two people who are auditioning to be the last of the red hot lovers.
However, that’s strictly how I am looking at things, several steps removed. I’m not the final word on how to interpret all of this by any stretch of the imagination.
You’re actually there, reading those texts and I’m not. You know him and I don’t. You’re going to have to be the one to judge whether these are actual affairs in the offing or not. However, while I’m on the record as saying that cheating isn’t necessarily a relationship-extinction-level event, a lack of trust is. And it doesn’t sound like you trust him right now.
To my mind, if you’re seriously contemplating monitoring his messages to see if you catch him cheating (or planning to cheat), then you may want to call it now. If you’re sure that he’s looking to hook up, an absence of evidence is unlikely to be taken as evidence of absence. What will it take to prove a negative for you? If you never see any sign that he’s actually taken the plunge, will you be able to accept that maybe he’s not fooling around? Or would it feel more like you aren’t looking hard enough or, worse, he’s hiding it more effectively? What would it take for you to be able to trust him?
Similarly, if you’re going to call him out without solid proof, do you think he’d come clean, or would he deny it… and in either case, where do you stand? Constantly keeping tabs on him? Having to pull a double-backflip to regain his trust back for snooping, while also trying to be on the lookout for signs of malfeasance? Being on constant alert is going to be exhausting at best, and even if he’s on the up and up, it’s going to erode what you already have.
To be clear: you don’t need proof – for whatever values of “proof” means to you – that he’s cheating. If what you saw in his messages is proof enough to damage your trust and you don’t know if there’s a way to trust him again that doesn’t require some sort of digital panopticon, then you can just break up with him. Hell, you can break up with him because you don’t like the color of his underwear or for any reason or no reason at all. You’re not required to stay in a relationship until you’ve been given permission to leave by The Authorities.
Plus there’s the whole thrown in jail for fighting with his brother, which still strikes me as being the bigger issue and the better reason to say “maybe this isn’t the best person to be with right now”.
If you feel like you need to confront him with what you know – and the understanding that how you found out is going to put a dent in the righteousness of your knowledge – then you can. I’m just not sure it’s going to help one way or another, and might just make you feel worse about the whole situation. Regardless of how that discussion comes out, it’s still going to be “do two wrongs make a right?” sort of scenario, and it’s going to be hard to feel good about it afterwards.
So my suggestion: game out the next few months in your head. Can you forgive him if he did cheat or intended to cheat but didn’t because of pure dumb luck? If you confront him, will you be able to accept him at his word if and when he denies it? If he reassures you that everything was on the up and up, are you prepared to work to regain his trust for having snooped?
If you choose not to confront him, what would it take for you to trust him again, presuming that you don’t find conclusive proof one way or another? How long is that likely to take before you’re satisfied?
You’re the only one who can answer those questions. Take time and think it through, as dispassionately and unemotionally as you can. Once you have an idea of the answer, you’ll know what your next move should be.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org