How do you confront your SO about trolling for sex on the internet?
October 4, 2004 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Note: I'm asking the following on behalf of a friend...

How do you confront your SO about trolling for sex on the internet?

Particularly if you've discovered this in a dishonest way: by logging into his email account.

Many months ago, my SO told me his email password. I never planned on using the information, but I became suspicious a few weeks ago. The first time I logged in, there was a single message that was clearly a flirtatious exchange with a woman. It bothered me briefly, but there was no evidence he was planning on meeting up with her (it seemed more like an erotic email correspondance), so I didn't give it more thought. I also felt that, given that what I had done was grossly unethical, I didn't have the right to be angry. I felt really bad about what I'd done.

I have no way, then, to justify why I checked his email again today. This time, there was a reply from a "pro" telling him her rates. He'd asked her what she did and what she charged.

I was planning on spending the rest of my life with my SO. And I've told him on more than one occasion that I'm opposed to the idea of occasional infidelity, knowing that we're only human, but he said he didn't want that, that it was a terrible idea. So in addition to being angry about his apparent change of heart, I am mad because we're trying to save money for a vacation and--in the far-off future--a wedding. We don't make a lot of money. The idea that he'd be willing to pay for (vanilla, straight-up) sex is really upsetting to me.

I know that I committed a grievous error in judgement by checking his email. But I feel as though I need to discuss the email with him, because it seems indicative of a larger problem. How do I approach him about it?
posted by jpoulos to Human Relations (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

EDIT: That should say "I'm NOT opposed to the idea of occasional infidelity."
posted by jpoulos at 11:51 AM on October 4, 2004

You are both guilty here. It won't do your relationship much good to spend a lot of time on who is more or less guilty. You have two issues to work on -- your lack of trust and respect for his privacy, and his tomcatting. Deal with these separately, as tempted as you might be to justify your transgression with the evidence of his.

Good luck, I know you must be in a lot of anguish over this.

On preview: Huge difference. Now that it's happening, do you believe you were being honest in saying you didn't mind? Because if so, it shouldn't matter so much that he's changed his mind without asking your permission. Apart from your pique at his change of mind, are you saying you're feeling the same way you'd feel if he went out and bought a plasma TV without asking? If not, then examine your feelings again about the occasional dalliance. You might find that you were OK with the idea of it, but feel very different about the reality of it. Which is valid, but it needs to be discussed with him.
posted by luser at 12:01 PM on October 4, 2004

I'm not opposed to the idea of occasional infidelity.

Isn't this sort of like telling a child that you're not opposed to the occasional lollipop, but then being upset when you find his secret emails to the local candy pusher?
posted by goethean at 12:03 PM on October 4, 2004

I'm with luser, if at all possible, initiate some sort of discussion along the lines of "we both have some explaining to do..." It may be possible that you have to spend the first go-round dealing with the you-checking-email thing [though of course there are more questions... why did he give you the password? are you allowed to check his email? did he really not know that you read his email? did you delete the messages you read? do you guys live together?] but then you should get some time later to discuss the trolling-for-sex thing. Honestly though, if you said occasional infidelity was okay, then you're going to have a hard time proving this is anything but that. You can still be legitimately bothered by it for other reasons, but you can't play the "you did something bad" card

I know at some level it seems that it's a money issue, but my initial reading of this is that the money issue is a total sidetrack. Yes, I'm sure it feels bad that he's willing to pay for sex, and yes in the future that might be your joint money that he's spending on it, but unless I'm misreading, it isn't now and that's not going to be a good bargaining chip. Also, I'm sure there are lots of guys who find the idea of paying for sex mildly intriguing. The fact that he's curious doesn't mean this is a capital-P Problem. If it were me, I'd focus on this

- I did something bad, you did something bad
- I worry about our future because of this
- Something I thought I was okay with, I may not be okay with
- Let's restate some boundaries and possibly talk about this thing you're interested in and how it may or may not fit into our life together

Even if you think the guy is being a total heel, the issue is more that you're upset and that's a better way to talk about it than "what the hell are you up to!?"
posted by jessamyn at 12:13 PM on October 4, 2004

jessamyn's advice sounds pretty solid. you have to talk, and eventually you will talk, one way or another, unless you simply leave, so you might as well do it in as sensible a way as possible. good luck. it might be awful, but it's already happened - you can't go back now - and whatever doesn't destroy the relationship is, in the end, going to make you both stronger. in time.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:35 PM on October 4, 2004

Isn't this sort of like telling a child that you're not opposed to the occasional lollipop, but then being upset when you find his secret emails to the local candy pusher?

Not at all. Whatever my husband does online is his business, I really don't care, but if he wanted to meet up with one of his pals offline, I'd have to know about it well before the meeting was planned and at least have the option of saying "I'm not comfortable with this because..." As long as he's honest about what he's doing, I don't mind. (Same goes vicey versey, if anybody's worried about parity.)
posted by headspace at 12:40 PM on October 4, 2004

And I've told him on more than one occasion that I'm [not] opposed to the idea of occasional infidelity,

Saying something like this could very easily put ideas in a guy's head that weren't there before. (or that otherwise would never have been acted upon)
posted by GeekAnimator at 12:49 PM on October 4, 2004

jessamyn, as always, has great advice. In particular, the money issue. Most disagreements in relationships boil down to money, except for disagreements about money, which are almost always really about something else. Money isn't the issue here, trust is.

As a general point, NEVER EVER say something like "occasional infidelity is understandable" to man. It's asking for trouble. Any otherwise sane man will take this as a license to stray. That people actually do say this is, to me, a sign of a fundamental lack of trust in the relationship. Unless you are firmly committed to the ideals of an Open Relationship (which I gather you aren't), then you should have no reason to say something like this if you have a solid relationship.

Bottom line, I think you (not you, jpoulous) may have some serious trust issues with this guy- and they may be understandable, given his behavior. You need to focus on that- what, specifically, drove you to start checking his email in the first place? What is it about him that compels you to say "occasional infidelity is understandable" and then confirm your fear about it?
posted by mkultra at 1:21 PM on October 4, 2004

Your SO told you his password. Why did he do that, if not in the expectation that you would use it?

That says to me that he knows you could be reading his mail. If you don't bring this up, he may even be thinking that you have known all along, and your silence hitherto has meant assent.

Jessamyn, as usual, has come through with the goods. But I do think you can cut yourself some slack; it's not like you hacked his account.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:24 PM on October 4, 2004

Note from my friend:

I should make it clear that my SO was the one to say NO to the "occasional infidelity" suggestion, and that's why I was disappointed (though not surprised) that he did a secret 180 on the idea.

Also, many thanks to jessamyn, who should run for president, because she is awesome.
posted by jpoulos at 1:46 PM on October 4, 2004

In my view, your friends are are learning about how much they can trust each other, and this is an excellent thing to learn before marriage.

A discussion like this will probably start at betrayal ("You did what?"), and move into defensiveness ("It was nothing! Just a fantasy!) and blaming ("If you didn't xyz, I wouldn't have to abc"). If it ends here, the relationship is probably not going to last long. The best possible outcome would move on from there, and into an open and honest discussion about being hurt and about trust.

I find a good way to have those discussions is to NOT start at betrayal and pain, but rather to start by having a good block of time, and an agreement to talk about the relationship. Ideally, this is in a place where both people feel comfortable and there won't be a lot of distractions (e.g., away for the weekend, or with a facilitator/counselor type person to keep things from getting out of hand).

Each person starts with their highest hope for the relationship, their best intention for each other, what they really like about the other person. Then, when each person talks about what happened, it's best to have ground rules that people use "I" statements ("I felt this when I saw the email..."), and avoid for the most part "you" statements ("You always..."). This helps increase safety and diminishes blaming.

The discussion may take a long time - days, even weeks. It may be important to take breaks from it - the important thing is not to just leave it hanging. If there's a need for the people to walk away from the discussion for awhile, make a concrete date and time to resume the talk, otherwise things never get resolved.

One other bit of advice - try to avoid compromise solutions. Mark Twain supposedly said that compromise was the solution that solved everything except the problem. I don't have a problem with people compromising, it's just that in these types of discussions, compromises can leave both people raw and smoldering ("I won't make a fuss about extra-marital sex, if it's cheap..."). The issue about extra-martial relationships is a big one, and your friend may, upon reflection and discussion, realize that she *does* care about it, and doesn't want it to happen. If so, this needs to be said, and the guy needs to explore how he feels about this, is this an agreement he can make and keep, not just with an eye to keeping her quiet.
posted by jasper411 at 1:51 PM on October 4, 2004

How do you confront your SO about trolling for sex on the internet?

First stop analyzing what you think you did wrong. It doesn't matter at this point. Just be direct with him before you make yourself crazy about it. Why? Like joe's spleen said, He GAVE you his e-mail password which means he might have set up a Pandora's box to test you or he forgot he gave it to you and is probably guilty of everything you suspect. If that's the case just stop wasting your time and find somebody worthy of your existence. Think of this as a great opportunity to clarify all the issues bothering you about this relationship. You might find out he was just goofing off being a guy and it's all meaningless to him but it made you feel bad. Tell him exactly how you feel about it. But you also have to stop straddling the fence under the pretense of "we're only human" when it comes to other relationships, sexual or otherwise. That's just your way of testing him regarding his feelings about you. I've played that feminine wile card before too and finally figured out pure emotional truth works best in the long run.
posted by oh posey at 1:53 PM on October 4, 2004

Your SO told you his password. Why did he do that, if not in the expectation that you would use it?

In the expectation that it would make him look so trustworthy that she would never think of using it. It's one of those things they teach us -er, I mean them- in Manipulative Asshole 101.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:03 PM on October 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

many thanks to jessamyn, who should run for president, because she is awesome

Unfortunately, this makes her unelectable.
posted by kindall at 2:17 PM on October 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

he did a secret 180 on the idea.

I'm not sure I agree that it's (just) the SO who did the secret 180, frankly. And either way, isn't he innocent until proven guilty? As far as I can tell, all we have here is a single flirty email and a list of rates from a prostitute, these things do not constitute his having done a 180 on the idea, nor do they mean he has done anything whatsoever with the owner of the price list. People are being awfully quick to judge this guy.

I find it quite telling that you said you were open to occasional infidelity, but now that you find your SO perhaps vaguely looking around at what hookers charge (is it possible that this email was a form letter?) you've gone all the way to assuming he's paid for sex in the (seeming, from my perspective) absence of any evidence whatsoever that he's done anything other than find a price list and flirt once.

I suspect the real issues here are more related to trust within the relationship (Why did you assume he'd done anything about this, or intended to? Why don't you give him the benefit of the doubt? Was your "we're all human after all" stance, as oh posey suggests, simply an affection test, and therefore a disingenuous game?) and your own self esteem than what you found on his computer. By all means talk about this, but think pretty carefully about what exactly it is you need to talk about.
posted by biscotti at 2:32 PM on October 4, 2004

There's a moving story on Oblivio about a very similar situation.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:48 PM on October 4, 2004

Never admit that you checked his email. If you have the technical ability, devise a method by which you can continue to monitor his incoming and outgoing mail remotely, even if he changes his password. Wait for him to close the deal, then follow him (or hire someone to follow him) with a camera. Confront him with the evidence. Renegotiate your relationship from there.

Either that, or make with the hard work, and the communication, pronto.
posted by majcher at 2:55 PM on October 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

Saying "I'm OK with occasional infidelity" in the abstract is one thing. It might mean "we'll have a huge fight but eventually get over it." Having your SO come home from work one day and say "I was at a convention, and something happened" and having to confront that as an actuality, not a possibility, is quite another. Discovering that the SO has been sneaking around is worse yet (unless you'd already given up), and them doing it with a pro is worse yet again--it means that they explicitly went hunting for it; there's just no way to say "it just happened."

You've got to talk it out and own up to having checked his e-mail upfront. You could probably just say "I checked your e-mail the other day" and he'll figure the rest out. Don't get over-emotional.
posted by adamrice at 3:03 PM on October 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

make sure it wasn't 'conversational style' SPAM...i get TONS of that.

th3ph17! here is the information you requested! sort of stuff....
could he have been shopping for a ...errr...present for someone else, or you even? [hey, its kinky!]

and....How do you confront your SO about trolling for sex on the internet?

well, you posted it here, am i the only one whose wife/SO knows i'm a MF addict and browses also? So the only route is honest communication. Or you can tell him he accidently cc'd or b'ccd you on a message. ...But once again, you posted here, so only the truth will work. You know that. Don't Panic, Be Nice, call a good friend on the phone and talk to a real person instead of all of us.
posted by th3ph17 at 3:09 PM on October 4, 2004

hi! i'm th3ph17, and i'm dumb. didn't read the small print.
Note: I'm asking the following on behalf of a friend...
posted by th3ph17 at 3:13 PM on October 4, 2004

I figured "OK with occassional infidelity" meant more that "if you screw up a handful of times in our life together, I might hate you for weeks/months but probably won't leave you".

But even if it was a license for premeditated cheating, am I really the only one reading this that would assume a huge difference between sleeping with a random girl from the office or wherever and soliciting a prostitute online? At the very least the risk of disease transmission, and thus the risk to his partner, is exponentially greater. Hanging offense, IMO.
posted by tirade at 3:38 PM on October 4, 2004

1. Ladies: Never tell a guy that you'd stay with him if he cheated on you. Because he'll cheat on you. And then leave you anyway. (Seriously).

2. Guys: Never give women your password for anything! Or if they really push it as some kind of 'trust' thing, change it quickly afterwards.

Geez, I'm scum.
posted by reklaw at 4:15 PM on October 4, 2004

tirade, on your first point, I nearly posted that myself. On your second, all bets are off: a prostitute who consistently uses condoms is likely less infections *cough* than someone you bring home from a bar who has regular unprotected sex.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:57 PM on October 4, 2004

Point them to this thread. There's enough here for him to feel the weight of a community's morals, not just a persons'.

Oh, and if you're reading this, cut it out meatbag!
posted by holloway at 7:12 PM on October 4, 2004

jpoulos: I see that you're actualy gay guy, aperantly. So I think that makes it OK for you two to have a fist fight. Try that.

And anyway, when he gave you his password, did he say "don't use it"? or whatever? If not, then he should expect you to use it. If he pulls some "You don't trust me enough not to read my email"? Just say "No." And then dump his ass for being a tool.
posted by delmoi at 7:55 PM on October 4, 2004

I'm NOT opposed to the idea of occasional infidelity

Might as well say, "I'm not opposed to be used as a door matt occasionally."

I wouldn't worry about the whole 'email' thing. That's the least of that relationships problems.
posted by justgary at 9:23 PM on October 4, 2004

flirty email and a list of rates from a prostitute

he was just getting those for a friend.
posted by quonsar at 10:18 PM on October 4, 2004

Me, I'd walk away and never look back.
posted by rushmc at 10:21 PM on October 4, 2004

Lots of answers to questions that weren't asked. Let me give a try, pretending that the SO in question is named Dave:

How do you confront your SO about trolling for sex on the internet?

"Hey, Dave. I've been wanting to ask you - why are you trolling for sex on the Internet?"

You may get an answer that would surprise you. He may be banging three-dollar crackwhores without a condom, in which case you've learned something important; he may just be curious about the going rate for a blowjob, without any intention of actually paying for it. In which case you've learned something important.

He may be unwilling to discuss it with you. In which case, you've learned something important.

See where I'm going with this one?
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:04 PM on October 4, 2004

Or this could all be a devilish plan to force you to admit you've been reading his email without authorization!!!
posted by Krrrlson at 11:29 PM on October 4, 2004

Tell your friend to stop being such a prude. TROLLING is not having. Price lists don't indicate purchase--If they did, I'd own a yacht! Snooping is an indication of insecurity and lack of trust.

Men troll for sex. Deal with it. Nature made men that way. In case you suffer from false stereotypes, men are vane! Finding someone interested brings a very pleasant ego-boost, and also can enhance one's sex life at home!

Tell your friend she had better grow up. She snooped. She's the only CLEARLY guilty party here. If she can't get over it and keep her mouth shut, she'll have to risk loosing the relationship. But then, maybe she's not as serious about this guy as she claims.

As for the prostitute: Lots of men are fascinated by the idea, and totally revolted at the same time. And if a man feels the need for a casual encounter, a pro offers the chance of it without complications beyond the financial. And I doubt that applies in this case.
posted by Goofyy at 11:53 PM on October 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

What?! Asking for a hooker's rates is guilt-free and does not indicate any sort of potential for infidelity?

There's quite a bit of difference between inquiring about the price of a yacht and that of a plo-chop. A world of difference.

Even IF dude had no intention of partaking, he had to know that his behaviour would not be something his SO would be comfortable with him doing. I certainly would not tolerate it. If my girlfriend did something like this, even during her "private time" or whatever, it doesn't make it any less of my business and I would have the right to be royally pissed off.

jessamyn's bulleted list is right on and how I'd like to believe I'd handle a situation such as this.

I'm also a pretty private person when it comes to passwords and the like. I've been with my girlfriend for 5 years and I have never given her a password or a PIN. So the email reading transgression is no minor thing either in my eyes. Dude will probably let it slide though cause he's going to be scrambling for any way to get out of this.
posted by ODiV at 1:07 AM on October 5, 2004

delmoi: I'm merely a proxy. I'm asking on behalf of a female friend who's in a hetero relationship. But if she wanted to, I'm sure she could kick his ass.
posted by jpoulos at 6:23 AM on October 5, 2004

If I were you, I would start looking for a therapist who specializes in the area of sex addictions. He or She will be able to help you sort out your concerns. It could be nothing, or it could be satyriasis, which, like alcohol addiction, can have serious consequenses down the road.

And yes, I speak from experience (unfortunately.) If I had to do it all over again, I would have voiced my concerns A LOT earlier than I did.
posted by lilboo at 10:08 AM on October 5, 2004

I would leave so fast it would make your head spin. Even trolling for sex with a whore is a deal breaker...period. No way that's okay. I don't care how you found out, the guy is breaking the rules up one side and down the other.

Yes, guys troll for sex. But it's different from flirting in a bar or chatting a woman up at work. If they're willing to pay for it, go to a whore, and possibly put them and their SO at risk for STD's...all without having the balls to tell the truth. That shows a major flaw in his trustworthiness.

Your friend needs to confront him NOW. And deal with the possibility that she may have to leave him if she feels strongly about it. If he lies about this...what else is he lying about?
posted by aacheson at 10:52 AM on October 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Not at all. Whatever my husband does online is his business, I really don't care, but if he wanted to meet up with one of his pals offline, I'd have to know about it well before the meeting was planned and at least have the option of saying "I'm not comfortable with this because..."

Whaaa? Are you really saying that if your husband was going to a MetaFilter meet up he'd have to seek your permission first?
posted by Mitheral at 3:17 PM on October 5, 2004

I feel like the email breach is nothing compared to the having sex behind a partner's back. Sounds like a confrontation needs to happen, with the email privacy breach off the table from discussion, like jessamyn said.

he'd be willing to pay for (vanilla, straight-up) sex is really upsetting to me

I don't know why, but that phrase in the original post totally cracks me up. I guess I could honestly say the trolling wouldn't be as bad if it was something weird. At least you could understand what was going and figure out this person might be obsessed with things that are off-limits to them normally, but straight up sex? Something's very sour in this relationship.
posted by mathowie at 11:40 PM on October 7, 2004

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