Do I pass her the rolling pin and just ask her to beat me with it?
March 5, 2009 6:59 PM   Subscribe

I have been a bad boyfriend and I could use some advice. I have been reading my girlfriend's email with some regularity for over half a year.

This means I'm a nasty hypocrite since I have often regarded myself as someone who supposedly values honesty very highly. I have for a long time ran keylogging services on my own PCs out of a general, nerdy paranoia. At a point in our relationship some time ago when I was feeling particularly jealous, paranoid, vulnerable, I realized that this would be a very convenient way to snoop on my girlfriend who often used my computer when she was over. I didn't read everthing but I read a fair bit.
We're still together, only now we live together. I am no longer so jealous and out of control that I still do this, but I have compulsively opened her account even fairly recently for the sake of convenience, as in she was expecting to receive information that affects us both, and I went ahead and checked it before she had the chance just because I was antsy. This seems especially twisted because I was so relaxed in abusing her trust.
Obviously she deserves to be let in on this. She's out of town at the moment and in my privacy I've been reflecting on the situation. I can't sleep. I was hoping for some guidance:
Have you been on either side of this shit-conundrum. How did it go?

Assuming she's willing to work with me, how can I be redeemed? Other than this, we have very honest, open rapport with eachother.

I have a throwaway email address here if you don't want to discuss this publically:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (65 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's been said here before, but no good can come of you telling her about this. Don't tell her, and never do it again. I suggest making up an excuse to get her to change her email password, too. I don't have any good suggestions about how to do that, though.
posted by plasticbugs at 7:10 PM on March 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

Could you simply tell her that you think you found a virus on your computer (in some sense this is true) - and she should change all her passwords? Obviously, remove the keyloggers first.
posted by kickingtheground at 7:11 PM on March 5, 2009 [10 favorites]

Hmmm. This is a toughy. I bet you get some pretty angry answers here. When my ex-gf snooped my email just once I was very, very angry and I think it actually contributed to our breakup. It wasn't the cause, but it was something that stood out when I was making the decision.

My first question is: are you really ready to stop doing this? This is a big question, because if you're not ready to stop then whatever apologies or whatever you give won't mean anything.

2) If you are ready to stop, what real-life actions you going to take to ensure that you will never, ever, ever again do this? Some ideas include ensuring that you always use seperate computers and you don't know her passwords or whatnot AND going to therapy. If not therapy, is there some real-life method you are going to use to work on this? Because just saying, "I'm working on myself" or whatever isn't really meaningful or effective.

3) Are you ready to give a real, heartfelt apology AND to listen with open heart (and shut mouth) to her response? What strategies will you use during the conversation, to ensure that you tell the full, entire, unadulterated truth and that she has the chance to tell you her feelings about it.

If you really are ready to change, to apologize, to listen to her reaction, and to make amends, then tell her. Disclose fully, including your specific plan for how you're never going to do this again and what you are doing to ensure that. Then let her have her reaction. Give her time to really process this - it could take weeks or months. If you two want to stay together, you'll get through all this. Good luck.
posted by serazin at 7:13 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I wouldn't tell her. She'll kill you. Absolutely nothing good will come out of it.

Uninstall all your keylogging software. Seriously. Otherwise, you'll just look and start the cycle all over again, because you're obviously weak-willed in this department.

Then, tell her that there was a virus, or there might be a virus, or you think there might be some sort of security compromise on your PC, and get her to change her password.

Then move on with your life, and don't fucking do it anymore, and start a brand new you.
posted by kbanas at 7:13 PM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

I agree with plasticbugs. This will only end badly if you tell her. It might feel dishonest, and it is, you did something wrong. If you're not going to do it again, will it ruin your relationship? No. Telling her most definitely will, though.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:13 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think perhaps you should stop right now.
Uninstall the keylog program.

I think you have a pretty good idea of what's going on here.
In the interests of honesty - you might want to confess this to her.
But I understand that doing that is very hard.
Which is why you should do it. So that you really are in the clear with her.

You redeem yourself by proving yourself trustworthy
with a history of trustworthiness.
Begin tonight.
Uninstall the program and then that's
1 day of not spying on her.
Tomorrow, it'll be 2 days.
posted by Sully at 7:14 PM on March 5, 2009

Or, what kickingtheground said.
posted by kbanas at 7:14 PM on March 5, 2009

Telling her will make you feel better, but will not do anything to help her.
posted by Houstonian at 7:15 PM on March 5, 2009 [11 favorites]

Don't tell her. If my boyfriend revealed this to me, I'd leave him.
Think long and hard about why you continue to do this. And then find a way to never do it again.
posted by meerkatty at 7:16 PM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have been on her side of this situation. While I wasn't cheating, I wasn't being a good partner either. My partner began to mistrust me and started opening my email and searching through and reading. She told me about it and we discussed the issues that lead her to do it as well as how it made me feel. It opened the big bad in our relationship and despite attempting to work it out we ended things months later.

I have also been on the your side entirely by accident in more recent times and with another person (I didn't read, but we both used Gmail and she was the last to login so when I loaded it her account opened). There was an email from someone she'd said she wasn't in touch with. It led to huge mistrust and eventual breakup. She just married that person.

I have trust issues. On the upside, I feel confident that if my girlfriend wanted to do this now she'd not find anything I couldn't defend - but here's the catch: If she did this I wouldn't defend a thing. It'd be over.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:17 PM on March 5, 2009

What's with all the responses favoring deceit? She deserves to know what kind of person she is dating. Let her be the judge of what comes next. Remove the keyloggers, then come clean.

Be remorseful and let her change her password. But do come clean.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:19 PM on March 5, 2009 [12 favorites]

Telling her will make you feel better, but will not do anything to help her.

Uh, yes it will. It will help her to know she's dating someone who she can't trust.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:20 PM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm with meerkatty. I can not think of a way you could continue to be my boyfriend if you told me this. Not that I don't understand where you're coming from -- I have definitely told new ex-boyfriends to change their passwords that I might sort of have so that I didn't read stuff I might be tempted to read -- I know the itch-scratching feeling of it. But really, there's nothing except the "I feel bad" statements you have made that would give me any confidence that you really had an "oh shit" moment and realized what a huge trust violation this is in a relationship. That is, you seem to understand where you went wrong, but not just how terribly this is possibly going to affect her. Or I'm wrong and she won't care much.

While I'm normally pretty much a "total honesty" person, if you're interested in saving the relationship I might see if you're able to solve this one yourself and once you've been snooping free for a few months, possibly tell her this as something you *used* to do and do not do right now, including all the steps you took to fix it. If I was your girlfriend I'd much rather hear this than "I stopped reading your email last week"
posted by jessamyn at 7:22 PM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've been in your position, but in my case, my fears were confirmed. My boyfriend at the time was cheating like crazy. But reading his email just made me feel worse because I couldn't tell him I had violated his trust, too. It wasn't worth it.

If I were you, I'd honestly tell her that you feel tempted to check her email sometimes and then ask her to change her password. Where it goes from there is up to you.
posted by katillathehun at 7:23 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, nothing good will come from telling her. kickingtheground's suggestion sounds like a good idea to prevent recidivism on your part. And get rid of the keylogger, it's probably not helpful in avoiding future potential issues like this one.
posted by Simon Barclay at 7:26 PM on March 5, 2009

Stop doing it, and don't tell her. You could possibly even, in the course of normal conversation, explain to her that it's a great idea to change your passwords regularly.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:28 PM on March 5, 2009

If you live together, and have long term plans together, there will be *no secrets between the two of you in the future.

Start by removing your temptation. Remove your keylogging software, and ask your girlfriend to change her passwords - all of them. Tell her your concerned that someone who met her might be able to figure out her password. You don't need to tell her that its you.

After its done, come clean (not immediately, there's an apropriate time). Tell her that there was a time in your relationship before you lived together where you weren't sure if the two of you were on the same page, and you wanted to find out, but didn't feel comfortable at the time to talk abou it, and with moving in together you felt preassure to not rock the boat (something that I'd guess is the case). Tell her that you felt like a hypocrite for having done it, that and that you don't want the two of you to be in that situation again: you not being able to trust her, while she is unreciprocatedly blindly trusting you. Tell her that you want to regain her trust, because now - you do infact trust her (and that has to be true when you say it).

If things go well, get a netflix account, and share it. Pick movies for her, let her pick movies for you. It might sound wierd, but the physical act of having a preferences and reccomendations which juxtaposes romantic comedies starring rene zelwiger with zombie flicks will help the two of you develop more trust.

*no secrets: there are always some small secrets such as 'yes I did fart and blame it on the dog last night', but no 'I'm thinking about sleeping with your best friend' secrets...
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:29 PM on March 5, 2009

Oh and get over the keylogging stuff, you're not a CIA operative. Plus they chew up resources.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:30 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should tell her what you've done, realizing that you'll probably lose her. You've been doing shitty things to someone who loves you, so there's no reason why she should continue to want you, as you've lied to her and betrayed her trust.

This doesn't mean you're Hitler or a completely worthless human being, but you been petty and childish. The good news is that you want to do better. The bad news is that doing better means growing up and accepting the consequences of your actions. The lesson here is that your attempts to control the situation, relationship and her are going to leave you where you don't want to be: completely not in control. Once you tell her, you have to accept the fact she can leave your ass and has every justification to do so. It's going to totally be her call and if that makes you feel terrible, too bad.

How can you redeem yourself if she decides to keep you? Stop spying on people who love you. Get some therapy or talk it over with some friends. Honestly, you have issues to work out, but remember, you want to do better and you're making a choice to do better. That says you're a decent person, despite the mistakes you've made here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:46 PM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

If I were in your place, I would totally tell your girlfriend, no matter how hard it is. And then I will hope that she will understand and appreciate my honesty. Cliched as it sounds, honesty is the foundation of any relationship.
posted by duckrabbit at 7:50 PM on March 5, 2009

er.. if you remove the keylogs what will stop you from simply re-installing them at some point in a moment of weakness/paranoia? I tend to fall on the side of tell her and take the lumps, if that means she breaks up with you take it as a huge painful lesion not to do this shit anymore. FWIW, tell her and show her what a keylog is and set something up so you can't do this again.
posted by edgeways at 7:55 PM on March 5, 2009


Tell her the truth. Then write your email password on a piece of paper and give it to her. Promise that you won't change it for six months.

Hope she forgives you and doesn't use your email account to destroy your life.
posted by paperzach at 8:00 PM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you want to lose her, tell her! You need to take the key logger off your computer and tell her that during a scan, you found it and she should change her password. If you tell her the truth, she will be livid because 1, you don't trust her and 2, you violated her privacy. There is such a thing as too much honesty. If you tell her, she may never be able to trust you again (that is if she doesn't give you the boot right away) and your relationship will do nowhere but down. Even though it's a different kind of breach but every heard the phrase "once a cheat always a cheat", I think that it will apply in this situation.
posted by kochanie at 8:04 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you don't tell her, you've hurt her once (by snooping), but she doesn't know it.

If you do tell her, you'll hurt her twice -- once by snooping and once by telling her the guy she thought was her boyfriend is a total douche, and she'll never forget it.

If you do it again ....Dude.

How much pain do you want to inflict?

Note to the IT guy who's wondering why I'm typing this during work hours: This IS my lunch break.
posted by sageleaf at 8:13 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If this happened once, or twice, or over a period of a month or two, I would say don't tell her. But this was many months, even after the first scan cleared her of all wrong-doing.

Let's be honest man, you're probably controlling or paranoid with her in other ways, or you yourself have something to hide. Have a serious soul-searching session. Do you deceive her a lot? Do you find yourself telling her what to do all the time? Is this a symptom of a larger issue? Figure it out.

Either way, I'd recommend a half-lie. Tell her that you started using a key-logger a few weeks ago, and that you realized you could read her email so you did but now you feel guilty and she should change it and you won't do it again etc. She gets to know that you breached your relationship's trust, and you get to not tell her the extent of your creepiness. But really, if you can post this question here you can ask yourself--why did I do this? What does it mean about me and our relationship?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:19 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

The platitude that honesty is the best policy in relationships is totally specious. You're not covering up the Kennedy conspiracy, for Christ's sake.

If she's happy, and you're happy, and you know you're wrong, and she doesn't know you were once an insecure, boundaries-breaking idiot, do you really have to throw a wrench in the gears with this confession? If you plan on breaking up with her, or if you worry this snooping is indicative of future transgressions, then by all means, tell her. But if you plan on making her really goddamn happy, then shut up. And if you learn from your mistakes in the resounding privacy of your own guilty skull, and if sometimes during an argument when you want to say something vindictive and then you remember that time when you were a scumbag who read her email and that alone compels you to bite your tongue, then shut up.

The idea that everyone in a relationship always has to come clean about their stupid follies No Matter What is based on a moral template of sin and expiation that belongs in churches and should be directed at priests.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:19 PM on March 5, 2009 [18 favorites]

The people on here who are saying tell some sort of half lie? This is a bad plan...either tell the whole truth, and take your lumps (and by whole truth, that means admitting to the keylogger, the fact that you've been reading it for the last six months, have no compunctions about doing it, all of it), and apologize, and have her change all her passwords. Or don't say anything at all.

This is one of the situations where you can't really have it in a partial manner. And I'm on the side with the others, even if he does confess, there's absolutely nothing that's going to stop this guy from putting the software back on the machines to snoop again, the next time he's feeling a little insecure, and his girlfriend deserves to know that.

If she stays, she'll be aware of what she's dealing with, and keep any truly private correspondence elsewhere, not on a machine he can access, and if she goes, it's no less than he deserves. Either way, he's the one who has to live with himself.
posted by Controversy2317 at 8:31 PM on March 5, 2009

Simply stop doing it. Never do it again. Do not give her your password. That is asinine. Do not tell her. What do you hope to gain by telling her? You want to make yourself feel better or less guilty and that is only going to cause a world of hurt with her. Outcome is you feel a little less guilty and she is badly hurt. What a shit show.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:33 PM on March 5, 2009

If she cheated on you and you didn't find out on your own, would you want to know? If so, you should tell her about this and let the chips fall where they may. If not, keep quiet about it.

I think she has the right to know the kind of person she's living with. I don't think you should lie to your SO about something as important as this, even by omission.
posted by null terminated at 8:34 PM on March 5, 2009

Also, can I just point out the obvious psychology of what you're doing? You posted anonymously on Ask.Metafilter so we'd all berate you for being a terrible boyfriend, you could tell someone, and then most of us shout down your patently disastrous plan to tell your girlfriend. So you get some of the slapping around and the alleviation of keeping the secret, and none of the shit show where a devastated woman hurls your MacBook out the window. Keep it that way.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:40 PM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is pretty bad. I've been sitting here trying to figure out how I would react if this had happened to me as the girlfriend, and my bf told me about it.

First, I would be in shock. Really really surprised. I would be silent a lot while I absorbed this news and I would occasionally punctuate this silence with questions about "how long?" "how'd you do it?" "why'd you start?" "when'd you start?" "why did you decide to tell me?" "when did you start feeling bad about it?" "how often did you do it?" "how many times total?" "what was it you told yourself each and every time you sat down to check up on me?" "how did you think I would feel about this?" "did you read X?" "did you read Y?" "did you read Z?" "so when we went to Sarah's place you already knew about X because you had read the email, and your acting like you didn't know was a total lie?" "what makes you think you had the right to do this?" "don't you trust me?" etc. And this would go on for a while.

Then I would say that I was shocked and disgusted and really needed some time to think about this. And I might or might not decide that I needed to be alone to do that and might go incommunicado for a while. Then I would talk to a few friends about this.

This would probably not be grounds for me to immediately end the relationship. But it would be grounds for me to immediately rethink it. It really is a problem. So I think, realistically, if I heard about this from my bf I would eventually come back to him with a statement like "My sense of trust and security is completely broken. I can't accept this and it's a real problem, and I think it points to some serious insecurity, control, and trust problems that YOU have. This isn't something that happens between people who are healthy and both ready to be in a relationship. If our relationship is going to work, if it's saveable at all, you need counseling" - maybe it'd be couples counseling, which I'd agree to.

I'm going through this thought experiment just to see if I can give you any helpful perspective on what might happen if you tell. Your gf isn't me and might not react exactly like this, but I think it's probably pretty close unless she's a bit of a doormat. This would really become a large weirdness and a major relationship turning point from which it would be hard to recover easily.

I'm with those who say -- stop all activities of this kind, and don't tell her. I feel lousy for saying that, knowing she's being deprived of important information about you. So my corollary advice is that you do the work on yourself that you need to do. Get some boundaries. Other people's email is none of your business. You have no right to pry. And the forethought and time you put into this brings it to a new level, at least for me: I feel there's a meaningful difference between "I walked in the room and saw her email window on the screen and couldn't help but look" and "I installed a keylogger and used it to review my girlfriend's email thoroughly because I was insecure and did it for months without ever mentioning to her that I had this software."

And if you're insecure ("jealous, paranoid, vulnerable"), you need to work on that. Especially because it's driven you to such embarrassingly crappy behavior. I understand you feel you're beyond that, but are you really? Please be sure that the next time she seems to be growing distant or enjoying someone else's company, that you won't let your insecurity result in suspicions and eventually more spying again. This isn't just some small transgression - it's a signal that you have a big problem with relationships.

So by not telling her, don't let yourself off the hook. Yes, it would be WAY more cathartic for you to confess and have her rail at you. But it wouldn't go like you think - she wouldn't beat you with a rolling pin like some Andy Capp cartoon and then kick you down to th'pub for pints with th'boys. It would be a real ugly and lengthy issue to deal with -- if she didn't just drop you like a rock. Stop now, and recognize that you have some wounds, or something, that you need to address. It could ruin this relationship, or it could ruin the next one and the next, or you could start taking care of it. This is a problem you have. Don't make it hers right now.
posted by Miko at 8:58 PM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just stop doing it. Don't try to relieve your guilt by telling her.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 PM on March 5, 2009

Wow, I'm shocked by how many people say "don't tell". I guess I can understand the plan of revising your behavior and then telling her after some time has passed, I just can't understand the advice to never tell her. If someone did that to me, I would want to know. She has rights here. If someone was lying to you, would you want to know? If someone was doing this to your best friend or family member, wouldn't you want them to have an informed choice about whether or not to stay with the boyfriend?

If you love and care for your partner, then my sense is that you should care for her by letting her choose for herself whether or not to stick through this rough spot.
posted by serazin at 9:19 PM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

This has happened to me. I was living with my bf and he installed a keylogging program on my computer. He later told me what he had done. At first I was absolutely shocked and appalled--I couldn't believe he would do that to me--but then after that, after questioning him and listening to him explain his initial insecurity and curiosity and subsequent guilt, I started laughing. A lot. He had been so completely silly in doing it when had nothing to worry about, and I was so glad he told me what he had done; HOWEVER, he realized what a huge breach of trust he had undertaken and told me the day of or the day after his offense. It would not have been funny to me if I found out he'd been snooping through my email regularly for half a year. It took you six months to realize that you shouldn't be doing this? This shows a complete lack of regard for your girlfriend and regardless of whether it was driven because of your own insecurity with yourself or your lack of trust with her, this is not how you treat people. I would absolutely want to know if my boyfriend were doing this, if for no other reason than to have a better idea of who I really was with. She has a perception of you right now and it probably doesn't include qualities such as your utter disregard for her privacy or inability to discuss important matters with her. And she very well might dump you because of it, but that really might not be such a bad thing for her.

I don't think it's up to you to decide what information to shield her from. You've deceived her enough. I would never want my SO deciding what I should and shouldn't know about him and our relationship; everything should be open to discussion. Also, if he did neglect to tell me something and I found out on my own later, I would be much, much, much more crushed.
posted by Polychrome at 9:26 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

The idea that everyone in a relationship always has to come clean about their stupid follies No Matter What is based on a moral template of sin and expiation that belongs in churches and should be directed at priests.

This isn't "stupid follies". This isn't "one night I browsed your inbox because you forgot to log out". This isn't a little white lie. It isn't a one time thing and it isn't harmless. There is absolutely nothing innocent about this whole thing.

This is deliberate paranoid deception, the installation of software to monitor her without her knowledge, and snooping, ongoing for over six months. What if the OP had installed a camera to spy on his gf every day. Would that be okay to conceal too? Where's the limit?

This woman deserves to know the kind of person she is dating and if I were in her position, I would want to know too.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:41 PM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Do you know how bad you should feel? I'll tell you how bad: Among the "Related Questions" at the bottom of this thread is "My mother-in-law secretly baptized my Jewish children" ... just think about that for a bit. This is not a moment-of-weakness situation, or even serial weak moments, but something you planned and perpetrated and steeped in for over six months. To say that this is not something you do to someone you love is an understatement, and as far as I'm concerned puts you squarely in the camp of disturbed individuals who eventually get restraining orders taken out on them. You're not a "bad boyfriend." You're not a boyfriend at all. You're the peeping tom whom your girlfriend is unwittingly living with. You're the lurking stranger who spies on her and lies to her and plots against her.

I totally disagree with those who say to keep it a secret - because you are going to lose this girl, now or later, unless you get help. She needs to know that she's living with a stalker-in-training, and you need to recognize and own up to the severity of this transgression. Get help, seriously.
posted by taz at 9:47 PM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Tell her. Then throw yourself at her feet and cry. Maybe she'll keep you.

And then have a trusted third-party nerd explain to her the ABC's of how to protect her computer and her email from you.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:50 PM on March 5, 2009

I am a woman who has had access to countless friends' and boyfriends' accounts and it never once occurred to me to snoop, or that they might be snooping on me. Maybe they were, but I can guarantee you that I would not want to know. Opinion here is divided so it is hard to know what would your girlfriend would want, but as a data point, if you were my boyfriend I would prefer not to know. Telling her will only cause her great pain. If you're serious about stopping your horrible habit, seek help for insight into why you feel compelled to snoop and to use this software. Just let sleeping dogs lie. For her sake.
posted by vincele at 10:08 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

You know, I don't know if you should tell or not, but I've got to say that I think that not everyone would respond severely to what you've done, should you choose to admit it. This isn't a deal breaker for everyone, though you can see that for those who it is a relationship killer, certain themes emerge: trust, betrayal, etc. I'm just saying those aren't always the primary feelings or concepts that arise in people when something like this is disclosed to them. But you know best what emotions your girlfriend might have.

I do think everyone's right on one point: a key thing is to determine why you are doing this. Regardless of if you tell her of your actions, I'd highly encourage you to tell her about your feelings of insecurity and whatever else, which led you to your actions, and why you think you are feeling them. Hopefully you can let her, or someone you trust, in on that. Regardless of how things go with your girlfriend, that self awareness is probably central to anyone's understanding of themselves, and the fallibility that is part of what makes us human.
posted by anitanita at 11:01 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is the instant deal-breaker that a lot of people are making it out to be. There's no denying, of course, that it'll strain the relationship severely, and for some relationships it'd go beyond the breaking point. But only you and your girlfriend can decide that.

Yes, of course this will hurt her. But you don't get to decide whether or not to shield her from it, not after what you've done. She deserves to know what kind of person she's with, especially since she's living with you and is around you on a pretty regular and high-contact basis.
posted by Phire at 12:33 AM on March 6, 2009

If I found out my mate had been doing something like this I wouldn't feel all that betrayed or angry, I think I'd kind of laugh, in fact, but then I'd be beside myself with fear there was something really going wrong with her brain, and that this was only the beginning. I'd want her to see a psychiatrist, at least, but it wouldn't be enough. I'm not sure what would be.
posted by jamjam at 1:00 AM on March 6, 2009

You need some therapy to figure out why you were doing this and why you felt entitled to do it. Your accounting of the issue is in rather rationalized, neutral terms -- it's not okay and I think somewhere you know that, but something (most likely in your past) has slipped into your wiring and it's given you wrong messages and will probably do it again. Nothing about the circuitry has really changed, you're just no longer worried about this particular girl.

As to whether or not to tell her, I think your therapist should weigh in on that one. Hard to tell without knowing how invested you are in the relationship or what other issues you have together.

If it were me, if I were your girlfriend, I would want to know. I would also break up with you after spending a day or two crying about it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:00 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

The idea that everyone in a relationship always has to come clean about their stupid follies No Matter What is based on a moral template of sin and expiation that belongs in churches and should be directed at priests.

Zoomorphic, I think this is very well put and very true, but I disagree that what the poster describes is 'a stupid folly'.I think it's worse and different than getting drunk one night at a bar and feeling up some other girl, or even sleeping with someone else. I don't believe that full disclosure is necessary or healthy, but what the poster describes is untrustworthy behavior, deliberately and consciously chosen over a long period of time, and rationalized into a smooth white plane. It's really bad, and describes underlying malfunctioning that isn't going to resolve itself just because poster has decided not to do this to individual girl.

At some point they'll be out somewhere together and maybe she'll flirt a little with someone, innocuously, and he'll be right back where he was. Or it will come up with some other girl. Or in some other context. And it'll all turn out to be because Mom cheated on Dad or he got broken up with in the fourth grade -- something obscure and long ago that settled into his wiring that has to be actively, not passively, fixed.

Also, the poster even made a joke in the title. That's not good. That's not genuine guilt. That's jokey guilt.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:09 AM on March 6, 2009

It really says something not nice about this community that so many of it's members see morality as little more than escaping punishment.

The last thread where 90% of the answers were all gung ho about lying for the other person's "own good," ended up getting the poster into even more trouble, and ultimately hurting the other person even more, by throwing a deception on top of the crime.

If you are just going to lie to her anyway, and not confess out of some rationalization that she's better off not knowing how she has been violated, and that you are better off not being dumped, then you might as keep reading all her email. After all, her quality of life is not harmed by something she is completely oblivious about, and your quality of life is improved because you can stay abreast of all potential future cheating on her part. It's WIN-WIN!

Or you can tell her the truth, because you actually care about her as a person, and not just because what she offers you. You can tell her the truth because it's the right thing to do. It's right that you suffer the consequences of your actions, and it's right that she gets to decide what those consequences are.

Because I guarantee you, if you don't suffer consequences for this, you're just going to end up reinstalling it in the future, and you are going to fall deeper into the "win-win" rationalizing mindset I described above, and all the guilt you feel right now will melt away. Eventually you will actually feel entitled to read all her email, and the email of all your future partners.

And that guilt you feel right now, is your decency, your humanity. That will melt away, and that will BE you. That will be the person you become. A slimey, deceptive person who trusts nobody, and can't be trusted. A selfish person who views others as little more than a means to his ends.

If I were you I'd welcome some painful punishment for what you've done, because being punished will internalize the behaviors and attitudes that make you a decent human being who deserves to be trusted and loved, and who is actually capable of trusting and loving others. Because you have already fallen from that, and you will fall much farther unless you do the right thing, right now.

posted by fucker at 3:40 AM on March 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

I lean towards the 'she deserves to know' camp, and was surprised by the number of people who've recommended against telling her. But then it occurred to me that whether you ought to tell her might hinge on whether the behavior is going to continue. If there's any chance at all that you'll do it again, then she deserves to know so she can protect herself from your snooping tendencies. If you've had such an epiphany about the sliminess of what you've been doing that you're sure you'll never do it again, then maybe the pain of such revelations is unnecessary. The thing is, I see nothing that convinces me you're ready to stop. You feel bad, sure. And you want to feel better. But you've got a long-term record here. You get something out of this snooping. You will certainly want and see the opportunity to get that something again. Is a sense of revulsion at what you're doing really going to stop you? Has it ever stopped you yet?
posted by jon1270 at 4:12 AM on March 6, 2009

follow-up from the OP.
I didn't include this in the initial question for fear of being too long winded, but it seems relevant if anyone is still reading. We live together now. In a little over a month we will be spending a month apart. Afterwards, we were both contracted to work at the same small, secluded place. Assuming I told her everything, there is the question of when is the best time. Before we separate? I understand this would place a huge burden on her, being newly alone and dealing with the consequences and decided what to do about my creepy behaviour. It would also be really uncomfortable working together so near in the future, especially if we're split it. Do I owe it to her to find another job? If she takes this hard and we split up, I'd be putting her in such an uncomfortable position a couple months from now.
Thanks for the candid responses so far.
posted by jessamyn at 6:22 AM on March 6, 2009

You need to tell her. You can't let this one go. You screwed up, badly. You deserve to take the consequences for it, OP, because she deserves to know who she's entered into a relationship with, and she deserves the chance to decide whether or not this is a dealbreaker for her. Maybe it won't be. Maybe with extensive counseling, she'll be able to forgive you. I suppose it's even possible that eventually your relationship could be stronger, if you're able to work through this. But she may also decide she wants someone who isn't jealous, paranoid, and controlling. If you want to change, you will have to come clean.

I think you need to tell her as soon as she comes back from her trip. I think you need to tell her now, so she has time to talk to you in person and rage and ask why and talk. These are not conversations you can have over the phone. She will almost definitely want time to think about this, and you're getting the gift of some enforced separation coming up soon, but first she may need to talk about this. Sit her down when she comes home, and explain that you have something important to tell her. Have a written list of what you're doing to change this behavior, and either a scheduled appointment with a therapist, or a list of counselors you've called. Also have a list of couples' counselors (different people) that you can make an appointment with for both of you, if SHE wants that. Be prepared to leave and have somewhere else to stay, if she kicks you out right now. And yes, if she doesn't want to work with you in a few months, or if you split up, you need to find another job. It will be your responsibility to take the financial risk of quitting.

Wow. I'm really surprised so many people advocate not telling her. I had an ex read my email, and lie to me about it even when directly asked. He did finally come clean, many months later, after we had broken up and I had conclusive proof he had done it. It really destroyed my trust in him and in relationships in general for many years. The fact that he lied to me about it, multiple times, to my face, made it that much worse. I really wanted to believe that he hadn't done it, and I still remember the horrible sinking feeling when I discovered that yes, he really had, and yes, he lied about it. I don't think it would have been nearly so painful or destructive if he had told me the truth right away. You have already really, really screwed up. Don't make it any worse by continuing to lie about it.
posted by min at 7:02 AM on March 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh, MAN. This is probably the only time I've ever heard of that the person who did this didn't find something that confirmed their worst suspicions.

I have rewritten this comment so many times trying to argue for both telling her and not telling her, and I honestly don't know what you should do. I've been on both sides of this equation, and quite frankly, it means to me that the relationship is untenable. The lack of trust and respect just does not bode well for a future. You did it once, what would stop you from doing it again the next time you felt insecure? Only the consequences of telling her, and that carries with it the very real risk that she will leave you. You are between a rock and a hard place, and I agree that you should seek therapy to find out why you felt that your desire to know had more weight than her right to privacy. (For what it's worth, I worked through my issues regarding why I checked my ex's emails, and it was very enlightening.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:17 AM on March 6, 2009

One thing to be mindful of is that snooping is wrong because you've taken control of something you have no right to control. I suspect the way to set it right has to involve giving some measure of control back to her. If you have a set of "solutions" lined up, i.e. a list of therapists, a list of things you're already planning to do better, then you risk putting her in a position where she feels pressured to accept the solutions you propose, which is still a situation that gives you control and does very little for her comfort. Not that you shouldn't be thinking about how to address your issues, because you definitely should, but I'm doubtful that these things would be helpful during a conversation where you come clean. Confess, yes. Apologize, yes. And then let her go through what she's got to go through. If she wants to put things back together, then she should have the opportunity to take the lead on how it should happen.
posted by jon1270 at 7:28 AM on March 6, 2009

Exactly what min said.
posted by taz at 7:33 AM on March 6, 2009

Do I owe it to her to find another job? If she takes this hard and we split up, I'd be putting her in such an uncomfortable position a couple months from now.

I'm leaning toward the 'tell' camp now. And I think it's best to tell her now. Go through what you have to go through with this relationship. And as far as "Do I owe it to her etc...?" Well, that's one of the many things you and she need to negotiate. As you talk about what happened, I think you should offer to find another job so you won't have to return and live together when your new job starts. She should be able to carry on with the plan she made because she did nothing wrong, but you fucked up and you should let her know that if she prefers it, you will look for another job, whether or not you are split up.
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on March 6, 2009

Don't tell her. It sounds like you have trust issues (or nosiness issues), but your girlfriend is trustworthy and you've probably seen enough of her email to know that by now. She's obviously worth keeping, and telling her will make the relationship untenable. Maybe instead, every time you get that itch to read her email, redirect that energy and the ensuing guilt into doing something unexpected and nice for her, strengthening the relationship instead of undermining it.

Eventually, hopefully, you'll completely kick the habit and over the years forget about it, and you and your relationship will be that much better for it.
posted by booknerd at 8:47 AM on March 6, 2009

The "tell" versus "not tell" question is secondary to the question of what you should do to ensure you never do this again and get over whatever's going on behind the scenes to drive you to do this (I mean, it sounds like too much effort to me), to make you want to do this (I would feel slimy and like I was degrading our partnership by getting into someone's private space like this), and to make you think you had the right to do this.

I'd say the time to tell is as soon as you have figured out how you'll prevent it from happening again, but before you've gotten over your remorse and really begun to forgive yourself for it. Good for you for having a sudden attack of conscience, but don't let it be a momentary, passing thing.
posted by salvia at 9:08 AM on March 6, 2009

If you don't tell her, you will always worry that your relationship is based on lies because she does not have a complete picture of your actions.

If you don't tell her and she finds out later, she will be even more hurt.

But most importantly, if you don't tell her, you are withholding a major piece of info about your character, just so that you can keep her. That strikes me as really selfish. She deserves to know.

So tell her, and don't expect it to be pretty - there is no happy way out of this. You have a maybe 5% chance that she will want to work through this with you and stay together, and that will mean counseling or something else to help you get your head on straight, plus lots of work rebuilding the trust that you have broken. However, a relationship based on lies isn't much of a relationship, so I think telling her is still the best option.

P.S. If my boyfriend did this to me and then told me six months later, I would not leave him. Yeah, I'd be mad, more about the lying than the snooping honestly, but I would forgive him and we would get through it. YMMV
posted by mai at 9:19 AM on March 6, 2009

Tell, because if you are someone she sees a future with, she deserves to make an informed decision. Installing keyloggers is one of those behaviors that says so much about the person doing the installing.
posted by agentwills at 10:56 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't tell her. Look, you snooped. Bad boyfriend, bad! But you didn't find anything and she still doesn't know. If you tell her, be honest with yourself that you're not trying to be honest or work through the trust issues, you're just trying to unburden yourself of the guilt. Except it won't work, and will only burden her. Up to this point you've broken her trust, but as far as she knows, you two are in a loving and honest relationship. Why deprive both yourself and her of that? Love is fleeting and rarely perfect. Suck it up, and stop snooping!

Let me tell you a story. A friend of mine and his girlfriend had a fight about my friend's attractive coworker. In the interests of transparency, my friend gave his girlfriend the password to his email, and told her to check through and see if there were any conversations between him and the coworker. So she checked, and told him no, and they got over their tiff. Then about a month later my friend found out that the gf had been checking his email daily for the past month. According to Metafilter's standards, he should have broken the fuck up with her and she should have felt like a modern-day Hitler or something. But guess what? It's just email. They once again got over it and to my friend, it was never really on the table that he'd break up with her about it.

Just remember that a lot of people here seem to think that snooping through email is the moral equivalent of kicking a puppy or something. It's not a big huge deal. Would it be better that you weren't snooping? Of course. Should you have stopped after the first time rather than checking through for six months (!), well duh. But get rid of the keylogger, find a way to get her to change her password, and don't be selfish about your guilt.

In the end, I don't think that snooping through your girlfriend's emails indicates a huge trust issue on your part. If I had access to the email of someone close to me, I'd be hugely tempted to check it out. It's a side of someone you don't get to see, so it's tempting. And you gave in to that temptation. You didn't, I dunno, slap her around or something. No harm, no foul. Just stop doing it now.
posted by malapropist at 11:40 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you have two choices:

on the one hand, you can keep your mouth shut and everything can keep on humming along as it is.

on the other hand, you can tell her and smash your current life up into little bits.

hmm... what to do, what to do...
posted by askmeacct at 11:58 AM on March 6, 2009

Is your girlfriend a utilitarian or an idealist?

Utilitarian morality would say don't tell, based on the idea that WRONG comes from HARM. Idealistic morality would hold that WRONG is WRONG, regardless of external considerations. I would tend toward the side of fixing this and not telling her, but I think that morality is subjective, and I don't have to live with the ramifications of your decision.

It's also interesting to see people's approaches to punishment and what you "deserve." There's no possible way to know whether or not you would regress if you stopped and never told, or only told years later. But it's a real risk.

You might find it helpful to create a matrix regarding the different outcomes and perceived moral priorities here, but I don't think this is something that can be answered for you by anyone but you.
posted by klangklangston at 12:36 PM on March 6, 2009

one more follow-up from the OP
I should have made it clearer from the beginning that my question wasn't, "should I tell her?" I plan to. I wasn't looking for MeFi's permission to take the easy way out. Since this is Metafilter, I can assume at least half of you are avid D.F. Wallace fans. If you've read the story Good Old Neon you'll understand what kind of person I'm trying to avoid turning into.
I've written, re-written and eventually done away with a more elaborate response to your comments. I owe my detailed explanation to her. Still, any added insight would be appreciated. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2009

In this sort of thing, I think the most important thing is why.

Be honest and truthful about it. Make sure you get across how guilty you feel about keeping this from her, and also make it clear that you know you've broken her trust, but you'll try your best to regain it. (And do try!)
posted by tachikoma_robot at 8:09 PM on March 6, 2009

throw yourself at her feet and cry. Maybe she'll keep you.

Please don't do this. Don't grovel or beg, no one wants to see that. Be honest and regretful.
posted by tachikoma_robot at 8:48 PM on March 6, 2009

I'm reminded of a lyric by Glen Phillips: "I've seen the worst of you, it's true... but it's the smallest part of you. Yeah, it's the smallest part of you. And I still love you."

Every one of us makes mistakes, does things that hurt other people. And I know that if someone approached me with this kind of information, I would be angry, but it would not (for me) signal the immediate end of the relationship.

Dr. Laura is often an advocate of the take-it-to-your-grave philosophy... but as I see it, the problem with just burying something that really should be brought to light, is that it can fester in an unspoken-but-definitely-felt tension between two people, revolving around one person's guilt. It can cause the other party to feel off balance for a reason they can't quite understand.

Tell her. Apologize. Tell her how you feel, and let her feel how she feels. Give her time and license to really express herself. Accept it. Work it out. And become a better person. If she stays, she will know you better. If she goes, your determination to be better will be cemented by the loss.
posted by eleyna at 12:16 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Before you do anything, get help. I do not say this as a MetaCliche, but because the several people I've encountered who have engaged in long-term email snooping have evinced obsessive tendencies and have had great difficulty stopping their behaviors.

When they ceased their email snooping (in the majority of cases because their victims changed passwords or email addies, or caught them), most attempted -- within a week -- to regain access to the victims' accounts. Their justifications ranged from fear ("she may be having an affair behind my back or planning to leave me") to vindictiveness ("I want to see her new relationship fail") to purported psychological weakness ("I can't stop myself -- the urge is too strong").

See a therapist. Discuss what you've done. If you can get behavioral counseling, all the better. Realize that your six-month snooping is an ingrained habit, and a very bad one. You may need support to stop it altogether and not do it again.

And this shows there is a definite problem:
I am no longer so jealous and out of control that I still do this, but I have compulsively opened her account even fairly recently for the sake of convenience, as in she was expecting to receive information that affects us both, and I went ahead and checked it before she had the chance just because I was antsy. This seems especially twisted because I was so relaxed in abusing her trust.
posted by terranova at 6:39 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with terranova there, which is why I also recommended getting help. The core issue is one of control. This exact behavior, and other forms of it, show up in codependent relationships - relationships in which one person is trying to distract themselves from an incomplete sense of self by obsessively focusing on another person. Usually the person who has this problem has a terrible fear of what will happen if they just let go and let people act as individuals and make free choices. They want to have as much information as possible and have the illusion of being in charge and in control of as many interactions as possible. There are a lot of crappy websites out there on this topic but the nuggets are true and familiar to many who have been through therapy:
The codependent ia a person who always seems to have her/his antenna up trying to figure out what everybody else is feeling and thinking...The codependent has great difficulty identifying the emotional line that exists between two people. ...Individuals with codependency are some of the angriest people you will ever meet. Why? Because they are trying to get somebody else to change. ...Codependency starts out as a self-protection.
Codependent Personality Disorder is a dysfunctional relationship with ourselves. The codependent is characterized by their obsessive and repeated attempts to live their life through another, or to live their life for another. To enable this 'switch' they attempt to control another and to control circumstances. The codependent may often feel like they are a victim, or that everything wrong in their life is another's fault. They have the tendency to blame others for wrongness within themselves, or to be hypervigilant to other's actions and opinions. They may attempt to 'fix' others, or feel an intense anxiety in a relationship. They fear intimacy, yet - self-contradicting - have an intense fear of being alone or abandoned.

Ironically, as much as a codependent person may feel responsible for others, may feel the need to take care of others, or may overly relate to another's moods, they still harbor the false belief that it is the other person that is responsible for him. He often will blame others for his unhappiness or his problems. If he has an issue it is almost always because of something another person said or did, or didn't say or do. Additionally, where the codependent may feel that it is other's in their life that are 'over-controlling', it is in fact they, themselves, that are the overly controlling person.
Because I've been around a fair number of such relationships, and was once in one, it's familiar. And it's not about infidelity or software or any rationalization like that - it's about a desire to control others and an inability to understand the boundary between oneself and others, an inability to let their lives be theirs and yours be yours.

Is this really what's going on with the OP? Obviously I don't know. But it's not expecting zebras to suggest that this degree of interest in control over someone else's private life is a sign of a personal problem in serious need of address. The problem behavior, the reason given for its beginning, and the length it's gone on and difficulty in checking it do suggest that it's more deeply rooted than simple curiosity. Because codependent behavior will continue to fuck with all your relationships throughout all your life unless it's addressed, I do recommend getting help. And after thinking about it, I'm now firmly in the 'tell her' camp. It will suck, but it's a natural consequence for what was done, and probably a good first step in being honest, letting go of control, and starting to work on the deeper problems so you can go on to have a more peaceful and fulfilling relationship life in future, with her or whoever's next.
posted by Miko at 8:35 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Echoing Miko, I'd seriously think about getting help.

I don't have the huge omg you raped the cat! reaction of the hive-mind and consider what you did to be more a worrying sign of your psyche than some utter betrayal of your relationship. Tell her you need help and then explain why. If she freaks out and can't trust you any more then perhaps it's for the best, hopefully she'll understand and will work with you in helping you.
posted by fullerine at 10:21 PM on March 12, 2009

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