Is this a red flag or just a pink one?
March 25, 2012 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Should I be concerned about this minor but weird apparent untruth by my SO, or let it go?

I live with my SO of one year. The other night around midnight we were sitting together and his phone lit up with a text. He was doing something else and didn't pick it up so I told him he had a text and he just shrugged. It displayed a girl's name I didn't recognize.

I was cheated on in my relationship just prior to this and am admittedly oversensitive about such things. So I asked him a little while later whether everything was ok and why he was getting texts so late at night.

He said he hadn't seen a text and showed me his phone which didn't have anything from around that time. I told him the name I had seen and he said he didn't know anyone by that name. He showed me his contacts list which doesn't have that name on it. I explained that I'm just hypersensitive due to the prior cheating and he said "you know I'm not cheating on you, that would be practically impossible" (since we see each other almost all the time, presumably). I thought that wasn't the most reassuring things to say but he is, generally, clueless about trust issues, not being the jealous type at all. We don't often have heart-to-heart type conversations and I think he's uncomfortable with that sort of thing.

The thing is, I wouldn't have cared particularly about the text itself -- if he had acknowledged that someone messaged him and left it at that, no big deal. I do realize he can have friends besides me. However, I know he does have a contact with that name on another device (he doesn't know I know), and it occurs to me that he could have deleted the contact and messages from his phone. That's what sets me on edge.

On the other hand, it could be a weird technological glitch and he may genuinely be confused about my concerns.

Given that he has never done anything else that set off red flags or caused me distrust, and that I am already known to be mildly paranoid, should I drop this? I don't want to snoop and I don't want to interrogate him and risk relationship discord. But I also don't want to be a sucker. Thoughts, please?
posted by Pomo to Human Relations (52 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Red flag.
posted by tamitang at 3:22 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

I would be suspicious as well. Sounds like he's gaslighting you. I would be alert.
posted by cecic at 3:23 PM on March 25, 2012 [26 favorites]

Seconding a red flag.
posted by Happydaz at 3:27 PM on March 25, 2012

It sounds like he's putting more energy into clearing his name rather than putting you at ease. If he did the latter, he'd actually accomplish the former. He's got his priorities and order of operations all wrong on this one. For me, that's the red flag.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:27 PM on March 25, 2012 [38 favorites]

Weird technological glitch? Be careful with your heart.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:27 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

You know that you saw him get a text (and the name, etc). He is lying to you if he says that didn't happen. That is a red flag.
posted by marimeko at 3:28 PM on March 25, 2012 [20 favorites]

This does sound suspicious, but I do want to mention it is possible something else happened -- I have some games installed on my iPhone that will occasionally put up messages (that advertise other games by the same company) that show up as alerts that look just like text messages. Once it goes away then as far as I know there's no record of it anywhere. It's possible something similar would happen with a "from" name being a real name.

That said, again, this sounds super suspicious, but I did want to give a possible explanation for a way it could have been innocent. I, personally, would drop it because as you say it's one off and you can't prove anything and and... but I would definitely start paying more attention in the future and being alert for anything else suspicious.
posted by brainmouse at 3:28 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not aware of a tech glitch that makes a mobile device display that it has received a text message from a certain contact, when it in fact has not and when the user cannot later see the text or notification of it. Even if that glitch does exist, it sounds like the less likely explanation to me.

The apparent explanation is that he is lying to you. Why is he feeding you bullshit? I have no idea whether he is cheating, but I do think this is a BIG red flag of the fact that he is not a good person to be in a relationship with.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:29 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Um, you saw it right? And now he's showing you his phone and saying it didn't happen? Doesn't that seem a little bit odd to you? Basically he's telling you what you saw and remember didn't happen. That's a little freaky. The flag is certainly not white, I would even say it's a deep purple.
posted by bquarters at 3:30 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Another reason why this is a red flag is because "he said "you know I'm not cheating on you, that would be practically impossible" which to me implies that he has toyed with the idea at the very least but that there are obstacles in the way.
posted by livinglearning at 3:32 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Suspicious. Keep quiet and stop nagging. Why? No one who is cheating comes right out and says "Yes sweetie, I am cheating on you. Whats for dinner?" Get it?

Keep your head level, keep your heart in check, keep your eyes open, be open to the possibility that yes, this could get worse. Build your life, no one is indispensable. Period. Address your fears, if you are one of those who were cheated upon, you will have to be brave as I can understand how difficult that is. Dont jump the gun. Just be careful.
posted by pakora1 at 3:34 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think it's interesting that instead of saying, "I would never cheat on you" or something of that nature, he chose to claim that it would be almost impossible. I mean, it certainly sounds to me like he's cheating.
posted by Slinga at 3:37 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

His actions certainly sound consistent with trying to hide something, especially because he denied knowing anyone by that name, and you have evidence that he does from the other device. If there really was some glitch, I would have expected him to be confused. Like, he was there when the text came in. Also, WTF on that cheating answer.

However, it's possible the text was totally innocent, but he felt he had to hide it because he was afraid you would take it out of context or overreact, and just made a bad choice not to trust you. If you decide to bring this up, focus on that choice which you know he made, rather than other choices which you don't know about, until you have a better idea of what may or may not be going on.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:41 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't drop it. Have a conversation about it. Explain to him that his response wasn't the kind of reassurance you were looking for. It's not necessarily about the big spector of cheating but about simple honesty. And while initially you were curious, now you're curious and uneasy.

Try to remain calm and open and let him answer you. Pause and let his answers soak in. Think about what you need and accept that your needs are valid: you need there to be no "gotchas" over silly things like texts.

Also keep in mind that he needs to trust that he can be honest with you. Ask him if he trusts you in this way. He needs to feel like he can be open and you won't flip out. Some guys think that this is the point when all women flip out no matter how innocent or unsolicited the text was. But, the key here is to be open and honest with each other.
posted by amanda at 3:42 PM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

You clearly caught him in a lie, already acknowledge that he's not good at accommodating your issues, and he's trying to gaslight you. That doesn't mean for sure that he's cheating, but those three things you already know for sure spell DTMFA to me.
posted by cmoj at 3:44 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

Are you 100% sure it was a text message and not his turn at Draw Something or some other game?
posted by empath at 3:48 PM on March 25, 2012 [28 favorites]

Even if it were a technical glitch he still would have that text from, say, Jana (sounds like a girl but is actually an auto-text from a tech-acronym website he subscribes to or something, oh whoops, your mistake!). He could show it to you.

So he would still have that text unless he deleted it.

He's lying. And what's worse is he's making you sound crazy.

Something to ask yourself: are you still attracted to cheaters in general? Is there a reason this keeps coming up? Why do you trust this man who is probably feeding fed lies more than than your own judgement and instincts?

Just something to ponder because your concerns here are so right and valid and his explanation does not wash AT ALL.
posted by devymetal at 4:02 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I honestly don't think it's weird to say it would be practically impossible to cheat, though. Husband and I sometimes mention that it would be totally impossible for us because we're always accounted for, not very spontaneous, etc.

The weird text thing, I dunno.
posted by Occula at 4:03 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, in fairness, I have certain apps that send me notifications that look like texts, but if I don't read them in the moment, they DO disappear -- they're from the app, not a real text, so they don't show up in my texts. And if I don't read them when they pop up, I can't recall them, so I couldn't show them to a suspicious significant other because...I don't know how to get them back. I mean, all of mine are from, like ESPN and the NCAA, but that IS possible -- in fact, I just got one as I was typing this. So it's not impossible. But that doesn't mean that some cautious careful observation would go amiss in this situation.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:11 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm the kind of occasionally totally insensitive over-logical person who, in addition to saying "no, of course I'm not cheating on you" would add "anyway, you can prove to yourself that it's not even possible because..." So there's that. But I wouldn't lie about knowing someone of that name. Then again, is it a common name? Phone contacts can be, like, that random Craigslist seller you had to call twelve times before successfully arranging a pickup, or that old coworker you once had to call outside hours.
posted by salvia at 4:15 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I told him the name I had seen and he said he didn't know anyone by that name.
However, I know he does have a contact with that name on another device.

I was all set to type up a response about app notifications perhaps being mistaken for texts on his phone or something, but this? Um.

If you're going to accept 'technological glitch' on this, you'd need to buy that there exists a kind of technical glitch that produces a text, then deletes the text, then wipes the associated contact (or, alternately, invents a contact with the same name as someone the phone's owner actually knows), and then wipes the memory of the phone's owner too. Which seems a bit unlikely.

I explained that I'm just hypersensitive due to the prior cheating

Or alternatively, you were feeling uneasy because what your boyfriend was saying to you didn't make much sense. Being cheated on can make you hypersensitive about possible shadiness, but it can also make you write off your internal alert system when it's telling you something useful because you're aware you might be hypersensitive about this stuff. I'm not saying he's cheating on you, but something odd is going on here, and you're not being paranoid to find that concerning.
posted by Catseye at 4:19 PM on March 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

My father is a retired police officer. One trick he used to use in investigations was to ask people point blank if the committed the crime and watch how they answer.

People who are innocent tend to straight saw that they are innocent. People who are guilty of something tend to attack the evidence.

Example: Are you cheating on me?

Innocent: "No, I am not cheating on you and would never ever do that!"

Guilty: "What makes you think that?", or "There is no way that I could have cheated, I have been here all day", etc.

Now, lets look at his statement:

"you know I'm not cheating on you, that would be practically impossible"

1) He is telling you what to think: "you know I'm not cheating on you". This part of his statement is suggesting that your judgment/instinct is wrong and that you should "know better". Blatant evidence disregard with a side of "don't be crazy".

2) He questions the evidence: "that would be practically impossible".

His first reaction was not denial of the crime. It was an attack on your evidence and judgment. Textbook indication of a possible lie.

Be subtle yet watchful from here on out.
posted by Shouraku at 4:29 PM on March 25, 2012 [66 favorites]

*say, not saw. Damn phone.
posted by Shouraku at 4:29 PM on March 25, 2012

I'm not generally a big fan of ultimatums but this situation calls for one: he tells you the truth or you leave.

It's time to deepen this relationship or end it.
posted by alms at 4:30 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

My phone has glitched oddly before and erased an entire nights worth of texts as well as delivering them out of order, hours or days later, etc.

But there's also a way to make numbers and contacts on my phone secret, and it isn't hard to do at all. I don't know if most companies have that capability. It's certainly not one I've ever actually used.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:33 PM on March 25, 2012

I know he does have a contact with that name on another device (he doesn't know I know)

The only way you are going to feel better about this situation is if you read his email. Just do it and get it over with, we all know where this is heading.

Dollars to donuts he's only having an "emotional affair" or a mild flirtation or an office wife situation, and he feels guilty about it, and so he's hiding it from you. That's not 100% though; there's still a good chance he's actually cheating on you. And a smaller chance that he's hired you a singing telegram or a surprise vacation. Or she's some strange helpful grandmother, helping him get you an engagement ring.

Anyway then when you finally break down and start calling random numbers in his phone and reading his email, you guys will not recover from that trauma and will then break up.

There's so many things we can't know in this world, like "What is he thinking during sex?" and "Where is he in those 20 minutes a day I'm not on the phone with him or with him in person or he's actually at work?" So you can either put up with not knowing, which is how most of us are with other human beings, or you can go any means necessary on him.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:38 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

I told him the name I had seen and he said he didn't know anyone by that name.


However, I know he does have a contact with that name on another device (he doesn't know I know)

These two statements are the big problem for me. You've uncovered a situation where he's either (a) having an affair, or (b) not having an affair but there's some reason he wants to deny this person's very existence to you.

Can you really trust this guy in light of this? Nah.

posted by jayder at 4:53 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm confused. You said at first you didn't recognize the name but then later you say that he had another device with that contact name on it. Either you don't recognize the name or you do.

I also wonder if like other people have said, it was just a notification on Words with Friends or Draw Something.
posted by katypickle at 5:26 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a bit confused about whether you are not supposed to know about the second device or just that this particular contact is listed in it, but, either way, that's what I would ask him about. That's a far bigger red flag to me than any texting confusion or the conversation you had about it.
posted by katemcd at 5:28 PM on March 25, 2012

If you know the other contact name and number, why not google it? And also maybe check it against his recent phone records if you have access to them.

For me, the problem is tha you are co-habitating with this person. You can't afford to continue living together with a liar. I'd probably gather as much info as possible before talking with him, just to have my own back.

That said, someone above mentioned that this along with other details you mention equals DTMFA-territory. I absolutely agree.

I think you can skip trying to verify his story and kick this guy to the curb for other reasons... but if I didn't quite trust my own eyes and ears, and my living situation was at risk, I'd stop to verify facts before deciding how to handle things.
posted by jbenben at 5:32 PM on March 25, 2012

Did he acknowledge / remember the event in which you said "you have a text?" Maybe you could ask about that and find out what the pop-up was about.
posted by salvia at 5:32 PM on March 25, 2012

Mod note: Folks, if you can't be constructive with your comments, please just keep moving. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:45 PM on March 25, 2012

I am very sorry that this happened to you!
I think you're right to feel that something's up - and you need to find out what.
Maybe you would feel better if you are as up front as possible, and do the difficult thing, which is to say straight out:

"I saw your phone get a message from Betty Boop, and her name is also on the contact list on your other device. I admit that I've snooped [if that is how you know that she's a contact] - but I also need a good explanation from you about why you're teling me I didn't see what I saw."

You'll need to address how you came to know that she's a contact, but that DOES NOT exempt him from having to explain his behaviour (and if he claims that it does, he's gaslighting you, which is not okay).
What would make you feel better about this? Be honest and ask for whatever that is, even if it might seem excessive or prying.
There might be a forgivable problem here. He might be hiding a flirtation, or something else, rather than an affair - in which case he should admit to the minor wrongdoing in order to prove to you that there's no major foul ongoing.
Maybe not -- if he continues to evade, if he's solely defensive, or if he continues to behave strangely without good explanation, then you may have a bigger problem -- but I think letting this fester will make you crazy.
posted by Edna Million at 5:49 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had games on my iPhone that put up messages that look like incoming text. If you are looking when they come in you see them, but if the screen saver comes on, they disappear when you unlock it and you dont see them. They sometimes have other players names, like "Suzie has challenged you to a game". This could be the case here.

Another explanation, could it have been this other device the message came in on?
posted by Yorrick at 6:04 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have no idea whether your SO is cheating on you or not but before you get all DTMFA on their ass please consider that your case is circumstantial at best and there is a (probably small) possibility that your SO is working some sort of surprise for you or some other reason he has told you what is let's be honest could be a tiny white lie (if your accounting is even correct).
posted by Mitheral at 7:00 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't understand how his phone displayed a girl's name that you don't recognize, if you also know that he has a contact by that same name (that you claimed not to recognize) on a different device. Both things aren't possible.
posted by palomar at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, given that you are leaping to the most damning explanation possible immediately, I do think a DTMFA is a good suggestion... for your boyfriend. You deserve a partner that does not cheat on you, but he deserves a partner who does not immediately suspect him of cheating and gaslighting her based on what is at best very circumstantial evidence.

One more point: this "other device" that you know of with contacts on it... what kind of device is it? How old is it -- is it brand new, a few years old? Does it have just personal contacts, or professional/networking contacts as well? Is it a personal device or a work-owned device? How common was the name that you saw? Do YOU know anyone with that name? Have you considered that if it WAS a text, that it might have been sent to him in error, i.e. a "wrong number" situation?

See? Too many variables for any of us to tell you, yes, he's cheating and you're right to be this paranoid. If you're upset enough to appeal to the internet to tell you what's on your boyfriend's mind, why not just ask him directly?
posted by palomar at 7:38 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

To lend credence to the app hypothesis... when someone sends me a message on Words With Friends I get a pop-up on my screen which says "X has sent you a message!" and then when I go back into that game, I can read the message. Usually the message is something like "QI is not a goddamn word! Augh! This game!!!!!!" But, these are not texts in the usual sense. I could show you if I went into the game but the message disappears off my phone screen. It's not logged outside of the app. I have often missed these when they pop up -- they disappear.

Anyway, I don't really know what the deal is but you don't either! I'm giving your live-in partner of 1 year the benefit of the doubt: this is a great time to have a clear-the-air honest conversation. Yeah, he could be cheating on you -- only you can know if you've got your spidey sense tingling or if there are other signs. But if this is the first time something like this has happened with your guy then he's probably not cheating but you do need to get to the bottom of whether he just randomly lied to you... and why. Or, if he lied to you for a reason. And it's just a great time to talk about your expectations there. Just because those lies bring up bad memories doesn't mean that they are okay -- he's lying or white lying or just being really inconsiderate and obtuse.

Have the conversation.
posted by amanda at 7:44 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I vote for gaslighting, and that your recollections are accurate, though I'd be curious as to how much time passed between when you saw it and when you brought it up to him.

The thing is, with gaslighting, the gaslighter will treat the event like it's something that occurred to you to bring up at the same time that you brought it up to them, and direct the conversation along those lines, saying, "Oh, that didn't happen, you must be mistaken."

If you're not careful, you wind up treating it as something you revisited awhile later, instead of an event that has continuity stretching back from the present discussion of it, through all the thoughts you have been having about it, to the beginning of that chain of thoughts that happened with the event itself.

It's not like some neutral event along the lines of, "Did we go to the grocery store last Tuesday or Wednesday?" where the importance of the information didn't become apparent until awhile after the event. The importance of the event was clear to you as soon as it happened, and you've been responding to it all along.

Big difference. Huge difference. Don't let him deny the emotional experience you've been having since then.

Does he usually shrug when you tell him you have text messages? Was he the one who offered to show you the phone and the list of contacts? Who was the first person to mention cheating in the discussion, you or him?

palomar: She says a girl's name came up. It couldn't be a wrong number. Also, I'm guessing she checked the second device after she saw the message, in response to her suspicions, which would explain the apparent contradiction. (Good catch, though.)
posted by alphanerd at 7:44 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

*Does he usually shrug when you tell him HE HAS text messages?
posted by alphanerd at 7:45 PM on March 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much, guys. After reading the first several answers which all confirmed "red flag," I decided to press for answers.

To clarify, I checked the second device after not recognizing the name (the next morning), since upon reflection his answer that night didn't sit well with me. I have a policy of not snooping, but justified checking a contacts list as less egregious than messages, emails, etc.

During our talk, he initially denied anything but then admitted to flirting with 2 exes, by phone only. I do believe that there's nothing more to it, and I think he is contrite. We had a very long "clear the air" talk and while I still feel a bit fragile, I'm overall optimistic about this relationship.

Thank you again for confirming that I wasn't crazy to be worried.

I also had never learned the term gaslighting before...very interesting!
posted by Pomo at 8:19 PM on March 25, 2012

The flag just got a lot redder.
posted by alphanerd at 8:23 PM on March 25, 2012 [21 favorites]

During our talk, he initially denied anything but then admitted to flirting with 2 exes, by phone only.

Does this mean he admitted to getting the text? And then deleting the contact and lying about it? Or did the text not come up in your conversation?
posted by andoatnp at 8:23 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You let him off easy, and it will come back to bite you in more ways than one. I sincerely doubt the flirting is by phone only, and any guy who would willingly flirt with someone he is no longer with is not a keeper.

Please dump him.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:25 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Does this mean he admitted to getting the text? And then deleting the contact and lying about it? Or did the text not come up in your conversation?

Sounds to me like the suspicious text was from one of these exes, and that he finally admitted this to the OP. And yes, he must have admitted deleting the message and the contact.
posted by jayder at 8:32 PM on March 25, 2012

Best answer: Some people get really nervous and defensive even when they AREN'T doing much wrong... it's called having a guilty conscience. It's great that he admitted what he admitted. True, you may never know whether even that admission was soft-pedaled, but I'm sure you'll be on your guard for the next little while no matter what. Since he knows your background re: cheating it's really up to him to make the effort to put you at ease. If that doesn't end up happening, that's the real red flag -- it means he isn't listening or paying attention to your feelings.
posted by hermitosis at 8:34 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pomo, please don't close the book on this thread until you get some more perspective on the implications of the conversation you had with him. Gaslighting is a severe form of psychological abuse that undermines your perception of reality, and here it was facilitated by the very vulnerabilities you mentioned up top.
posted by alphanerd at 8:57 PM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, alphanerd. I do understand the caution and I take your point, and others, that this may not be the end of it. But we talked for several hours, and I got all my questions out and he did his best to answer them even when the answer might be hurtful (e.g. about his concerns about never having been in a long-term relationship before, the circumstances of his relationships with these two women, etc.) and I am tentatively satisfied with what I've heard.

He explains that after he had lied once he felt like it would be worse to fess up and he didn't want to upset me. He admits that he didn't really think it through and took the easiest, albeit immature, path. He hadn't been deleting earlier messages or thinking twice about it until we had the initial talk at night, when he kind of clued in this wasn't kosher.

I realize it sounds as though I'm making excuses, but I am trying to go into this with eyes wide open. He has in all other respects been an amazing partner, and I feel like a second chance (but not third!) is within my risk tolerance.
posted by Pomo at 9:45 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Take a moment to consider what would lead you to delete a message and then lie about it. What would you be feeling during and after? How would you feel about a partner that you would do that to?

Are you ok with your partner feeling that way about you?
posted by Dynex at 10:28 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to what everyone else has said, I would be deeply suspicious of a "clueless" person who, knowing me intimately and having full knowledge of all my weaknesses and triggers, manages to "cluelessly" do and say all of the exact most appalling things he could have done or said.

I think you're wise to give him a second chance and to draw the line at giving him a third. Good luck.
posted by tel3path at 3:46 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

My God, are you serious? You really need to dump this guy. He lied to you and then you had to talk with him for several hours about his lie? I'm all for compassion, but I know you have better things to do.
posted by amodelcitizen at 4:20 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

One time, I came home from work to find a used condom on my nightstand . You know what he said? "I found it in the driveway and picked it up because I didn't want to dogs to eat it." Seriously. He said that. With a straight face.

You know you saw it, you know! He is lying to your face, who knows why, but in my experience, if there is even a glimmer of hope that you might buy it, they'll deny, deny, deny.
posted by stormygrey at 1:30 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

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