Shouldn't have snooped, feeling anxious
September 25, 2013 6:31 AM   Subscribe

My SO left her Facebook and email accounts open, I snooped, and I didn't find anything suspicious. Now I'm feeling extremely guilty and paranoid that she will find out. Advice?

The worst part is that I didn't even have any real or perceived "reason" to do so, other than insecurity and maybe fearing the relationship is a little too good to be true. Well, clearly I'm the crazy one who should be dumped. I know snooping is a terrible invasion of privacy, and I know I would be very upset if someone went through my things. I'm also pretty sure that if she found out, she would want to end things, which I do not want to happen. At the very least, she'd be majorly disappointed in me, since one of the best parts of our relationship was supposed to be mutual trust. So much for that.

I don't ever want to do this again, and I feel very guilty about it. I've been googling ways to make sure my tracks are covered, and I think I've done everything I can, but I'm afraid that somehow she'll find out anyways. She deserves to know, if only to realize that I'm not the person she thought I was, but I also feel like if I don't do it ever again, this one slip-up shouldn't completely ruin things, and maybe it would be better not to tell.

I am also trying to figure out what caused me to do it in the first place, but having a hard time. She's given me every reason to trust her, and I fear that my behavior is coming from a place of self-sabotage, or not wanting to let myself be happy.

Please help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've done this, and in almost exactly the same situation (attitudes to privacy, trust etc.).

I won't tell you what to do but in my case it sparked off a few important questions I was eventually able to answer (why I needed to do it, why this woman was so keen on me and so on). I finally realised that the desire to do it came from a real lack of self-confidence, and the result was that I redoubled my efforts to be honest to both her and myself.

Perhaps you can let this one slide if you do the same.
posted by fishingforthewhale at 6:39 AM on September 25, 2013 [14 favorites]

Don't tell her. No good would come of it. Maybe you want to do it to relief yourself of guilt, but that's a selfish reason. Also, it will pass in time. I am sure you have done and will do far worse. I know I have. So, consider how you feel to be your punishment.

I think it is very unlikely that she will find out. Since you only browsed and did not post any content while logged on as her, there should be no "tracks" to cover. If she does suspect anything, which I would think is very unlikely, deny it.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:41 AM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

burying yourself in guilt won't help solve the reason you snooped in the first place. you're not a crazy person who should be dumped. i think you should tell her because i think if you don't you'll spend this relationship feeling like you're not good enough and end up sabotaging it. all you can do is be honest and ask for forgiveness. finding more and more ways to cover your tracks is just piling the lies by omission on top of each other.
posted by nadawi at 6:41 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is up to you to determine whether you are going to potentially sacrifice the relationship on the grounds of your indiscretion. Revealing what you did to her does little more than show her the sort of person you clearly do not want to be. Consider your own feelings here as your punishment, and don't go seeking more, especially from another person. That would be selfish.

If you understand why what you did is wrong, feel genuine contrition, and know for a fact that your guilty feelings right now are enough to keep you from ever doing it again, keep this to yourself, never do it again, and do your damn best at being a fantastic SO. People make mistakes in relationships and "I snooped in your Facebook" isn't exactly "I slept with your sister." If it ever does come out, hopefully there will be enough good things having come from you to cover for it. And if there aren't? Well, then you take your lumps.
posted by griphus at 6:42 AM on September 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

Approach it as a way of being honest.

"Honey, I feel terrible and guilty because I read your Facebook. I was weak and insecure. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"

People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. She may not think it was a big deal. But sitting around stewing, feeling miserable is no way to go through life son.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:44 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Okay - deep breath first.

Fishingforthewhale is exactly right - I am also a former snoop, and in my case it was entirely due to a lack of self-confidence. And the way you've written this absolutely points to a lack of self-confidence; yeah, you screwed up, but not at the scale at which you're making it SOUND like you screwed up. You read some email, you didn't steal her life's savings.

I also think you should tell her - but while you are telling her, tell her that the whole thing made you realize that a) this was a screwup and you caught yourself and are horrified and will never do it again, and b) it made you think about why you did it in the first place - a lack of self-confidence - and that you are going to work on that.

We all do crazy things now and then where we do something we shouldn't because we've had a moment of weakness and then catch ourselves and go "wait, oh my god, what am I doing?" As Fishingforthewhale said, this is a good opportunity to ask yourself why you did it, and work on that. that's what helped me get over doing that.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Expectations of privacy between SOs/spouses/children is a recent, modern invention. In most times in history, including many places around the world today, you would have no automatic guilt from what you did.

In other words, snooping is not necessarily a moral failure, and don't beat yourself over this one moment.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:46 AM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

The conversations she was having involved other people, and you may now know things you had no business knowing. You didn't just violate her privacy - you violated the privacy of the people with whom she was talking.

You need to fess up so that she can tell the people she was talking to that the things they told her are no longer confidential.

She may forgive you, or she may not, but you need to do the right thing here:

1. Apologize, and make no excuses. Do not attempt to minimize what you did.
2. Tell her, specifically, what you read so she can determine what she needs to tell others, if any.
3. Accept that your apology will not immediately assuage her anger. This is a big deal.

Best of luck.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:47 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have done the same thing, I'm pretty sure a lot of people have and the guilt is the worse after. It's hard to say what the best approach is... honesty is always the best policy, and if she truely loves you/cares about you, she will understand if you explain to her that it was nothing she did or didn't do and it's not that you don't trust her, it's just that you are working through some of your insecurities. It's always good to just admit to it. But, if you just looked briefly and then felt guilty and closed the screen, I would leave it alone. Learn from it, don't do it again and just trust. If you really trust her and your relationship this will be easy! Unfortunatly, I was in a couple bad relationships where I did snoop more than once because my instincts were going off like crazy and instead of listening to them and getting out I snooped and found just what I expected so, I think if you are with that right person a one time oops accident is fine... if it becomes an issue where you feel something is wrong, that is where the problem lies.
posted by BrandNewMe at 6:55 AM on September 25, 2013

Gosh, you were curious, bored, a little insecure, she left her Facebook open so you looked. It's nothing.

Don't jeopardize a good relationship by telling her and making it into something it is not.
posted by Dragonness at 6:58 AM on September 25, 2013 [24 favorites]


Am I the only person who thinks this is no big deal? Who cares?

I've never talked to my husband about it, but I wouldn't care at all if he looked at my FB or email. Even if he saw something sensitive, he would never talk about it outside our relationship.

OP, I think you should not beat yourself up or "confess." To my sensibility, this is a non-event. But I admit I could be tone-deaf. I personally wouldn't care, were I your SO.
posted by Punctual at 7:11 AM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't want to know.

I don't want to know every time my partner does something less than awesome but that does not impact me in any way. I don't want a confessional relationship with my partner, or to be my partner's moral keeper. My baseline assumption is that humans are imperfect, we give in to temptation occasionally and the decent among us struggle to do better - and absent some evidence that my partner is not struggling to do better, I just don't want to get into moral minutiae.

Honestly, I really fear getting into a relationship with someone where one of us is "one down" morally because they "have a problem" that I "have to know about". I'd much rather think of it as "both of us probably do some minor not-so-great stuff occasionally, and it's all a wash".
posted by Frowner at 7:12 AM on September 25, 2013 [51 favorites]

So, I'm pretty clear on this being a huge violation of my privacy, but I am also generally pretty lax about leaving accounts signed in and so forth.

This happened to me once. BF needed to use the computer, opened it, my gmail was opened in a tab, he searched through some emails. He told me about it. Something along the lines of "I opened it and it was there and I was curious and I did some searches. I stopped almost immediately. I don't know why I did it. I feel really shitty about it. I'm so sorry."

And it was ok. It went from being something that I would have been really, really ticked off about to something that really wasn't a big deal almost instantaneously. He copped to it immediately, regardless of the circumstances, and apologized. It suggested he'd be honest about other things, too, even if it painted him in an unflattering light.

Tell your girlfriend immediately the next time you see her. Apologize profusely. I don't want to promise it will be ok, but having been there myself, I suspect it will be ok. Don't do this anymore.
posted by phunniemee at 7:14 AM on September 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

i think the point is that he has reasonable expectation that is partner will care that he snooped - he doesn't think she'll see this as a non-event. just because it's not an issue for a lot of the world or in human history doesn't mean it can't matter to her.
posted by nadawi at 7:15 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nadawi, good point.

I might be exhibiting my lack of emotional intelligence by saying that I don't understand why anyone would care.

My apologies!
posted by Punctual at 7:19 AM on September 25, 2013

For what it's worth: "according to a 2011 study, 41 percent of women have snooped through their man's phone or emails", "three fifths of men in a relationship snoop on partner's phones", "more than a third of women think it is OK to snoop on their partner's texts or emails to see if they are cheating" and "36% of adults feel it's okay to snoop through a lover's phone".
posted by iviken at 7:22 AM on September 25, 2013

Whether or not your partner would be hella offended by this, I think telling her would be a bad idea. It's a mistake, it didn't harm her, and no, she won't find out. Learn from it and never do it again. If it helps, whenever I come across someone's open account, partner or otherwise I fixate immediately on the Log Out button click it and keep my eyes on it until I'm out of everything. Repeat to yourself "She trusts me and I trust her." You'll get over it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:23 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

One privacy faux pas does not a malicious snooper make. You're being a bit disaster-centric in throwing away all the trust in your relationship over a quick gander at her digital bits.

It's natural in a relationship to want to know our partners' business. We have a lot invested in relationships, we are vulnerable, and there is a self-preservation to curiosity.

That being said, relationships should also not be panopticons devoid of privacy – after all, successful couplings are built on top of strong individual personalities, they do not replace individual personalities.

You need to keep it in context. First of all, there are probably other things that you do that you do not tell her. Maybe you have too many drinks with the fellows and insult someone. Maybe you get a speeding ticket because you're jamming hard to Usher's Climax one day on the freeway. Maybe you chat up a woman in a bar and out of amplified male bravado, you give her your phone number. Maybe you spend $1000 at the blackjack table instead of the $150 you said you would spend.

Are any of these individually transgressions worthy of ending a generally-happy long-term relationship? On their own, probably not.

Now, if you routinely go to bars and hand out your number, or rack up gambling debts and speeding tickets, that's a bit more of a trust violation. Our personalities are not indicated by solitary decisions, but by patterns. If you routinely went through her digital bits without her knowledge, that would be cause for concern. Or if you went through a few times and not only didn't feel remorse, but rather entitlement, that is a problem.

Where you are now is that you dipped in a forbidden pool, and had a quick swim. The measure of your relationship is that you feel guilty. You don't want your relationship to end because you read her email – especially when there was nothing to find! That is a corrective emotion, and it seems that you are responding to the correction. So chillax.

From quasi-personal experience, I will say that this is a slippery slope, not unlike most bad behaviour. You did it once. You found nothing. You feel guilty. You didn't get caught. And in a week, after a bunch of snuggling and a few dinners, you'll have forgotten all about it. If you get the compulsion again you have to ignore it and not do it.

Next time you have the compulsion, do not entertain it. Every time you deny yourself the opportunity to violate her privacy, you become stronger, and therefore your relationship becomes strong. Every time you wilfully violate her privacy, you become weaker, and therefore your relationship becomes weaker.

Now, onto the existential questions about why you did it. Only you know that. A number of reasons can be supposed. Maybe something has changed in the relationship. Does she have a new male friend? Has she been spending less time with you? Have you been fighting? Has she been distant?

It's very important to realise that the compulsion is a symptom and not a motivator. Something else motivated you to do this. You've had the opportunity before, I imagine, and have never taken it, so why now? What was different in the moment when you decided to do this? What were you looking for? If the answer is not obvious, what would you have dreaded to find?

There is a chance it was just innocuous curiosity, but if that was the case, you probably wouldn't feel so guilty. So what did you think you might find? Whatever that was may help illuminate what drove you to read her digital bits.

Overall, if you want a course of action:

1) Don't confess to her. That will be making a problem out of something that is not a problem.
2) Think about why you did it. What drove you to do it.
3) If there's something else you need to discuss with her, discuss that with her.
4) Don't do it again. Next time you feel compelled to do it (if you do), ask yourself what is really bothering you, and deal with the problem as a couple, not the spectre of the problem on your own.
posted by nickrussell at 7:33 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've done it. Felt really guilty afterwards. I was feeling hugely insecure at the time and lacked confidence in several areas. He left his facebook open and I had a look. There was nothing of any interest, I felt like an idiot and did some deep soul searching that led me to realise the following:

1 - I was feeling insecure after moving to a new country
2 - I had yet to make a friendship base here and I was lonely and bored and resentful towards him and his life
3 - I was the one with the problem and I needed to look within and fix the problems (which I did, very successfully)

These realisations meant I never did it again - and he has left his facebook open Many, MANY times since. People with nothing to hide will leave their facebook open.

I never told him what I did because I figured I'd been hard enough on myself. Make some changes to your life and move on. Don't do it again, but don't beat yourself up more than necessary over something that literally MOST people will have done at SOME point in their lives.
posted by JenThePro at 7:35 AM on September 25, 2013

Don't tell her. It's common to do this. Curiosity takes over.

Forgive yourself.

Then go forth and sin no more.
posted by inturnaround at 7:38 AM on September 25, 2013

Snooping is sort of like the HPV of relationship bad behavior. Almost everybody is exposed to it at sometime, and it's only seems like a big deal to most if there is a flare up. But it's also something I think people should be honest about.

However, in your position, I wouldn't say anything because my guilt would mean I wouldn't do it again. If you don't think that's true, I'd get out in front of it and admit it because the disappointment, anger, or whatever other negative reaction your SO has might be the motivation you end up needing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:45 AM on September 25, 2013

Don't tell her. You know, you are allowed to make mistakes and actually get that they are mistakes and learn from them -- all by yourself. The impulse to confess, to overshare, to seek exoneration -- it's not always the path to growth. You're looking at your actions, you've resolved to make some changes, you're doing great. Actions, not intent, matter. Don't do it again, and move along.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:54 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Don't tell her. It's highly unlikely she'll find out if she's signed in on multiple devices and you were on a session that she started. No suspicious logins - that is, if she even bothers to look.

Your curiosity is sated and you're feeling guilt about breaching a common relationship rule (and that's okay). Consider it a one-off mistake - which it was! - and don't do it again.
posted by theraflu at 7:56 AM on September 25, 2013

I've done the equivalent of this, back in the pre-internet days. When I was dating my first serious boyfriend I was watching his cat while he was out of town for a few days. He had a drawer in his filing cabinet with a few things like birthday cards from ex-girlfriends. I spent a half hour or so going through them. Like you, I had no cause. And I like you, I didn't find anything and felt hugely guilty about it afterwards. Looking back, it was probably a combination of being a little insecure because it was my first relationship, but not his, and a curiosity to see what he was like in other situations/interacting with other people.

In a sitcom-level goof, I unknowingly left the drawer partway open, or the papers disarranged, or something else that clued him in that I'd been in there. He asked me about it, I turned bright red and admitted it and apologized, explaining that I'd just let my curiosity get the best of me. He was more amused than anything else, I learned a lesson and have never been tempted to do anything similar since, and we went on with our relationship.

I can't say whether to tell or not, since I didn't fess up to my own trespass until I was caught, but I can say that this doesn't have to be a big deal. I think if you do talk about it with your significant other, your embarrassment will be clear, and they'll know you're not trying to justify what you did.
posted by MsMolly at 8:21 AM on September 25, 2013

The bad, guilty feelings are your conscience's punishment for doing what you knew was wrong. Now you skittishly want to avoid feeling your own sense of guilt. Too bad! Accept your punishment and LEARN FROM IT.

Just look at the sequence of events:
- I felt bad/anxious/worried that my partner isn't trustworthy
- I snooped
- I feel bad/anxious/worried because I snooped
- I'm writing metafilter for relief of this bad feeling
- ..... ???

You are bouncing around from feeling to feeling. STOP IT. Mindfulness, STAT!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:22 AM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Don't tell her, tell your therapist.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:38 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

You snooped her facebook, but presumably you are also her friend on facebook. Did you really see much of anything you wouldn't see publicly on your own account? Don't beat yourself up. If you think confessing will help you, you can, but it's not a requirement.
posted by itsonreserve at 8:44 AM on September 25, 2013

God, I am an insatiably nosy person who is big on total honesty in relationships, and even I wouldn't want my partner to tell me this.

Don't tell her. Just don't do it again.
posted by Salamander at 8:47 AM on September 25, 2013

I don't really think any of us can decide for your girlfriend whether or not this is a big deal, but FWIW I would want to know if I were her, if only so I could change my passwords and remember to log out if it were a big deal to me. What you actually did doesn't seem like an unforgivable sin to me, but I do think you're setting a bad precedent for yourself if your takeaway ends up being that you can hide things from your partner so long as you feel really bad about it and try not to do it again.

There's a lot of advice here that you could use to rationalize not telling her if that's what you want - and not knowing your girlfriend I really can't guess what the right thing to do is - but I do hope you'll be honest with yourself and act in her best interest, however you decide to go.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:50 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

If my partner were in your shoes, what I would wish was that they
1) didn't tell me and
2) immediately started concrete steps to build up their self-esteem, i.e. seeing a therapist.

Basically you have some neurotic parts which are flaring up in this relationship. Totally normal, but worth addressing. If I later found out you had snooped but then decided to do something positive about it I would feel like you found a small leak in the boat of our love and were busy stirring up a pot of caulk to fix it. Hang in there!
posted by feets at 10:16 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to comment on whether you should tell your girlfriend and how she might react. I just want to point out that you should explore your reaction to what you did as well. Do you feel guilty and paranoid and anxious because you are afraid you will get caught or that she will find out and end the relationship? Or do you feel these negative emotions because you trespassed her privacy and that honesty and privacy are important values to you in a relationship?

Because one of these suggests a pattern that might develop from your insecurity, and if that's the case, you need to proceed accordingly.
posted by sm1tten at 11:00 AM on September 25, 2013

OK, hold on. Does your girlfriend know about your no-self-esteem, super-self-conscious anxiety, and about how it's basically the main issue in your life? Is it that kind of close, intimate relationship yet, where you know each others Issues? Because if it is, you can just tell her what you did--which I'm guessing is basically nothing and you're just building it up in your head--and more importantly about how intensely anxious and guilty you're already feeling about it, and she'll just be like "Awww, baby, you don't have to worry about that. I'm so glad you told me instead of just stewing on it" and you'll go to therapy next week like usual and it'll be fine.

If she doesn't know this about you yet, that's what you should tell her. Look, you wouldn't have even done this in the first place, and definitely wouldn't be making such a big deal out of it, except that you're really anxious about your relationship, possibly because it's too good and you're scared. If she doesn't already know you have that tendency, she should know about it so that she has better insight into situations like this one. And because in really good relationships, people just like to know the specific ways in which their partner is crazy.

Alright so I made about a billion assumptions in this post. That you really do have a serious problem with this kind of self-conscious, guilty anxiety (but come on, "clearly I'm the crazy one who should be dumped?"). That whatever this is with Facebook would actually be nothing except for your intense anxiety around it, and maybe around your relationship in general. That your relationship with her is Pretty Good and telling her this kind of thing is an option. And so on. I'm not your internet doctor, it's just that I'm pretty confident in at least the first bit because holy shit the way you wrote this is just... you're seeing a therapist, right? Are you working on this?

Anyway, I like you and I wish you the best of luck.

PS I think the people saying "Don't tell her, because your partner doesn't need to know every tiny mistake you make" are correct in general, assuming we're really talking about a tiny "whoops checked her facebook for like a minute" thing, but that you need to tell her, not for her sake, but because you're driving yourself nuts over it. And the people saying "Wow this is wrong etc etc" are correct if you really did enough snooping for it to be a Wrong Thing and are in danger of making it a habit. I just think there's probably a lot more anxiety and building-stuff-up-out-of-nothing here and a lot less being-a-bad-snoopy-person.
posted by a birds at 12:17 PM on September 25, 2013

You've just experienced yet another of Facebook's multitude of misery generation methods. Don't let it get to you.

Nothing to do with Facebook ought to be taken seriously in any way by any person ever. Facebook is the sugary cereal of the Internet. It means nothing. Don't buy in to the drama. Say nothing. Let it go.
posted by flabdablet at 12:29 PM on September 25, 2013

She has made mistakes. She has guilty secrets. Maybe once she was having a bad day and let a bad driver get the best of her and drove aggressively and yelled and was very ashamed and felt sick about how your image of her would be forever tarnished if you knew.

Let it go.

If she suspects or asks, tell her you had a weak moment and you are sorry.

Let it go. Everyone makes mistakes.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:17 PM on September 25, 2013

Do you believe in deontological ethics, or consequentialist?

What kind of relationship would you like to have with your SO?

Has she ever said what she'd prefer?
posted by klangklangston at 8:43 PM on September 25, 2013

Having been on the receiving end of this behavior, I'll just say that, like most things in life, there are understandable reasons why you would have spontaneously chosen to do this once. Those rapidly go out the window the second time. Doing things more than once turns an action into a habit, an inclination, a go-to, and you don't want that. The trick to not doing something twice is to understand why you did it first, as others have said, and building trust in yourself to deal with the emotions that led to the act without acting on them. You'll do great, just learn and move on.
posted by elephantsvanish at 7:27 AM on September 26, 2013

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