Sex & Relationships

I Know My BF's Passwords, So Is It OK to Read His Emails?

Our wicked-smart sex and relationships columnist, Kate Carraway, to the rescue!

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Remember that show Temptation Island? The premise was, I think, to drop a regular couple in a sea of pre-selected babes and wait until one or both of them gets in trouble. My boyfriend at the time was baffled by this premise—maybe “baffled” is disingenuous, in its probably-willful-ignorance about how reality TV works—because a serious, monogamous relationship necessitates being able to get dropped into any Babe Sea, and survive.

That reminds me, in a sideways-way, of how often people invoke so much intellectual-emotional WTFery about their relationships, like “I trust him, but I don’t trust her.” What could be more self-righteously smug and more revealing of low couple-esteem, btw? If you trust him, then you trust him, and the “her” is—has to be—irrelevant. (Also, if you really don’t trust your adult human boyfriend to be around other women, you probably have the wrong boyfriend.)

A real, big, serious relationship is kind of abstraction; what makes it real (and big, and serious) is a lived and shared idea of what it is, and that requires trust, more than anything. Looking at his emails, for whatever you’re looking for—we know what you’re looking for—is an unequivocal violation of all of those things, and means that you just don’t trust him, or are acting like you don’t. It also means that he shouldn’t trust you.

It’s not that it’s right or wrong (it’s wrong) to read his emails. It’s that you shouldn’t want to read his emails, not really. I mean, everyone is fundamentally curious about their partner’s life away from them, obviously. Nobody doesn’t get that. In a new or ambiguous relationship, especially with someone who throws you off-balance in some crazy-making way (like, he has an inscrutable work life, or his friends are mostly hot women, or whatever), it can feel like any additional informational nuggets will reveal something about him that you need to know. And, if you are for-real thinking that there is some dirt in that inbox—and let’s be real: if he’s cheating on you, the evidence is going to be in his texts or DMs; email is the least sexy of all communication platforms—that is another whole thing, and will require some deep thoughts of your own, probably some conversations with him, possibly therapy. But, what should be bigger than that lizard-brained urge to snoop is you wanting to show your partner some basic respect.

(Also, know that any privacy-violating sleuth mission is just bad manners. Like, if you happened upon the open laptop of a friend, would you just click around, just because you could? If so: get away from me.)

Most real, big, serious relationships also involve messy boundaries. If you’re using your boyfriend’s phone to order pizza and you see a text from his mom, you didn’t do anything wrong, you’ll still probably be interested, you’ll want to click around in there, and you’ll feel like your gf-status gives you some right to do it. It doesn’t, though. Instead, it’s your job to actively respect him and his space, to put his phone down and say “I saw a text from your mom come in, but I didn’t click on it.” Intimacy, in a romantic-relaysh or otherwise, is a strange trick: the closer you are to someone, the weirder it is that they know other people that you don’t know, that they talk to other people in a way they don’t talk to you, that they do things and say things and email things and are things on their own that have nothing to do with you, or with the two of you. This is why it’s so jarring to run into your mom at the mall.

The moral implications aside, reading your boyfriend’s emails would actually do a major disservice to your relationship. As a writer, I’ve gotten used to the idea that all of my friends can see most of my work—my best, and my worst. It’s unfairly asymmetrical. I don’t get to (or want to) watch my friends do an important presentation for their boss on their worst day ever, you know? The same principle could be applied to your situation: even if you just want to read it to read it, it would afford you access to the stuff of his life that doesn’t and shouldn’t include you, and unless he’s also working a covert operation (just break up already) it will make your relationship asymmetrical, too. Instead, how about this: ask him what he did that day, and listen, and ask questions. Same effect, no b.s.