Few things are more enjoyable than stories of people doing questionable shit, especially when it involves smashing electronics. Lucky for me, an acquaintance was recently kind enough to pass along such a story from his personal catalogue of romantic calamities.
As it went, a few months prior he was at a party with his girlfriend. At the time of the shindig, they had been dating for about two months. At one point during the evening, his girlfriend requested to borrow his cell phone as hers was temporarily out of order. He gladly forked over the device and she scampered off to politely use the phone where nobody else would be disturbed.
Translation: she locked herself in the bathroom and looked through all his messages.
When you’re that keen to find dirt, even a tea spoon at The Ritz will smell like a Porta-Potty. So she dug up some dirt. Did it matter that the dirt was a conversation that occurred before she even met her boyfriend? Nope. She stormed out of the bathroom, evidence in hand, verbally accosted her boyfriend in public and then chucked his cell phone from the apartment balcony, destroying just about any chance she had at converting the whole debacle into a productive conversation.
Now, I’m sure you’re all wondering: are they’re still together?
Of course they are. They’re both nuts. But that’s not the point of the story.
The point of the story is that while I was told the tale, about zero attention was given to the possibility that the girl’s motivation, and arguably her right, to check his message history may have held some merit.
It was almost impossible to smoke out that one central point amidst the mushroom cloud of insanity that was covering the story. However, the baseline support of an impenetrable privacy for our cell phones seemed all too familiar. And It still didn’t sit well with me.
“You don’t go through a guy’s phone, dude—especially after dating for only 2 months. But that’s not even the point—you just don’t do that.”
All I could say in response was, “But, ya, dude—sometimes you do.”
The best way to explain my position is to start with the extremes and work back. The first extreme is this: I know couples—married couples to be exact—who share email accounts, Facebook accounts or both. And it’s worth noting that nowadays, the messages from both those applications usually show up on our phones.
Now, I’m not sure I agree with that approach from a practical perspective. I don’t particularly want to get spammed with emails about book club and martini recipes just as much as most girlfriends and wives don’t want to wade through subject lines like, “Great article about Jeter,” or “Did that stripper ever wake up?” But we’re not really talking about what’s practical. We’re talking about what’s fair and what’s comfortable.
Do those couples who share their accounts feel like they’re dating the FBI? Are they cramped by the inability to claim singular awareness over their extra-marital conversations? Are their relationships suffering?
Assisted by basic guidelines like, “Don’t read threads that are clearly between the guys” and “_____ prefers it if I didn’t talk about what she’s going through”, the built-in transparency seems to bring them valuable comfort and confidence. I think that’s great.
To that, many respond by saying, “Ya, but they’re married; they’ve agreed to share a life together.” That’s a fair point. I have likely not made the same explicit commitments to a girlfriend of 9 months as I have a wife of 5 years.
But what about the people that have been rescued from a life together because of a phone snoop?
What about the hordes of people every day that escape harmful, life-crippling relationships only because they are able to expose hard evidence of “secretive” behaviour that directly undermines the romantic contract on which they based their most significant commitments and sacrifices? You can tell them to have better communication, but we all know how far that gets us when we’re dealing with deep cases of narcissism, insecurity and lust for manipulation. Those kinds of people don’t answer questions and communicate; they manage information. The communication can’t happen without access to the data.
So do we tell everyone that because of a social pseudo-law—likely founded on shadiness—that constructs some holy privacy bubble around cell phones that they’re going to need to get aggressive and super-creative in order to call people out on some bullshit?
Given our general understanding of common romantic commitments, doesn’t that seem counterintuitive? Doesn’t that seem a little unfair?
Doesn’t it seem fairer that since I have agreed to be someone’s exclusive lover and primary emotional caregiver, and understanding that they’ll inevitably feel discomfort and doubt, I just forfeit to the odd perusal of my harmless Android with a few warnings about questionable content?
I can’t see why not.
Don’t get me wrong: it can get unreasonable fast. When it’s happening every week and it’s resulting in hollow, disruptive accusations, there’s a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. But believe or not, that worst-case scenario supports my point.
If you give someone a spare key to your Lamborghini and all of a sudden your mailbox starts overflowing with speeding tickets, you’ve got bigger issues than a key. You’ve either got a car problem or a driver problem that really needs fixing.
And let’s be honest; if you haven’t learned how to delete a message thread, you’re on the chopping block for natural selection anyway.