Thanks to the Internet, we now have a host of new ways to offend, enrage, misinterpret, creep out, or alienate people. In the Tangled Web, we field your questions about how to be a decent human online. Have a question? Ask email@example.com.
I was using my girlfriend's computer and I accidentally saw her search history, and she’s been googling “herpes simplex virus.” I know that’s an STD, but if it’s one that she has, we haven’t talked about it and she didn’t get it from me. I want to ask her about it, but I don’t want her to think I was snooping.
There are plenty of reasons your girlfriend might be googling herpes virus that have nothing to do with having it, or worrying that she has it, herself. She could be doing a school project. She could have a friend who was just diagnosed. She could just be really into viruses. Okay, probably not that one, but it’s possible.
But this is important to your health, important enough to make it worth the awkwardness of bringing it up. If she’s googling because of her own test results, that means she has a sexually-transmitted infection that she’s not discussing with her partner, and that is uncool. She could be putting you at risk.
Well, some risk. HSV, which comes in a mostly-genital form and a mostly-oral form, is treatable but incurable and can be transmitted even when you’re not having an outbreak —but it’s also relatively common, only contagious part of the time, and often asymptomatic. So this is something to take seriously, but not panic over. (By the way, I just had to google HSV to check my facts on all of this, so that’s another possible explanation right there: maybe your girlfriend writes an advice column.)
So okay, don’t freak out. But do say, “When I was using your computer I saw you were googling herpes—is there something we need to talk about?” Sneaking around and deceiving each other will present a much bigger threat to your relationship than some little virus, so get it out in the open. Be ready to laugh it off if she was just looking it up for a short story or something, but also be ready to have a serious conversation.
If she thinks you were snooping on purpose, she’ll just have to trust you when you say you weren’t—just like you have to trust her if she says her search history has an innocent explanation. At some point, suspecting each other of betrayals becomes toxic, and if you can’t stop, you’ll need counseling or an end to the relationship. But hopefully it’ll turn out that she’s not hiding her STD status from you, you’re not keeping an eye on her browsing habits, and you can all go to the virus enthusiasts’ conference together.
Jess Zimmerman has been making social blunders on the Internet since 1994. Most of her current interpersonal drama takes place on Twitter (@j_zimms).
Photo by computerhotline/Flickr (remix by Fernando Alfonso III)