Swipe This! Should I tell my boyfriend I read the flirty texts from his co-worker?

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Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected]

Dear Swipe This!

Last month, I lost my phone in an Uber. While I waited for my new phone to come, my boyfriend let me use his phone to contact some of my friends and family. When I was using his phone, I noticed some messages from his co-worker coming through. It was in a lot in a row and I got curious, so I took a look—and what I read made me uncomfortable. My boyfriend didn’t say anything sexual or inappropriate, but I thought his co-worker was very flirtatious, using lots of emojis and saying how he always makes her laugh. In my opinion, it was too much.

When I saw those texts, I got really angry. I’ve met this girl before at happy hours and work parties. She definitely knows he has a live-in girlfriend, and I think she’s crossing a line. You just don’t send flirty texts like that to someone you know is in a relationship. My boyfriend is nice to everyone, so I’m worried that he doesn’t realize what she’s doing. I want him to know it’s not OK, and he needs to say something to her. 

The problem is if I tell him I’m upset, he’ll know that I looked at his texts. I don’t want to look like some crazy stalker girlfriend. But I don’t want to say nothing, either. If I let this slide, I feel like the situation could escalate. What should I do? Is it worth it to let him know I saw the messages? I’m worried he’ll be angry that I went through his phone, but I feel like I have to talk to him to protect my relationship.

Sincerely,

Stressed Over Texts 

Dear Stressed Over Texts,

First of all, no. 

You cannot read someone else’s texts. Under any circumstances. Ever. Unless someone has given you explicit permission, I do not believe you ever have the right to violate a partner’s privacy in this way. It’s sneaky, it’s snooping, and it’s not OK.

I understand why you felt anxious when you saw a bunch of texts from another woman arriving one after another on your partner’s phone. Jealousy and fear are totally human things to feel. But the way you handled it was disrespectful to your partner. You crossed a big boundary. That tells me that you are insecure about your relationship because you feel you are in some way inadequate or unworthy of your partner’s love—or you are dating someone you do not trust.

You say you’re not sure whether this co-worker can be trusted, but that’s a misogynistic way to process your jealousy, and whether or not this woman is interested in your partner as more than a friend has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of your relationship. The trust and intimacy you build with your partner comes down to two people and two people only. 

That said, I understand why you snooped. The phone was right there in the palm of your hand. It was tempting and easy, so you took a peek. Maybe you hoped you’d read the messages and your fears would evaporate because you’d see that they were really nothing to worry about. Or maybe you panicked because you were surprised by what you were seeing. If you felt anxious or overwhelmed, I empathize with you. I really do.

But you made a mistake. The person to blame for your current distress is not your partner or his co-worker. It’s you. You broke your partner’s trust and your own. Now it’s up to you to find the way out of this mess.

As I see it, you have three options:

1) You come clean. Tell your partner what you did and apologize. Be honest with him about your jealousy issues. Own your actions and promise to do better in the future. Ask him for his forgiveness, and come up with a plan for what you’ll do the next time your jealousy monster rears its ugly head.

2) Don’t tell your partner what you did. Carry this icky secret with you forever. Have a conversation with your partner about trust and boundaries, while full well knowing you had no problem trespassing his boundaries for your own personal gain. Deceive him, possibly for the rest of his life and yours.

3) Come clean to yourself about why you’ve chosen a partner who you do not trust. You say he’s Mister Nice Guy, but if that’s the case, why are you fearful that this other woman could snatch him away from you? Is he really a stand-up, trustworthy dude, or do you have other fears about him that you are not willing to face? Is it easier to imagine another woman is seducing him than it is to admit you suspect he has some deeper flaws?

If you haven’t already, I hope you will seek some professional help with this matter. Feelings of low self worth and an inability to trust others can take a long time to unpack and heal. But you can change. And I hope, for your sake, you will.

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Nayomi Reghay

Nayomi Reghay

Nayomi Reghay is a frequent contributor to the Daily Dot, covering body positivity, feminism, sex, relationships, and gender. She is also the author of the advice column “Swipe This!” A former New York Teaching Fellow, her writing has been featured in Reductress, Rolling Stone, Mic, Someecards, and more.