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Has technology turned us into voyeurs?
By Lisa Daily
There’s not a person on the planet that hasn’t checked out someone else’s medicine cabinet on a whim or a moment of weakness.
Ashley* admits “I’m the queen of snooping. It has ruined/saved many relationships. With my last relationship I found out about all of his other girlfriends by going through his cell phone text messages. I confirmed the relationships by texting the girls. I also had access to his email accounts…
“But honestly, if you need to snoop, odds are he/she’s not the one.”
Jill Spiegel, author of The Flirtologist’s Guide to Dating, says we usually snoop because of a lack of trust or a suspicion of cheating but in some cases, people snoop out of mere curiosity. “They were raised in households where family members role-modeled snooping as acceptable.” That doesn’t mean it actually is acceptable, however.
“Snooping is extremely unhealthy — and reinforces mistrust on both sides,” says Spiegel. “If you feel the need to snoop take it as a sign it’s time for open and direct communication. If you suspect your mate is cheating, tell him/her why you feel that way and trust that the truth always comes out.”
Thomas Martin, known as “America’s PI” says,”Snooping through a friend or mate’s stuff now accounts for client’s initiating 38 per cent of our marital-type surveillances. We have done over 34,000 surveillances; 80 per cent of our clients are women, 20 per cent men. We catch 97 per cent of the people we follow.”
Martin adds, “During the past eight years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of surveillances initiated because of information or “leads” obtained from looking at laptops, computers, cell phones, text messages and emails.
“During the 80s and 90s women relied on ‘intuition’ and men a ‘gut feel.’ With the 21st century boom in technology, [people can simply click a mouse and read] ‘I love you’ or ‘I can’t wait to be with you again’ or ‘I loved the threesome.’
Some tales of snoopers and snoopees…
“I was snooping on a now ex-boyfriend’s desk and actually found that he had been snooping on me. He had written down phone numbers he didn’t recognize from my cell phone bill (which he apparently had been researching). At a later date, he also got on one of my email accounts and sent himself some exchanges between a new boyfriend and me.
“I also caught myself snooping at one point. Another boyfriend had left his phone at my house and it rang incessantly. After a certain point, I checked the phone number and didn’t recognize it. I actually answered the phone to a girl who said she was dating him. Interesting how that kind of snooping changes a relationship.”
Sometimes we’re drawn to snoop because of a gnawing suspicion that something isn’t right, that our partner has changed, or there’s something we should know.
“I totally snooped on an ex-girlfriend once. I felt terrible about it but she’d been acting very different lately; more reserved, indifferent to the relationship and during sex it seemed like she was just not there. She started sneaking out of the room for hushed phone calls and when I tried to talk to her about these things she wouldn’t give any answers about what was up. I just had to know what was going on.
“I stayed over at her place one night and while she was in the shower and getting ready for work I decided I would snoop around her desk and in her purse. I found flirty text messages on her phone, a hand-written love note from another guy and his business card in her purse. I admit it was an impulse decision to snoop; I was raised to respect the privacy of others and the whole experience left me with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not only had I violated someone’s privacy but this person hadn’t had the respect for me to just be honest and let me know it was time to move on. I didn’t want to tell her how I found out about the other guy but I realized I expected her to be honest with me so I’d better ‘fess up too.
“After thinking very carefully about the situation I confronted her a few days later. She denied everything but I broke up with her anyway. A couple of weeks later she called and confessed how they’d met on a business trip, that it was just a fling and that she’d like us to stay together. I met the love of my life the next year, so it was definitely the right move to leave. On the other hand, snooping made me feel terrible so, I won’t ever be doing that again.”
There are some people who snoop on every boyfriend or girlfriend (women are more likely to snoop according to experts.) At some level, they feel they are unworthy of love or respect, and so they go searching for proof of what they already believe to be true.
Along this same line, many chronic snoopers are cheaters as well. Guilt is a strange, strange animal — they cheat, so they think you might cheat, becoming more and more possessive and paranoid.
“I lived with my boyfriend for two years. He was a wonderful, sweet guy, but was sometimes very possessive. If we went out and I said hello to another guy in passing, I was bombarded with 10 questions: Who was that? How did I know the guy? Had we dated or slept together?
“It made me feel very guarded. He grew more suspicious. One day, I went to work and he went onto my laptop and into my emails (Mac computers will keep you logged in until you logout manually, not just when you close the browser). He emailed himself passwords to other accounts, like my MySpace account and checking account.
I didn’t realize he was doing this until he finally found an email he didn’t like. I was sitting at work when he starting forwarding me my own personal emails! I was shocked and hurt.
“The real problem began when we decided to stay together. If trust is violated and you go your separate ways, you can heal and move on. But when we decided to stay together, we were both resentful, hurt, and angry, even while trying to be a couple. I couldn’t forgive him for snooping and not just confronting me, and he wasn’t sorry — he felt it was deserved.
“It takes an instant to violate trust and sometimes years to get it back. I was constantly afraid that he was still in my accounts. And I had a right to be, because it wasn’t the last time he snooped. I changed my passwords, but he found ways. I even created a new email address he didn’t know existed. I finally moved out and we went our separate ways.
“We tried to reconcile a year later, but the gap in trust becomes a canyon over time. I believe that the only way snooping makes sense is if you are truly prepared to leave if you find something you don’t like. Once you invade someone’s personal accounts, you have crossed a line that changes everything. If you love and trust someone, confront them if there is an issue. Don’t snoop.”
Tina Tessina, psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again points out that suspicion may come from a previous life experience, “such as a relationship where the partner cheated or a family where one parent had a drug problem. But, usually the suspicion arises because there’s indication that all is not OK.
“Maybe money is disappearing or the partner is tied to the computer for hours and neglecting other aspects of life or there’s something furtive and secretive going on. Partners who have been cheated on before, either in this relationship or another one, or who have experienced living with an addict or alcoholic, will also be very suspicious.
“Sometimes people snoop because private things are left lying around and are too tempting or because the privacy level of each partner is vastly different. Adults who were only children are usually much more private than those raised with a lot of siblings.”
“Shortly after I started dating my now-fiancé, I snooped through his email. He left it open, assuming I wouldn’t go that low, but I had a feeling he corresponded with a couple of girls, including his ex. I found a TON of crap I wished wasn’t in there.
“He had emails with his ex about how she knew something was going on with me, and she was sick of the rollercoaster ride (he told me he had cut communication off completely). He also had flirty emails with a couple girls who were flings, and he had pictures of him nearly making out with some chick when he went on a trip the weekend before.
“I was completely disgusted by the entire situation … and so sick to my stomach that I couldn’t hide the fact that I’d found all this. I emailed the chick from the photos and asked if they had actually kissed, and she said no, that they flirted but that’s it. I called him almost immediately and just tore him to shreds. Never mind that I had looked through his email and violated his personal space, look at all the crap I had found!
“It took a while, but he eventually talked me down. I knew he was dragging his ex along on a string, but he wouldn’t admit it to me — this made him fess up, and admit that he hadn’t told her straight up that he was done with the relationship. He said I overreacted about the pictures, and the flirting. Honestly, I didn’t care much about the flirting with the flings — that was the least of my worries.
“I decided to stay with him because this was the beginning of the relationship. I know people come with baggage they have to get through in order to be ‘all yours.’ He never really got upset about my snooping… I said that his dishonesty, and me knowing better, led me to this. He agreed, and things got better. I snooped for another six months, and when I found nothing, and we had built up our relationship, I let it go. Even though it was a terrible feeling to find all the crap going on behind my back, I am glad I did it. Sometimes it’s a painful, yet necessary means to an end.”
Linda Franklin says, “When you start snooping where you don’t belong, you are always going to find something that will upset you. Whether it’s a confirmation that he or she has been cheating or spending money on something they didn’t tell you about, the act will not make you feel good. When you go looking to shake up the status quo you will do just that.”
Is snooping always a no-no? It depends on the situation. If you always feel the need to snoop, it’s probably your own insecurity. Only some serious soul-searching will tell you why you feel that every person you’re involved with might betray you.
On the other hand, if you’re normally a secure, sane person and something in your gut is telling you the relationship isn’t quite right, you should listen to your intuition and either check things out or sit down for a heart-to-heart.
Dating Expert Lisa Daily is the bestselling author of Stop Getting Dumped! and a new novel, Fifteen Minutes of Shame
*Names have been changed