Hello, world. My name's Stephen LaConte, and this is Hey Stephen — a cozy little corner of the internet where BuzzFeed readers like you can DM me for advice.
Today, we've got this woman, who's grappling with some trust issues with her fiancé. Earlier this year, she cheated on him and got caught. They're both committed to working through it, but she recently found him snooping through her phone. Does he have a right to snoop, given her past mistakes? Here's what she wrote to me, via Instagram:
Your fiancé's paranoia right now is fair. His decision to deal with that paranoia by snooping is not. Even partners who've cheated have a right to basic privacy (with one tiny asterisk, which I'll get to in a bit). It sounds like you and your partner are both hoping to bring your relationship to a better, healthier place, but you won't get there by sneaking around behind each other's backs or violating each other's trust.
Now, it's true that some people who've cheated will willingly give their partner access to their phones as a means of rebuilding trust. If that kind of transparency works for a couple, more power to them. (And, of course, it's not snooping if it's consensual.) But I certainly don't think this arrangement should be a requirement after a person cheats, nor do I think it is inherently sketchy or a red flag if the partner who did the cheating still wants some degree of privacy in their communications moving forward.
It's also worth noting that as far as cheating scandals go, yours is hardly the worst the world will ever see. Don't get me wrong: Cheating of any kind is awful, and there's no excuse for it. But from your description of things, this was not some serious, emotional affair, nor did it escalate beyond a kiss. This is not the sort of thing that should force a person to relinquish all personal boundaries and submit to 24/7 monitoring from their partner. Your fiancé would have been well within his rights to break up with you over this kiss, no question. But if he's going to stick around, he needs to keep his response proportional to what actually took place.
So yes, I absolutely think you are allowed to assert your right to privacy here — but it matters how you communicate it. If you're just snatching the phone out of his hands and saying "Don't look at that!" you're probably not doing much to quell his anxieties. You can be firm, but explain your reasoning: "Snooping through my phone is not okay. It's important that I'm able to have private conversations with my friends and family without feeling like I'm being watched. That doesn't mean that I'm doing anything to violate our relationship. You don't need to know that my friend just had a huge fight with her boyfriend, or that my sister's IBS is flaring up again. If you're ever concerned that I'm texting [old coworker], please talk to me instead of snooping."
Okay, and here comes that one tiny asterisk to your privacy that I mentioned before: If your fiancé is concerned that you're texting your old coworker, I think you should let him view your communications with that one particular person (or ideally, your lack of communications with them). That seems reasonable enough, provided that it doesn't become a daily demand, or something he wields against you as a punishment, or something that goes on forever and ever. But in this early stage of repairing your relationship, if he needs the rare reassurance that your fling is over, it can't hurt to let him see the proof with his own two eyes.
And while he works on giving you his complete trust again, you should focus on earning it. It sounds like you're already taking some positive steps in that direction. You're owning up to your mistakes, being introspective about them, and addressing them in therapy. I wonder if you've considered bringing your fiancé along to some of those sessions — or maybe, it's worth finding a separate couples counselor to help the two of you navigate this period of healing. A professional, objective third party might be able to open up better lines of communication between the two of you, and give your fiancé some healthier ways to cope with any lingering mistrust.
Oh, and one last question before you go: Does your fiancé have a history of snooping? You mention that he learned about the cheating from your texts. It's possible this happened innocently (like, maybe you handed the phone over to him, and a flirty message popped up on the screen). But if snooping has always been a habit of his, I think he's unlikely to stop now that he's actually found something incriminating. (Interestingly, in your DM, you also express some doubt that he'll stop. Another reason I'm wondering if this is a recurring behavior.) Before the commenters get into a whole debate about who would be worse, the cheater or the serial snooper, I'll offer my two cents: At a certain point, it doesn't really matter who's worse, if you bring out the worst in each other. Do you?
I hope his snooping was a one-time, reactionary thing that he'll never do again, and that your cheating was a one-time, impulsive thing that you'll never do again. I think you both can move past that. But if these violations are indicative of larger patterns in your relationship — if you've got a history of lying to him, and he's got a history of doing shady things to catch you — then maybe this isn't a relationship worth keeping. You can only rebuild trust if it was there in the first place. Good luck.
Last week, we heard from this woman, who used to work at the same job as her 31-year-old boyfriend, and would occasionally question his interactions with their 19-year-old coworker. They've since broken up, and she recently discovered that her ex is now dating this 19-year-old, despite his repeated claims that he had no interest in her. Should she confront him or let this go? Here's what she wrote to me via Instagram:
I think you're right to be skeeved out by your ex's new relationship — and not just because it's with your former coworker. An age difference between two consenting adults who want to date isn't inherently wrong or immoral, but both partners in that relationship should examine their dynamic closely, and ask serious questions about whether they're well matched in terms of maturity, and whether the younger person is at risk of being exploited. In this case, it's not only the age difference between a 31-year-old and a 19-year-old that raises eyebrows; there's also the fact your ex spent years with this person when she was a minor. And given that he's her much older coworker, I have to wonder whether he wields any sort of power over her on the job. It's not a crime for your ex to date this 19-year-old, but it sure is worthy of thorough scrutiny.
So, you're wondering whether you should confront your ex about all this. My answer to that is a firm maybe — but it depends on what your intentions for that conversation would be. Do you have a clear objective in mind?
For example, if your objective is to call out your ex for his apparent lies to you over the past year, by all means, go for it. His new relationship has some undeniable and painful intersections with your past relationship. You have every right to be angry about that, and to articulate that anger out loud to him. You also have a right to some answers here. Clearly, there are lingering questions about what, exactly, he was doing with this coworker in the final months of your relationship. You deserve the truth about that, if you want it.
On the other hand, if your objective here is to simply call out your ex for dating a much younger person, I have to wonder whether that would be the best use of your valuable time and energy. Unless you're worried that he might have been secretly dating this person when she was a minor (which you didn't mention as a concern in your DM, so I'll assume it's not the case), then disapproving of their relationship is more a matter of personal taste than objective wrongdoing. You find it gross, and so do I, but is there any real benefit in saying that to him? Is he likely to care whether his ex approves of his new girlfriend? Or, would he just dismiss your criticisms as jealousy?
Likewise, if your objective in confronting this guy is to protect the 19-year-old girlfriend, I think that's a noble goal, but one that would ultimately prove fruitless. This woman may be young, but she's an adult and entitled to make her own choices about who she dates. I sincerely hope she has trusted people in her life — friends, family, other coworkers at this job — who are looking out for her, urging her to be careful, and pointing out all the red flags as they inevitably pop up. But you, as the ex-girlfriend of this man, are probably not the right person for that job. Your motives, pure and good as they may be, are likely to be questioned. And it's hard for you to be a neutral observer to their relationship when you've also been burned by it.
At the end of the day, I think a conversation about this is only worth it if your objective is to gain clarity or closure on your own relationship with this man. If the objective is to intervene on his new relationship in some way, understandable as that impulse may be, it's likely to backfire. And if you can't think of any clear objective in confronting him, well, maybe that's the sign you need not to do it. You've already given seven years of your life to this person; I don't think you should give him one more second of it, unless it would be productive to your healing.
Let's end with the silver lining to this mess: You're no longer dating a guy who sure sounds like a liar and a creep, and who thinks he's finally met his match with a teenager. It can't be fun to find out that your ex is dating the much younger coworker who he swore up and down he had no interest in. But the upside here is that you now have a much clearer picture of who your ex is, and a whole new list of reasons why you should not be with him. It sucks, but it sure beats learning the truth after he put that ring on your finger. Count your blessings that you're no longer dating this guy, or working with him and his new girlfriend. I think you dodged more than a few bullets. Good luck. I'm rooting for you.
Got a problem you want solved in this column? DM me! My inbox is always open. Just read the fine print below first.
THE FINE PRINT:
All DMs sent to me are for publication on BuzzFeed only. I do not respond to individual messages or provide any advice one-on-one. Please don't submit a question unless you want it published on BuzzFeed. We'll always keep you anonymous. You must be 16 or older to submit. Also, please try to keep your DMs as concise as possible. Instagram has a limit of 1,000 characters per message. Try to fit your whole problem in one message if you can. It will greatly increase your chances of getting picked! If you want, here's a handy character counter you can use to draft your question before DM'ing it to me. Thanks, y'all!