“It’s Complicated”

by Esther Levy
March 11, 2014

On snooping, relationships and snooping in relationships


Written by Esther Levy-Chehebar

I’d first come to know Aziz Ansari through his ascot popping Parks and Recreation character, Tom Haverford. And for six seasons, I’ve been jovially watching the lovable Haverford roll out his own red carpet and pioneer his own language. Forks, for example, will now forever be “food rakes” to me. Desserts will be “zerts.” And Chicken Parmesan“Chicky chicky parm parm.”

I love the guy and so when the opportunity to meet him came a-knockin’, I opened that door faster than you can say “fry fry chicky chick.”

(I’m done.)

A friend of mine was selected to participate in a focus group led by Ansari, which would examine the effects that social media snooping has had on relationships. The catch? Attendees were forbidden to bring their partners, thus creating a safe space where one could lament about his or her significant other amid the comfort of strangers. So, I bid my husband of eight months farewell and attended the event with my best friends’ boyfriend.

Ansari began the conversation with a question:

Has anyone here ever seen anything on his or her partner’s social media platforms or e-mail that made you mad? 

The women in the room sprung into action with a “Fuck yeah!” while the men remained decidedly quiet. But the dynamic changed once the lights were turned down. With darkness obscuring our faces, in-depth stories quickly materialized.

One woman, we’ll call her Pinky, told an anecdote about an ex who left his Facebook logged on to her home computer. Equal parts curious and suspicious, Pinky chose to glean his Facebook messages. This was, after all, her home turf, so she wasn’t technically “hacking.” Pinky’s suspicions were met with vulnerability when she found provocative exchanges between the moron who left his Facebook logged on and a mutual girl friend.

Another cyber-spy, a sweet man from Arkansas who I shall call Zorro, said that he and his wife openly use each other’s Facebook accounts. However, it recently came to light that Zorro’s wife had been posting nasty statuses about his mother, using Facebook’s blocking feature to hide them from him.

He was angry to find his wife posting unbecoming comments about his mother on her Facebook page, which I understood, but still it made me wonder if he had a right to be upset.

When this one Israeli solder I met in the throes of an emotionally intense Birthright trip recently messaged me on WhatsApp, I was more inclined to fall into a “flirtatious” exchange but not because I’m emotionally invested — it is simply because the service harbors my otherwise harmless words in a private space that is unaffiliated with my “real life.”

So maybe that’s the thing about social media. These virtual communication platforms encourage a code of privacy that plays by its own sets of rules.

My husband and I share a desktop computer. I know all of his passwords as he does mine, and his e-mail is always open. He doesn’t have Facebook or an Instagram account, and his Twitter account is nearly mum save for the occasional @WhatTheFFacts retweet. (Did you know that “vaginae” is the plural word for vagina?) Still, were he to see the WhatsApp exchange, would he be upset? Or would he respect my privacy and understand that the Internet alters — whether intensifying, mitigating, or even recreating one’s actual personality? And if he could understand that, where do we draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate?

Snooping with probable cause is a complicated matter, but from what I was able to cull through Ansari’s conversation, it seems like the majority of us do it. It just also seems like the question we should be asking isn’t in whether we snoop but rather in how private our virtual lives should be when considering what we share with our partners.

Or, as Tom Haverford would say, “Virty virty life life.”

Visit Esther’s blog, The Philosophy of Windex here and follow her ass on Instagram here.

  • therealdp

    of course you need to snoop on people when you are in relationships with them. and even when you are not in relationships with them. when they go to the bathroom and leave their phone…it’s called spy time. when they fall asleep because they are too drunk? spy time. when they get a glass of water from your kitchen and you don’t offer to help? SPY TIME. but you never use any of the information you glean from spy time, at least not immediately. it is just for general knowledge. you stick it in your back pocket, remember it for later.

    • Aubrey Green

      this is really funny, “of course you need to snoop on people when you are in a relationship with them.” – this makes me laugh so much. The most important thing you said though, is, “but, you never use any of the information you glean from spy time…” – I agree with that.

  • sara

    what do you think about this, http://www.zaidaward.com, I need your opinion!!!

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  • Aubrey Green

    If two people have a healthy relationship, I don’t think snooping is necessary, or it’s at-least done less often – I think it’s done in a more curious type of manner and should you find something that bothers you or annoys you, I don’t think you should say anything, no matter how bothered you are, if you chose to snoop, you are choosing to see/hear something that maybe you don’t necessarily want to know. We’re all separate people and individuals, we should be allowed just a small amount of privacy, no?

    I’m torn on giving passwords because of this – I think the person snooping is looking for something to be mad about, so maybe that’s the question we should all be asking, why does the snooper want to cause an issue, or better yet, what is it that they are hiding/doing that they are so concerned with what you are doing?

    • Ranim

      I would never give an SO my password, nor ask him for his. Why tempt fate? I feel like there are enough issues out in the open to be picked at in a relationship, you don’t really need to go around snooping in your partner’s virtual life to find any more.

    • Guest

      my husband and i have each other’s passwords to all our social media platforms as well as email. honestly, if you have nothing to hide, there’s nothing to worry about. neither of us snoop, we have no reason to but we both know the other has access to our virtual lives. if you can’t trust one another, there is a lot more wrong with your relationship than what you do online.

      • Aubrey Green

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving the passwords, I guess it’s what you do with it, or why you are asking for it in the first place.

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  • Geoffrey

    I mean thats why you go to the beach sometimes with a lot of people you aren’t dating yet.

  • Sush C

    My ex-boyfriend has the same password for every single online account he has open; it wasn’t hard to deduce his facebook password. He knows I know it, even after we broke up and decided to remain friends. I admitted that i knew his password to a gossip-queen friend of mine, who sowed the seeds of baseless suspicion that he might be having a fling on the side. Logged in….found NOTHING.

    He’s very much incapable of lying simply because it requires certain imaginative capacities that he can’t be bothered having, and he’s a guy’s guy so there was lots of talk of sport; a boring exchange with his brother, and more boring exchanges regarding fantasy football. After this experience, I decided never to do it again. I felt tremendously guilty. I’d rather be cheated on and find out organically than be suspicious all the time and be simultaneously stressed out, disappointed and paranoid.

  • Ray, L

    maybe it’s because Generation Millennium or Gen X (including the Writer) Have all grown up on social media that you’ve never learned to develop trust, because unless your willing to go thru every tweet, email, blurb or blog your bound (rightly or wrongly) to get your feelings hurt, Just because you have the ability to micro check your partner doesn’t make it a good idea, Think of all the anxiety your inviting in, Trust in your partner (you’ll know if they are worthy just listen to your gut) will lead you both into a better satisfying relatiionship

  • lavieenliz

    my boyfriend and I never snoop. I trust him 100% and we have great communication!


  • Aubrey Green


  • Harper

    my husband and i have each other’s passwords to all our social media platforms as well as email. honestly, if you have nothing to hide, there’s nothing to worry about. neither of us snoop, we have no reason to but we both know the other has access to our virtual lives. if you can’t trust one another, there is a lot more wrong with your relationship than what either of you do online.

  • Mike Roberts

    >the Internet alters — whether intensifying, mitigating, or even recreating one’s actual personality?

    You can say the same about alcohol, being on vacation, or hanging out with old friends. It may explain your behavior, but it does not excuse it.

  • Ellen

    How would you and your partner know each others passwords; like once you two make the relationship official or get marry, do you guys just openly offer each others password? Like “Hey btw heres my yahoo password!” ??