Look, no one’s judging you here—we’ve probably all looked through our significant other's phone in a moment of panic at least once before. We aren’t proud of it, and we swear we’ll never do it again, but sometimes the temptation is just too strong and our doubt about our SO too… doubtful. Obviously, any rational grown-up person understands that violating someone’s digital privacy is very unchill. Depending on who you ask, it’s downright unforgivable. But when you need answers (or are just a super-nosy person) the consequences seem far away, like they can't ever touch you. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to get caught, right? As someone who has been a digital creep here and there in my day, I can tell you that whether or not you’re caught is actually beside the point and it definitely doesn't mean no harm, no foul.
In fact, here’s what you should probably be considering once you’ve cracked the passcode.
Your body goes into shock.
Just kidding! Almost! This sounds dramatic, but your body will have a physical reaction—mostly in the easily spooked, werewolf-awareness sense in which every sound that could be someone approaching sets you jumping. Your heart rate increases (assuming you possess a modicum of a guilty conscience) and you get all jittery with stress sweat about possibly being caught.
Because, like, what if a new text comes in while you’re looking at the phone, and even though you'll mark it as unread, it still won’t show up in notifications?? Dead giveaway. Really, so much could go wrong! Plus, there’s the whole short-of-breath “I wasn’t doing anything!” vibe when bae gets back to the table that never fails to make things uneasy. None of this is a huge deal, but you know, just saying—something to be aware of?
Lack of context makes everything seem a lot crazier than it probably really is.
Okay, say that your investigation was sparked by a hint of suspicion. That means anything you find/read will look automatically suspicious because you’re already looking for “evidence.” Even an innocuous, “Hey, missed you at the bar!” from a coworker looks like said coworker either has a crush, is alluding to a flirtatious thing, or worse, hooking up or about to hook up with your partner.
OR maybe they’re just pals at work, and instead of going to an after-work drinks thing, your SO chose to hang out with you instead, prompting coworker to send a “hey, missed you at the bar” text because the life of the party wasn’t there.
But you can go ahead and clear your calendar because all you’re going to be doing for the next few hours (or days, or weeks?) is overanalyzing this type of thing. Pretty much this exact scenario happened to me with a college boyfriend and the amount of grief it caused when it turned out the text meant nothing was honestly and embarrassingly way too much to handle. And my behavior before realizing this was super indulgent. After my heart fell into my stomach at the sight of it and I felt like puking (I didn’t), I low-key sulked for weeks while obsessively stalking her Facebook to compare myself to her. I could’ve been spending my time doing literally anything that would’ve been better use of my time.
Now you’ve found a hole to dig yourself out of.
If you go looking for trouble, you’ll be surprised to see how easily trouble can be found. But that doesn’t really give you any leverage to deal with it. For one thing, if you want to confront your SO about a serious-enough thing you found on their phone, you’re going to have to tell them how you discovered it—by betraying their trust. And even if there’s shady behavior to discuss, the fact of the matter is that you violating their privacy is just as shady (unless what they did was much worse in your opinion, in which case maybe just dump them?). But still, stooping low to dig up the dirt means you’ve also got to dig yourself out. Don’t snoop yourself into a corner.
What’s known cannot be unknown.
There are no Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-type services these days (yet!) so you’re just going to have to live with everything you discover. Say you do find something unpleasant in an email or text—maybe it’s just a casual remark about how a mutual friend looked hot last weekend, which is obviously not the sort of thing your SO would tell you necessarily because RUDE but which is totally fine to discuss with a friend.
Other things totally fine to discuss with a friend but that may possibly upset you: plans with other people that do not involve you, relationship advice (hello, about YOU), how his or her mom doesn’t like you, how he or she doesn’t like when you wear peep-toe shoes, health issues, money problems… basically anything, honestly. But the point is, it was not meant for your eyes so if you come across anything irksome, you brought that on yourself. You can’t reasonably hold someone accountable for an insult or injury they didn’t lob at you. But the worst part about that is once you know it, you can’t un-know it. So it just festers within you as you try not to reasonably resent them or let them know that you resent them while secretly planning out a passive-aggressive retaliation. Wasn’t it better when you just wore your cute peep-toe mules in ignorant bliss?
It sets the tone for distrust.
Since snooping is one of those things that once done becomes easier to do again and again so long as you keep indulging it and as long as you never get caught, that also means it becomes almost second nature to prioritizing snooping rather than actually communicating with your SO about what bothers you. So you don’t open up and, in turn, maybe they don’t open up, and it’s a missed opportunity to actually get to know one another deeper, keeping at arm’s length what could be a beautiful connection! Also, if you don’t talk to your partner, you’re probably always going to be seeing red flags that are probably just huge misunderstandings. It’s one thing to be afraid that you’re going to sound ridiculous expressing concern about something seemingly petty, but not expressing it and getting caught in a paranoia-binge going through someone else’s private matters is actually ridiculously petty. Don’t be petty!
Your SO breaks up with you.
Well yeah, that’s kind of the “game over” aspect of this dangerous game. But think about it: Would you want to be with someone who doesn’t trust you and violates your privacy? We’re all susceptible to indulge curiosity if we don’t consider snooping an egregious betrayal, but to some people it is, so it’s worth knowing that the consequences can indeed be dire.