Sunday 23 October 2016

Undercover lover - Is it ever OK to read a partner's text messages?

Published 26/06/2016 | 02:30

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne

Lingerie model, TV presenter and self-proclaimed "secret psycho" Kelly Brook recently admitted to reading her new boyfriend Jeremy Parisi's text messages.

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"I like to be ahead of the game," she told a British redtop. "So when I met my boyfriend, I got the password to his phone early." Open sesame!

Unfortunately there were even more codes to crack when she hacked into the mainframe: Jeremy is French and most of the text messages were in his native tongue.

Luckily our super-sleuth was undeterred: she simply sent screenshots of the messages to her French-speaking cousin and asked her to translate them. In case you're wondering, there was nothing to worry about.

Kelly isn't the first celebrity to admit to snooping on her partner. Comedian Chelsea Handler also channels Jessica Fletcher from time to time. She says so in her recent show Chelsea Does Marriage.

The revelation comes during one of those contrived scenes in which a group of tell-it-like-it-is semi-celebs sit in a strangely deserted restaurant and engage in a boozy post-watershed debate.

There are flashes of authenticity - if you can overlook the Botox bunny lines, the obnoxiously white veneers and the full camera crew...

Anyway, one of Chelsea's dining companions is a Jewish comedy actor whose face everybody recognises but whose name nobody knows.

He's joined by his wife, Jenny. They strike me as one of those couples who have little in common save for a ravenous sex life.

Jenny has plenty in common with Chelsea, though. When the comedian admits that she snoops on her boyfriends, Jenny just nods her head emphatically and grins.

I can remember a time - and it wasn't that long ago - when this subject was unmentionable. Couples may have snooped on one another, but they didn't admit to it so readily - and they certainly didn't defend it so nonchalantly.

Of course, we're now living in an Orwellian world in which personal privacy is disintegrating. Data mining, selfie-posting and those sinister blue ticks on WhatsApp have slowly yet stealthily infringed upon our personal boundaries. Meanwhile, relationship snooping is imperceptibly becoming the new normal. If the NSA can read your text messages, well then so can bloody I!

Chelsea and Jenny go on to use the well-trodden 'if you have nothing to hide...' argument to defend their actions.

This angle always unnerves me. It suggests that the right to privacy and the need for boundaries is some bizarre new-age fetish.

More to the point, it doesn't differentiate between having nothing to hide and having something that you may not like to share. Some people are quite happy to converge into a single cloud of digital consciousness, but others would prefer to keep themselves to themselves.

We seem to forget that privacy is a fundamental human right. Without it we don't have autonomy and without autonomy we don't have identity.

We also ought to remember that relationship snooping erodes identity from the inside too. When you suspect that somebody is reading your text messages, you begin to write them with another reader in mind. It's like spreading a veneer over your very sense of self.

But we tell each other everything! Tell him how many lovers you've really had then. Or tell her about the sneaky wad you have stashed away for a flutter at the Galway Races.

There are no secrets in this relationship! Yes, except for the fact that you secretly read his text messages when he is in the shower.

The irony is that the couples who crave sado-masochistic self-disclosure are generally the couples who have the most to hide.

The real issue is trust, or lack thereof. Chelsea admits that she has trust issues. Kelly said she became twice shy after discovering explicit text messages on ex-boyfriend Danny Cipriani's phone (she seems to have a thing for men with names like Jackie Collins characters).

Their paranoia is to be expected, but it's not excusable. If you have trust issues, it's in everyone's best interest that you sort them out. Otherwise you're just dragging a rickety old suitcase full of issues from relationship to relationship.

Read a self-development book before you consider a spyware app. Get a therapist before you consider hiring a PI. Do something - anything - before you start rummaging around his sock drawer.

It's no life when you're constantly poised between attack and defence, just as it's unhealthy to endure the fight-or-flight response every time you hear the ping of your partner's phone.

Your suspicions may prove to be right... or wrong. It doesn't really matter. If you don't have trust in a relationship, well then it's not a relationship at all.

Irish Independent

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