"To snoop or not to snoop?" That is the question Hamlet would be asking if Shakespeare were alive today and reading the headlines about Eva Longoria and Tony Parker, the latter of whom allegedly sent hundreds of secret “personal texts” to his NBA teammate’s wife.
Shakespeare’s not around to offer his opinion on the question of snooping, but all this week the experts at Good in Bed are answering questions about Internet infidelity.
Technology isn’t just enabling secretive behavior, it’s accelerating it at record pace: Flirtatious friendships, emotional affairs, the return of the ex, sexting, online porn and cyber-sex—with each new advance in technology comes a new way to deceive, and more and more of us are increasingly leading “digital double-lives.”
While infidelity has been around as long as civilization has existed, the Internet is still but a tiny blip in the long jaded history of adultery. We still have a lot to learn about its effect on relationships, but here's something interesting that a new study revealed about teens, which might also apply to adults: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine reported that teens who "hyper-text" and "hyper-network" on social networks like Facebook are more likely to have had sex, or to have used alcohol or drugs or to engage in other risky behaviors, than teens who don't use these technologies compulsively.
Is it possible to argue that adults who hyper-network and hyper-text also more likely to put their marriages at risk?
New technologies demand new rules, and here are a few suggestions to think about:
1.) Don't be fooled. It's doubtful the ghost of relationship past is better than your spouse:
In the end, we’re only human. We all romanticize the past, men and women alike. And no memories are more potent than those first youthful fumblings. We tend to remember the good parts and forget the bad. Until the advent of Facebook, though, most of us were compelled to leave the past in the past and move on. But now exes of all stripes—high school sweethearts, college lovers, former hookups—are popping up on Facebook. When two people strike up an e-mail or Facebook relationship, it’s easy to begin idealizing each other and blur the line between fantasy and reality.
2.) Don't keep secrets. In the past few years, I’ve heard from at least three exes who wanted to be my Facebook friend or found my website and e-mailed me out of the blue. And while it’s ever-so tempting to accept these friend requests, or to fire back a quick “of course I remember you” e-mail, I haven’t done so. That was then; this is now. And in those rare instances where I have accepted an ex as a Facebook friend, or written back, I’ve informed my wife and let her read every correspondence. Not because she doesn’t trust me, but because we have nothing to hide. Once you have something to hide, that’s where the trouble begins.
3.) Realize this Internet flame of the past is junk food for the brain. The instant gratification of these technologies stimulates reward centers in the brain, and it’s easy to find oneself craving the quick hit of an instant connection or lamenting its absence. Even without the senses driving attraction, the mind goes into overdrive and imagines this is the perfect person and the perfect relationship. An intense sense of intimacy is quickly fostered.
4.) There's no shame in disconnecting your Facebook account. Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you find you’re thinking more and more about the past, and getting to the point where you’re fantasizing about what it would be like to be with that person again, it’s time to unplug your computer—get back to your lover. There's no shame in removing the one variable causing all the problems.
5.) Ask hard questions, and if you don't get answers, then take action. So back to the question, what do you do when your gut is telling you that's something wrong? Should you snoop? In a committed relationship there should be nothing to hide. That doesn't mean you shouldn't respect your partner's privacy, but that respect first and foremost demands a foundation of trust. But what about when trust is not a given in your relationship, and you're worried that your partner might be engaging in behaviors that you'd consider inappropriate?
Before you snoop or dig around, ask yourself a few questions:
• Does your spouse spend way too much time on the computer and other digital devices such as cell phones and BlackBerries?
• Is he/she secretive about it? For example, is your spouse comfortable leaving his/her Facebook page or e-mail open when not at the computer?
• Is your spouse in touch with former flames or members of the opposite sex via a social networking site such as Facebook? If so, does it make you uncomfortable? Do you feel like you don't what's going on, that these "friendships" aren't out in the open?
• Does your partner call you paranoid when you bring up the subject and insist on his/her right to privacy?
• Is your gut persistently telling you that something's wrong?
Nobody likes to be snooped on, but nobody likes to snoop either. Ultimately a loving couple can make themselves stronger and better through a meaningful dialogue around these issues.
And what if you find something that really bothers you, like a seriously flirtatious friendship or proof of sexual infidelity? It's painful, but better to know than not in our opinion. Just ask Eva Longoria.
Ian Kerner is a sex therapist and NY Times best-selling author of numerous books including 'She Comes First' and 'Love in the Time of Colic.' He is the founder of Good in Bed, and lives with his wife and two kids in New York City.