I went through my boyfriend's phone and found out he's been talking to his ex-girlfriend, who he told me he hadn't been in contact with. He's calling her pet names like "babe" and "sweetheart" — the same things he calls me — reminiscing about their past sex life, and the phone log shows they've been talking a lot and they've met up at least once. Last Friday I was calling him and he didn't answer his phone. He told me he'd left it at home by accident, but his texts indicate he made plans to go to dinner with her. I want to confront him, but I don't want him to know how I found out. Help! —A.D.
Often when you go looking for trouble, it's trouble that you find. You thought your boyfriend was up to something, and unsurprisingly, he is. You've found proof that he's been lying to you about being in contact with his ex and his whereabouts, and that he's been cheating on you.
What you call a meet-up is actually a date with his ex; call it what it is. The cute names he calls her and "remember when" conversations about their sex life indicate that either she's Girlfriend No. 2 or, at the very least, he intends to make her a bed buddy again, if she's not already.
I'm no fan of snooping, even though lots of people have done it. Thirty-three percent of dating couples and 37 percent of spouses — slightly more women than men — say they have checked their partner's email or call history, according to a 2011 survey by the electronics site Retrevo.
Among those under 25, almost half reported snooping. Of course, there are various other ways that people go about it, from combing through social networking accounts to adding spyware to computers or tracking devices to electronics, rummaging though drawers or pockets, and even driving by folks' houses to check if the lights are on or off, if their car is in the driveway or if anyone else's is parked nearby.
What all of those amateur private investigators didn't realize is that they could have saved themselves the trouble. By the time it gets to the point where you can't trust your partner, for whatever reason, your relationship is doomed.
Even if you snoop and your partner isn't up to anything, when you get caught, you're now the one violating the trust in the relationship. You'd have been better off talking with your partner about your concerns when you first had them. If you can't get the reassurance or resolution you need through communication, then it's better to walk away and find someone you actually can trust.
In the same Retrevo study, just 9 percent of snoopers found confirmation of infidelity. If you run down your relationship history and find you're usually in doubt about your partners, skip the energy spent on checking up and look up the contact information for a good therapist instead.
A.D., you've already snooped and found confirmation that your partner has been cheating. You want a confrontation, but I'm curious what you hope to gain from it. You thought strongly enough that he was cheating to check his phone, and now you know you were right. Would an apology make everything better now? Do you want to work on a relationship with someone you don't trust? Those are questions only you can answer.
If an apology is what you're expecting, just know that you're asking a lot of a man who ignored your call while he was on a date with another woman, then lied to you about it. When confronted, he's more likely to follow the first rule of the cheating handbook, which is, "When caught, deny, deny, deny." You're likely to get a rambling and confusing explanation of how everything isn't what it seems.
Of course, he'll want to know where your accusations are coming from, and unless he's plum dumb, he'll easily figure out where you got your information. He may flip the script and take the focus off him by accusing you of being in the wrong — which you are, for going through his phone. Still, two wrongs don't make a right.
You may be hopeful that the relationship can be salvaged — what your desire for a confrontation is really about — but it's clear that your cheating boyfriend wants to date other people because he has already started dating, and possibly having sex with, another person. What's likely best for you in the long run is to skip the confrontation and just break up with him with no explanation. You can avoid additional drama, and if you're seeking some sort of payback, it's also the best way to screw with a person's head. Move on to someone you can trust and who knows how to honor a commitment. Those types do exist.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at email@example.com.