I'm a late-20's gay man in a relationship of near three years with my partner. About six months ago we became temporarily long distance, but it's close enough that we get to see each other for long weekends 2-3 times a month.
I've become a serial snooper, which stems from my partner having some recurring problems letting go of peeking at his hook-up apps as well as some general anxiety issues where my mind likes to trick me into thinking the worst about everything. While the long-distance situation hasn't always been great for my trust issues, I thought the last few months have been better than ever. I've sought help for dealing with my anxiety, and we've also come to a mutual understanding about how to make his urges to look work for us moving forward.
However, I've had a relapse while visiting him recently and I am unsure how to deal with the fallout. I found an old string of messages that can only be described as a hook-up plan while he was visiting home a couple summers ago. At that time, we had only been dating for a few months, and it was technically right before we made it "official" upon his return. But by then, I had already told him my feelings about wanting it to be long term, and I was already acting under the assumption that we were exclusive. For the sake of not revising history, even if I assume he wasn't acting under the same rules at that point, he has previously told me that he never slept with anyone after we started seeing each other.
Thing is, this was so long ago that I actually don't feel all that upset about the hook-up or the even the lying for that matter. Had I known this right away, I probably would have ended things then, but right now I kind of just want to get everything on the table, wipe the slate clean so to speak, and get back to our life together while 300 miles apart. I don't want this to come up when I'm in a worse mood or accidentally get unearthed during an argument where it would likely spiral out of control.
So what is the best way to confess to knowing all of this? I don't want it to come across as accusing him as I only know part of the story, and I'm clearly in the wrong here regardless. Thank you! Love your column and podcast!
Should Not Open Other People's Sexts
Here's what you should do: Keep your mouth shut about that old string of irrelevant messages. Forever.
You're a reader/listener, SNOOPS, so you're probably familiar with my spiel on snooping. No longterm relationship is entirely snoop-free, blah blah blah, just as no long-term relationship is entirely lie-free, porn-free, or thinking-about-fucking-someone-else-while-fucking-you free. And while snooping can sometimes be justified after-the-fact, i.e. when the snooper discovered something they had an urgent need/right to know, snooping is always risky, it's always a violation (of a partner's privacy and their right to some autonomy), and it can erode the necessary trust (and zone of autonomy) that makes a relationship possible. My go-to example of after-the-fact justifiable snooping: The snooper learned that the snoopee was doing something that put the snooper's health at risk, e.g. the straight-identified married man hooking up with men and taking anon loads behind his wife's back.
Another potential risk: the snooper discovers something they didn't need to know, something that isn't a problem, but something that sandpapers the snooper's insecurities. For example, the snooper finds texts messages exchanged by snoopee with the snoopee's best friend bitching about the snooper's faults. (Everyone has faults and having someone we can blow off steam with about our partner's faults is healthy; reading those just-blowing-off-steam texts is not.)
You uncovered the second sort of something, SNOOPER, i.e. something that isn't a problem or a threat—or isn't any longer—but that sandpapers your insecurities.
The first thing you need to do is put what you found in perspective: You found one tiiiiiny thing after scrolling through years of messages. And what you discovered, SNOOPS, does not justify the offense of deep-dive snooping. And the fact that you don't think you'll be able to resist hurling this in your boyfriend's face during an argument—it's not going to be "unearthed" by a wayward archeologist, SNOOPS, you're going to toss it in his face—is a very bad sign. A bad sign for this relationship and every relationship you'll be in after this one collapses—which it will, kiddo, if you can't learn to control yourself.
And what exactly is your boyfriend guilty of anyway? A small fudge designed not to deceive his insecure boyfriend, but to put his insecure boyfriend's mind at ease. You were operating under the assumption that you two were exclusive before you made a commitment. He was not. When you officially became exclusive—and he realized you wanted to backdate exclusivity to the beginning of your relationship—your boyfriend stuffed that one old hookup down the memory hole and told you a relationship-saving lie: "I never slept with anyone else, honey, after we started seeing each other."
And it's entirely possible he didn't sleep with anyone else. You dug through his messages all the way back to the start of your relationship—before you two became exclusive—and all found was one string of text messages planning pre-exclusivity hookup. Noting since you were exclusive and no messages confirming that this planned hookup took place; no polite thank-you-for-the-dick follow up message, no exchange of hot-and-sweaty fuck pics. It might not have happened—but even if it did, SNOOPS, you weren't exclusive when it/he went down.
And if your boyfriend had confessed this hookup to you at the time that he banged this dude—if he banged this dude—you would've ended the relationship. But you're glad you didn't find out because you're glad you're still in this relationship. So...
Your boyfriend did you a favor by keeping this from you, SNOOPS. It was a loving white lie and a minor chronological fudge. Take it away, Idina Menzel...
Your partner of almost three years is with you for a reason, SNOOPS, but you're going to give him a reason to reconsider sticking around if you tell him what you found. Just as it was in the best interests of your relationship for him to keep that hookup from you, it's the best interests of your relationship for you to keep this deep-dive snooping from him. So stuff that string of text messages up your memory hole, SNOOPS, and then go and do something nice for your boyfriend to thank him for keeping this from you all these years. He wouldn't be your boyfriend if he hadn't.