In high school, I went through my ex-boyfriend’s diary once. He had left the leather-bound diary sprawled across his flannel bedspread before he left to go to skateboarding with his friends on a Sunday morning. I had stayed the night and was too hungover to get up and join him (not that I skateboarded, I was a skater-hag of sorts) so stayed tucked into his bed and slept as he faced the world. When I woke up around 2PM and saw his diary, the sunlight bursting through the blinds shining its rays on it like a theatrical spotlight, a rush of adrenaline shot through my body. Don’t do it, I said to myself firmly. Don’t you dare, I warned as I felt my fingertips tingle with desire.
But I simply couldn’t stop myself. It was sort of like my issue with late-night binge eating. I’ll open up the fridge and simply glance at the brie cheese and the next thing I know, I’m savagely devouring it with a fervent intensity, tearing it apart with a rabid, animal-like hunger I didn’t know I possessed.
I didn’t read it because I was worried he was cheating on me or wanted to see how he really felt about my scrawny seventeen-year-old body. I’d never experienced even a mild pang of jealousy with any of my boyfriends, probably because I was a dyke.
I just, for whatever reason, have always attained an innate curiosity that can only be satiated by snooping. I tore through the pages and consumed his words quickly. The next thing I knew I found out something awful, something truly awful. The journal revealed a devastating, gut-wrenching trauma from his past, a deep-dark, toxic secret he’d been harboring that would forever change the way I looked at his seemingly picture-perfect life.
I knew I had crossed a big, fat line. That I had taken something from him: The empowering moment of him telling me his story, in his words, on his terms. In that moment, I swore to the god I only believed in when life felt unbearable, that I would never do such a thing again.
And I didn’t.
Until I fell in love with a girl. Falling in love with a girl felt like ecstasy. Not like the natural ecstasy you experience during an orgasm, but like ecstasy the drug. “I literally feel high around her,” I would tell my friends. While it felt amazing, I also felt out of control. I had never been intoxicated by a person before and it rendered me dangerously vulnerable.
My vulnerability made me feel wildly insecure. I had lost the coat of armor, that bullet-proof vest of confidence that I had worn in my relationships with men. I was known as the “ice queen” to boys in high school and had a reputation for being a ruthless heartbreaker. Suddenly, I was with a woman and felt completely naked. She could see me. She knew how to hurt me — not that she would, but she knew how to because I was stretched wide open, my insides pink and exposed.
For the first time in my life, I experienced feral jealousy.
I was obsessed with her ex. Her ex was nothing special, really — a five foot one, frizzless Florida girl — you know the kind. Rainbow flip-flops, silver anklets, a ruddy white girl tan and a tiny fake diamond pierced through her nose. She’d never been out of the country. She was 100 percent American. How was it that my girlfriend, who claimed to love me — with my textured Israeli hair, and exotic family and tendency to wear heels to the beach — also once harbored the same lust and longing for a girl who looked like she stepped out of a country music video? My imagination soared to new heights during this time. I would create false narratives in my head. I’m just something new and exciting to my girlfriend. I bet she’ll go back to her ex, that’s her real type. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re talking now, I thought. Every time my girlfriend would pick up her phone I would feel as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. She’s totally texting her ex wondering why she’s with complicated, weird ME.
You know those movies where the guy leaves the all-American Taylor Swift girl for some swanky brunette bitch, only to realize he prefers his simple, sweet jeans & tee-shirt Taylor Swift girl and goes back to her? The movie ends with them, like, kissing in front of a haystack or something? I’m pretty sure those movies are supposed to empower the “normal girl” but they completely alienate me. I’m the brunette bitch who get’s left for the “normal girl” all the time. I’ll make you realize you prefer a girl who wears less makeup and doesn’t publish articles about her mental illness on the internet. The circus is fun for awhile, but eventually, you’ll crave the comfort of predictability. The ride is fun until you’ve found yourself dizzied by the excessive movement. Trust me.
Early on, my girlfriend and I had vowed to never look through each other’s phones. I even told her about the time I violated by high school boyfriend’s privacy and how I’m still overcome with guilt about it, and she was moved by the story. “I trust you,” she whispered. “I would never feel the need to look in your phone.” “Me too,” I solemnly whispered back.
One night after too many shots of tequila, I sat in bed paralyzed by my insecurity. She had felt distant to me that night. I had never felt distance from her before. And because alcohol turns me into a raging narcissist, I chalked it up to me. Me. Me. Me.
She was falling out of love with me, surely. It had nothing to do with the fact that she was under pressure at work or fighting with her mother or just having an off night, it had to do with the fact that she was turned off by me. Because in case you didn’t know, the world revolves around me, honey.
My girlfriend got up to get water. Now’s my chance, I drunkenly thought to myself. I picked up the phone like it was a slice of hot cheesy pizza and I devoured it like I had been starving myself for days. I scrolled through her text messages high off the thrill of “doing something forbidden.” My heart raced as I found her ex-girlfriend’s name on her feed. Sarah.
They had been texting. I f*cking knew it. My heart rate went from emergency room fast, to meditatively still.
“I think your new girlfriend is weird,” read the text, all of my insecurities validated within seconds. I felt a sad sense of relief. I wasn’t crazy.
“Well, I don’t like your girlfriend either,” my girlfriend had typed back.
“Your girlfriend is weird. You know she’s weird. She’s not your type.”
And before I could read anymore the phone was snatched out of my hand. “You’re going through my phone?!” my girlfriend screamed, “What the f*ck!”
I was quiet for a moment. I could either admit defeat or fight back. I fought back.
“You’re texting your ex! What the hell! I knew it! You’re a goddamn liar!” I screamed, unleashing the beast that I had locked away inside of me for so many months. You know what happens when you let a wild animal out of a cage, right? A f*cking stampede.
“I’ve given you no reason NOT TO TRUST ME!” my girlfriend screamed back. “How DARE YOU! Your whole thing about ‘not violating anyone’s trust’ was bullshit! I thought you were different but you’re just like every other crazy lesbian!”
We brawled and pounded our chests and screamed and cried until we fell asleep. It was one of those long, exhausted periods of sleep when you just keep sleeping and sleeping because you don’t want to wake up and confront the shame of your reality.
“I’m sorry,” I squeaked when I finally couldn’t take it anymore, when the fatigue had manifested into a horrible, hungover anxiety and keeping my eyes closed was just making it feel worse like I was locked in a dark prison.
“It’s okay,” she said coldly.
Things were never the same after that. I didn’t trust her. While I hadn’t even finished their text exchange (and she might’ve even stuck up for me), my jealous imagination had already made up my mind. She was in contact with her ex. Which meant she wasn’t over her. It wasn’t rational, but jealousy is a mentally unstable bitch. None of the conclusions Lady Jealousy draws are ever fact-based.
And she didn’t trust me either. I had crossed a line of respect, and when you do that with someone you’re in love with, it kills the intimacy that binds you together. She changed the password of her phone (I know this because I tried to look again, several months later). We now had codes and numbers dividing us from one another.
She became more and more distant and I became more and more insecure and needy until I hardly recognized my reflection in the mirror. I was a shadow of myself. I was the girl I had promised myself I would never, ever be. I ended up leaving her. I needed to find myself again, I told her. And I had to do it alone. She understood, and was relieved I’m sure. She started dating a 19-year-old who worshipped her after that. I started seeing a therapist.
I wish I had a profound takeaway for this story. I don’t. Because all I learned from this experience is that anytime you go through your partner’s phone, read their diary, or spy on their private conversations, you’re going to find something you never wanted to find. Maybe it will be a secret they’re harboring about their families. Maybe it will be a confession: they’re sometimes worried you’re “not the one.” Maybe it will be a silly exchange between them and a girl who triggers you in every way. And all you’ll be left feeling is haunted. Haunted by the fact that you betrayed their trust. Haunted by knowing something they didn’t want you to know. Haunted by the pain of the truth.
I can’t help but wonder, aren’t our partner’s allowed to have secrets? Isn’t it sort okay for them to have a brief moment of questioning your relationship? Or a hidden experience from their past they aren’t quite ready to open up about? A tiny, harmless crush on the girl at the gym? Aren’t they allowed to have brief feelings they express to their friends, not to you? Come on. Haven’t you ever had a moment of doubt that you expressed to your friends? A moment that passed as soon as it left your lips? Isn’t this all okay? I think it might be. I’m not really sure.
However, I’m sure about this: If you think your partner is really doing something bad, cheating, drugging — why don’t you just ask them? Because you’ll know the truth by the look in their eyes. Eyes reveal more than a diary or phone ever could.