Lucy Mangan

“Snooping on your partner is wrong”

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Well, if Jools Oliver’s doing it, then it’s game over for the rest of us, isn’t it? Perfect home, perfect children, £150m in the bank, still looks like the model she was before she started popping out offspring, married to a man who (yes, yes, as far as we can tell at this remove) appears to be the embodiment of trustworthiness and familial devotion – but despite all this, she has confessed to checking Jamie’s email, Twitter account and phone for evidence of infidelity.

I asked a group of friends whether they did likewise (with their own partners, I mean. I wasn’t at a Jamie Oliver Stalkers’ Convention). The answers ranged from a shocked “Never!” to shocked-that-I-even-had-to- ask “Always!”, plus one outlier – one of our group whose indefatigable curiosity about the world (her term) or pathological nosiness (ours) has become a running joke over the years – who said she checks everyone’s (friends, family, boyfriends) phone, emails, tweets, letters, bank statements, drawers and anything else they leave momentarily unguarded “just because I want to know.” I think we can ignore this extreme for the purposes of our discussion – I mention her only so that if you have a similar friend you can lock up your possessions next time he or she visits.

I was somewhere in the middle. In the past, I’ve often wanted to and occasionally gave in to the temptation (never found anything though. Not even a hint that one boyfriend was about to move from London to Manchester without telling me. I still try to draw comfort from the fact that he didn’t seem to think this news was worth sharing with anyone, not just me. And it still doesn’t work). But I’ve never – even during That Time of the Month, when I become entirely consumed with such paranoia and dread that you could convince me the cats were bent on emptying my bank account and destroying my life – done it with my boyfriend-now-husband. The fact that I never felt the need, even early on in our relationship, to check up on him (I just wanted to know what he was doing when he wasn’t with me, which is different, honestly) was a sign that maybe he – and we – might be marriage material.

If you're snooping around your partner’s private life there’s something wrong

The fact is, if you are snooping around your partner’s private-ish life, it does mean there’s something wrong. Not necessarily badly, cripplingly or fatally wrong, but wrong nevertheless. In the worst case scenario, you’re either searching for corroborating evidence for clues you have already discovered about a likely indiscretion (overtime that doesn’t add up, perfume on a jacket, an STD you know you haven’t nurtured in the past) or you just know deep in your bones, that the person you are involved with is not trustworthy and have gone searching for the evidence you need to make the break.

The better case scenario is that it’s all about you – that you are the one with, as therapists would say, ‘trust issues’ (possibly even your therapist if you’ve been at this game long). Maybe your father was a philanderer and you can’t stop yourself from believing that all men are the same. Or maybe you find it difficult to stay faithful yourself and can’t comprehend how anyone doesn’t feel the same. This is the better case scenario because our own inadequacies and idiocies are easier to recognise and cure – or at least wrestle under control – than those of other people, who stubbornly insist on retaining their independence of thought and spirit, even though the world would be a much pleasanter place if everybody just submitted to my will. I mean – ahem – if everyone was vouchsafed an insight into their own inner workings with the help of a supportive professional.

Of course, there is another scenario, identified by my aforementioned friend with the inquiring/sociopathic mind. “It’s never happened to me,” she said, flicking through someone else’s purse. “But you would know something was wrong if you didn’t even WANT to snoop.” And that is surely true too. I can think of several relationships in which I could have looked at the phone lying on the sofa or an email account left accessible and not felt a flicker of desire to investigate.

And when you’re not even interested in what he might be getting up to (I once actively hoped a boyfriend would start an affair to give me a weekend off sex and conversation), it’s a pretty good sign that you’re not meant to be together much longer. And now, if you’ll excuse me, my friend is coming round for supper and I have bank statements to hide.

You can contact Lucy Mangan by email at lucy.mangan@stylist.co.uk or follow her at twitter.com/lucymangan

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