When Joanna* was still dating her live-in boyfriend Ted*, she would wait till he fell asleep before doing her regular deed: Checking his smartphone for signs of a “double life”.
It would be a quick two-minute task (“I couldn’t risk him catching me in the act”), but her search was thorough. “I would go through his Facebook and Pinterest account, SMSes, notes, Safari browser history, Whatsapp messages… Anything that involved data input from him,” admits the advertising executive.
She would also note which Facebook friends he interacted with the most, scanning through the private messages they sent him.
Even though he often changed his phone’s passcode, she always figured out what it was “by watching his fingers whenever he typed it in”, she adds.
Joanna admits she snooped on Ted right at the start of their relationship because he had a “roving eye”. While she had never caught him cheating, he would frequently check out other women when they were out. She also had a “gut feeling” he wasn’t telling her everything about his life.
Joanna finally discovered that Ted had been keeping in touch with a former flame even though he denied it at first. He was also telling others he was “single”, even though he’d been dating Joanna for close to a year.
These revelations pushed her to end their relationship recently after less than a year of dating.
Does she feel she breached her ex’s trust? Joanna says she’s not the only one doing it. All her friends keep tabs on their boyfriends to some extent, checking their phones or Facebook-stalking them. “As a partner, I would want to know if something was up,” she explains. She said Ted got mad when he once caught her snooping, but “if he’s got nothing to hide, why be so defensive?”
In retrospect, Joanna regrets her actions somewhat. She admits: “Sometimes I think I’d prefer to be ignorant and happy, rather than know everything.”
But that won’t stop her. She insists she’ll continue to check the phones of her future boyfriends if she suspects something is up. “It’s in my nature to snoop and dig.”
Ted and her are now friends, and they meet up occasionally. But Joanna still can’t resist the urge. “I checked his phone again just last night when we were out,” she confides.
DIGGING FOR DIRT
In recent years, two women made headlines after admitting to snooping on their partners. Radio DJ Vernetta Lopez revealed in her autobiography, Memoirs of a DJ, how she had found out about her ex-husband’s affair when she unearthed a love letter from his mistress while clearing out his car boot. She even staked him out in a friend’s car to confirm her suspicions.
The Sunday Times columnist Sumiko Tan revealed that she frequently checks her husband’s SMSes, e-mails and letters – with his permission. Her nickname for herself? “Cyber snoop”.
It’s no shocker that women like checking up on their partners. And it’s never been easier. With the rise of new technologies – Facebook check-ins, Instagram updates, Whatsapp messaging – our lives have never been more awash with information about our other halves. With a click, we can find out where they were last week, who they were with and what they had for dinner – pictures included.
“Social media provides us with ‘eyes and ears’ from multiple sources. It’s an endless source of information,” says a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre.
Problems begin when women overanalyse their beaus’ every move, tweet and poke. A photo of your partner hugging a female friend, for instance, can spark off wild speculations about their relationship.
Even seemingly innocuous technologies have led to a heightened sense of paranoia, says a private investigator. He points to popular instant messaging service Whatsapp, which indicates when a user is online or not.
This has made women more sensitive to inconsistencies in their partners’ behaviour – for instance, if they don’t reply to a message though they are “online”. “The women then start to monitor their boyfriend’s Whatsapp signals and conduct their own ‘investigations’,” he says.
He’s even seen cases where women check if their boyfriend’s online statuses “sync” with those of a suspected fling.
The private investigator says he is regularly consulted by single women who ask him to secretly tail their boyfriends. Before last year, these were mainly older women in their 30s and 40s. But thanks to Whatsapp-stalking and a growing affluence, younger tech-savvy women have started trickling in, forking out between $3,000 and $4,000 a week for his services.
He now gets about three to four such “boyfriend tailing” assignments a month from women across ages. Most of the time, the men are indeed caught cheating.
Surprisingly, some of the younger ones are just casual daters with no plans to wed. “They just want a sense of security,” he says.
A divorce lawyer has seen many women go to great lengths to catch philandering husbands in the act – even combing through their credit card statements, wallets and snail mail.
“I had a client who checked her husband’s underwear for semen stains, and his clothes for pubic hair and lipstick marks,” she reveals. “She also counted his condoms and installed spyware in his computer and phone.”
Smartphones have also changed the game. Forget the image of a harried wife who surreptitiously checks her hubby’s SMSes while he’s in the toilet. These days, women can e-mail entire Whatsapp chat histories to themselves with just a swipe of their finger.
They can then pore over their husband’s text messages on a computer at their leisure. “Sometimes, more explicit Whatsapp messages can be used in court to prove adultery,” says the lawyer. “In this day and age, if you don’t lock your phone, you’re dead.”
Other women take an even more aggressive approach.
Karen* recalls how she once received several e-mails from a male friend’s fiancee. The woman believed Karen had previously dated her fiance and demanded details of their “relationship”.
She later found out that the woman had been going through her fiance’s phone, contacting many of his female friends. She’d even deleted the numbers of women she was suspicious of. Unnerved, Karen chose not to reply. “It was weird because I never had a romantic relationship with the guy,” she says.
Hannah* admits that her snooping behaviour bordered on “crazy”. During her five-year relationship with Ryan*, she suspected him of cheating on her several times. While he never admitted to it, he constantly lied about his friendships with several women.
So she would obsessively check his Facebook and e-mail accounts and text messages for signs of infidelity.
Once, she logged into his instant messaging account and deleted the contact of a female friend to see if he would notice. He did and added her back shortly after. “It proved to me that he was constantly talking to her and that she was special. He was trying to keep her in his life,” she adds.
She recalls how Ryan once specially created a blog account so he could access the private blog of a female friend. Hannah hacked into Ryan’s account. “He used a different password, but I figured it out after trying different permutations,” she recalls.
She cracked the password in three days. When she accessed the other woman’s blog, she found a photo of her posing in a shirt Hannah had bought for Ryan. He’d been staying over at her place secretly.
Discoveries like this wore Hannah down. After almost three years of keeping tabs on him, she finally had enough and broke up with him. She got sick of him constantly denying any wrongdoing and telling her she was “mean” for suspecting him.
IS SNOOPING HARMFUL?
Experts agree that snooping in itself isn’t always damaging. Rather, it’s dealing with the fallout that’s tricky – and can lead to unhealthy situations. “Some women aren’t prepared for what they’ll come across,” says the psychologist from Insights Mind Centre.
“The sudden surprise and shock can cause an overload of emotions, which ends up controlling them, leading to irrational thinking.” Plagued with mistrust, jealousy and resentment, the relationship can plunge into a downward spiral.
Adds the founder of dating agency Love Script: “You have to ask yourself: can you deal with whatever answers you find? If you stay with him after finding out he’s cheated, will you still be happy?”
*Not their real names
This story was originally published in the November 2012 issue of Her World.