Secrets & Lies

Blog post @ Volume 3, published on 29 August 2012

The Guardian has today (in a move one can only think to be the desperate search for a ratings boost) opened a thread entitled: ‘Have you snooped on a partner?‘.

Apparently, 36% of us is indeed willing to go through their partner’s phones, laptops and alike. And it’s all over the celeb world too, since Jamie Oliver’s wife recently admitted in an interview to the Daily Mail that she reads her husband’s emails, text messages and even Twitter account. Whole round snoop – because he might be cheating, of course.

In all seriousness, there are three huge problems in this whole story.

The first is the obvious breach of your partners privacy. Sure, it might well be that he/she has nothing to hide and that he/she might even show you funny text messages, tell you to pick up the phone if it rings while he/she is in the shower, or read out some deranged email his/her boss sent on a Saturday morning, but he/she is entitled to keep them all for him/herself too if he/she bloody wish so. Please note: I set the masculine form of the third person in this sentence first because the prototype narrative used all around is of women who feel entitled to check their partners correspondence because, as men, they are , in all likeliness, cheating.

At this stage we reach the second major problem, which is how engendered this question seems to be. True, the Guardian has been kind enough to keep it short and simple, and not add any statistics on the proclivity of each gender to ‘snoop around’, but the matter of fact is that when Jools Oliver came out of her ‘snooper closet’ and waved high the ‘I am proud snooper’ flag, women’s magazines galore were keen on picking up the story and selling it to their predominantly female readers. Each with their particular twist (set by their unacknowledged, but very real, political agendas) these glossy, fashion and celebrity mags asked their readers what their feelings were on going all Mossad on your boyfriend. Many gave women following this kind of behavior the thumbs up, enforcing fallacious notions propagated by modern-day sexism like: Men are sexual beasts who cannot control themselves, they will flirt and cheat indiscriminately, so it’s alright if you – gentile, faithful and pure maiden – go through their personal stuff just to be safe. Just look at all those cheating footballers!

And engendering the snooping-question is very much linked to the third problem I see in this snooping story, which is not only our society’s phobia, but also its very definition of, cheating. The underlying message of the ‘snooping on a partner’ story is the absolute paranoia, particularly installed in women (again, I reiterate, this due to intense sexist indoctrination) about infidelity. Whilst the more liberal guide to dating goes by the whole “you can look but you can’t touch” motto, literature, movies and other cultural outlets are permeated with stories of jealous partners, to whom a mere glance from their other halves on a passing stranger is the equivalent to busting them half-way through the reenactment of a Roman orgy.

In fact, ‘cheating’ (for lack of better word) is so feared in Western culture, that we have invented different layers and categorized it by types, perhaps in an attempt to cope with it. To some flirting is OK, to others even a fleeting kiss on a drunken bachelors party is alright. Cheating is in the eye of the beholder, really. The obsession is such a whole movie was build around the idea of coping with cheating (or preempting it, in fact). Safe to say Hall Pass is a mediocre comedy by the Farrelly brothers, that does Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis no favors whatsoever, and finishes as it starts – with patronizing couples and the hailing of good ol’ domestic, monogamous, picket fence bliss. A big, ugly barf of a movie based on a ridiculous idea of commitment and family. It didn’t even make me laugh, and specially not in its “sarcastically” input chauvinistic lines. FAIL!

Now imagine that we would all be empowered by the knowledge that cheating does not exist. Your partner, no matter what gender, sexual-orientation, ethnicity or age will not by the act of engaging with other people (through intercourse or otherwise) show more or less affection towards you. If you are afraid of not being loved, it won’t be your partner’s actions towards others that will make a huge difference. People might be physically attracted to other people and yet be in love with someone else. We lust and we feel aroused and that is healthy and good. We love intensely for all kinds of reasons and it won’t be a particular décolletage or a particularly flirty coworker that will change our feelings towards the object of our affections.

I won’t turn this into a propaganda piece for non-monogamy, it isn’t about that (though it might not come as a surprise that embracing an open relationship means needing to say adieu to the irrational jealousy and hence goodbye to this cheating-paranoia). What it is about is our need to create a society in which each individual is empowered to know that their partners do not love them any less by interacting with other people. If they do not love them it has nothing to do with others and you can move on, paranoia-free. The causticity of these fears and obsessions are crippling and we know it as we cringe at the thought of Mrs Oliver flicking through Mr Oliver’s notebooks and internet browser history. Furthermore, and because they are mostly directed at women, we must stop this idea that cheating is some kind of looming virus, that could hit anyone and everyone. It negates everyone’s agency. It lifts the responsibility off anyone who might indeed hurt their partner by “cheating” (“I’m so sorry honey, but it’s in my nature I’m a man” / “Well, he is a man after all”) and it assumes a woman can never just go directly to her partner and talk, eye to eye, let alone trust him. By revelling in the sordidness of “cheating”, the media spreads a panic not unlike the swine-flu hysteria.

Between the two, I’ll rather we all worry about flu.