Wayne and Wanda: Online archives of dead relationships stir trust issues

AnchorageOctober 3, 2013 

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I read your letter a few weeks ago about the girl who (apparently) deleted an ex-girlfriend off her boyfriend's Facebook page. Unfortunately it sounded a little familiar. That exact situation didn't happen to me but something close to it did. I have been with my boyfriend "Peter" for almost a year. We're talking about moving in together, we both want kids and I could see him ending up being the guy I marry.

But Peter can't seem to deal with the fact that I dated other guys before him. I had a normal dating life. I had a couple longer relationships and there were some more casual ones, and sometimes I was single. I briefly tried online dating. I am still friends with some exes.

I recently went out of town for work and when I came home, Peter said he went through my Facebook messages and found chats between me and a guy that were sexual and flirtatious. Those chats were from two years ago--before I even met Peter! He wanted to know why I'd keep them. Well I didn't intend to. They just got bumped down the list and off my radar. He said he found other chats too, and then opened my email and found old emails through Match.com from when I had signed up. It was the same scenario. I'd just never gotten around to deleting them. He said I was keeping them in case things with him didn't work out. It's just ridiculous.

Afterwards he said he had been drinking and apologized but I just don't see this issue getting resolved without some work. I love Peter and don't want this one thing to be the thing that keeps us from staying together. Advice?

Signed,

-- Can trust be rebooted?

Wanda says: Erasing evidence of romantic partners used be so simple. All you had to do was delete an answering machine message, maybe wipe the contact from your cell phone, and swear your friends to silence, and, poof, it was like it never happened at all. No longer. Everything lives on in the digital world. Old chat messages, emails, status updates, check-ins, photos--they all swirl and drift eternally and ominously in the stratosphere of dead relationships, threatening to reappear at the most inconvenient times. That's a fact. It is harder than ever before to make a clean break. And this can make for some messy conversations with current partners.

You can actually point to Peter's "discovery" as proof of your fidelity. The emails he found pre-date him, and he didn't find anything damning and current that suggests you've even entertained thoughts of straying. Gold star for you, but thumbs down for Peter's bad behavior. He shouldn't have gone into your chat messages and he needs to work on his own trust issues if your relationship is going to succeed. Just because our relationship refuse is archived and discoverable doesn't give our boyfriends and girlfriends the right to go rifling through it. Likewise, being in a relationship doesn't mean one relinquishes all privacy rights. You need to have a heart-to-heart with your man.

Wayne says: What's with people digging through other people's emails and social media accounts? And what's with people leaving their email and Facebook (and online dating site!) accounts open for everyone to dig through? Not sure who is being more reckless here, but I do know who has the bigger trust issues.

At least Peter isn't as blatant a trust-buster as our online friend a few weeks ago, who went through her boyfriend's account and literally deleted people she perceived as threats. And at least Peter apologized for his snooping--through being buzzed is no excuse for what he did, it seems like he's man enough to know he was wrong and is trying to make amends.

I'm with Wanda -- trust is fragile here, and you haven't done anything wrong (other than leave your accounts open ...). But if you want him in your life and you're willing to hear him out and give him another chance, go for it. Yes, it is going to take some work --for him to prove he's trustworthy and for you to accept that fully and genuinely. 

• Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at wanda@adn.com.

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