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Advice

My boyfriend has been secretly texting his ex since the pandemic started. He says it’s harmless. Do I believe him?

  • Author: Wayne and Wanda
  • Updated: October 24
  • Published October 24

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

A few days ago, I was at my boyfriend’s place and needed to check something for work but my phone was dead and charging so I picked his up, and I was surprised to see several texts from a woman I’d never heard of before. All I saw was her name on the preview screen, and I put the phone back down — honest truth. But I immediately asked him about it and he lost it and accused me of spying on him, and we had a huge fight.

Here’s what he eventually told me. This is a woman he used to date. Since the pandemic, they’ve texted “most days.” When asked, he said they sometimes send “normal” pics — things like selfies and photos of their lunch. Nothing “bad,” he said. He kept saying it wasn’t a big deal, that with COVID, he just gets bored and needs people to talk to.

I feel like if you’re in a relationship, you shouldn’t be keeping things like this a secret. He said it wasn’t a secret, he would have told me if I asked — but why would I have ever asked? Also, he wouldn’t let me read the texts, and as soon as I could I looked at his phone again and he’d deleted them all.

He says we need to move on, and I still feel like he did something wrong and he’s hiding something. Help?

Wanda says:

This pandemic has a lot of us reaching out to old friends for various reasons: we’re lonely, we’re bored, we’re nostalgic, we’re concerned about people we care about. Heck, since COVID-19 landed on us, I’ve video chatted with high school pals, college peeps, former coworkers, broad family groups — you name it. But there’s a difference between occasionally reaching out and actively maintaining a relationship.

When you’re in a healthy, respectful, functional relationship, your partner should generally know about your friendships. This isn’t because you issue a daily report or turn your phone over for an audit at day’s end. It’s because your interactions with others are of note, something to talk about over dinner, part of your daily chatter fodder when your significant other asks the innocuous, “How was your day?”

Your partner did not self-disclose he was actively — daily! — ex-texting, and when questioned, he responded defensively. He revealed further information only when pushed to do so; and he has since erased any evidence. Red flags? You bet. Look, sometimes we can be friends with exes. But they do not need to be a daily presence in our lives, especially not when we’re in a new relationship. It’s incredibly risky, and foolish. Your boyfriend’s daily messaging with his ex could damage his primary partnership with you, and needs to stop. This is a fact-based statement, not an ultimatum.

We all have a right to expect some privacy, but when you’re in a relationship, you do give up some of that because you are now sharing your life, your actual physical space, and your emotional bandwidth with another human. There are trade-offs, sure. But ask your BF this: is a virtual relationship worth losing what he has with you in real life?

Wayne says:

Plenty of exes can remain perfectly close friends after a split without crossing any lines that would put their future relationships at risk. Sometimes things just don’t work out or the matchup isn’t a perfect fit. Sometimes two loving people just grow apart or have kids and want to provide healthy environments and examples for them. Just look at Hollywood hotties Bruce Willis and Demi Moore! They broke up 20 years ago but hunkered down together with their adult kids in the mountains during the early days of the COVID-19 craziness. Meanwhile, Bruce’s current wife and their young kids remained in L.A. Celeb crisis? Star scandal? No “Striptease” or “Armageddon” here, much to social media’s dismay. There were perfectly reasonable and safety-related explanations for all parties to stay put. And ultimately, after spending quality time with Demi and their daughters and their daughters' significant others, Bruce safely rejoined his understanding wife and kids without drama or COVID symptoms. #breakupgoals #blendedfamilyfun #scienceandsafety

I guess that’s how responsible and respectful exes pull it off. Trust is built, priorities established, love shared, and communication open. Your boyfriend — not so much. Deception and lying. Sharing pics and freaking out. Not exactly paving the way for you all to spend Thanksgiving together.

They want to say hi and check in on one another via text — totally reasonable as long as you know they still communicate and aren’t uncomfortable about it. If they want to see photos of what’s going on in their respective lives, they can do it like the rest of us — check it out on social media. But he wasn’t honest upfront and didn’t plan to be until you busted him. And now instead of apologizing and explaining, he’s going bonkers, deleting texts and putting all of you in awkward spots. He’s clearly not trustworthy and definitely not being his best Bruce. Wonder if that’s why they broke up? Should be the reason that you do, though.

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