Is Spying Ever Justified?

Is it wrong to check your boyfriend’s online dating profile? Our expert offers advice.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Do you agree with Sherry’s advice? Read her answer; then scroll down to post your own take in the comments. Q. I’m 44 and met my boyfriend on a dating site. We’ve been seeing each other for two months, and while the subject of going off the site hasn’t been broached, we said we’d stop actively pursuing others. I’m ashamed to admit I became a bit obsessed with checking his profile to see if he’s communicating with other women. It feels awful — like I’m reading his diary — only he is e-mailing people, particularly one very attractive girl! Is there a way to confront him without admitting I’ve been spying? — LucyA. Good news and bad news: There’s a huge distinction between reading someone’s private musings and taking advantage of the very public nature of the Internet to check up on someone you’ve basically just met. Wait — you haven’t tapped his phone line, have you? Seriously, the need to spy, even on a small scale (and yes, tapping his phone line, reading his journal, etc., are serious violations of a person’s privacy) speaks to a trust issue. Your boyfriend is not being trustworthy. However, why were you so distrustful in the first place? Did he give you reason to be suspicious or were you motivated by earlier betrayals? Do your unresolved issues in this arena lead to your attracting men who will keep reopening the wounds?Two months may be more like 12 in dog years, but in the land of humans it’s a flicker of time — too soon to decide on exclusivity. And you haven’t, really — not if there was no agreement to both go off the dating site. What exactly were the terms of the commitment the two of you forged? Joseph E. Siegler, MD, Chicago-based president of Full Life Centers and an expert on dating security, says, "If the profiles are still up, the reality is that people are still looking." If there is a stated pledge not to pursue others, he’s displaying a lack of integrity. Alas, he’s got plenty of company. Jula Jane, author of Secrets to Date By, says, "The truth is one-third of men on these sites are married or in relationships. They’re online for an ego fix, to flirt, and to get dates." Jane believes online ‘spying’ is justified: "It’s a harder world for singles than [it was] 10 years ago. You can sit in your living room and ‘date’ 20 different people in one night. You need to weed out the guys who are not on the level." She suggests the punishment for your boyfriend’s crime be showing him the same courtesy he’s showing you. "Say nothing and follow suit. He’s probably checking out your profile as well and will ask you if you’re dating other guys."An alternate strategy is you confess you’ve discovered he’s still trolling and thought you’d agreed to stop dating others. But make this a casual conversation, not a grilling, as you run the risk of coming across as insecure — which is many guys’ number one pet peeve about women. If he can’t or won’t stop, you have valuable information. Proceed accordingly.Hey, all this angst-ing is almost enough to make us want to go back to that "innocent" time when the primary ways men and women met was in bars.More information on the experts quoted in this article:Full Life Centers Jula Jane, author of Secrets to Date By Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?E-mail Sherry at and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.E-mail Sherry About Sherry AmatensteinSherry Amatenstein, LMSW, is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and Q&A Dating Book. She runs dating seminars around the country and does private coaching — not to help singles marry in 60 days, but to uncover their blocks. She has given relationship advice on the Early Show, Regis, Inside Edition, CBS News, VH1, BBC, and many other programs. Her philosophy is that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.Schedule a one-on-one coaching session with Sherry Buy Love Lessons from Bad Breakups Buy The Q&A Dating Book Originally published on, May 2008.

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