Carolyn Hax: Know what you saw before reacting to it

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 24

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’ve been dating my wonderful boyfriend for almost 2 1 / 2 years. We met online. I recently discovered that he (unlike me) has kept his online profile this entire time. I used his computer to look up a recipe since it was on the kitchen table, and I saw that he still receives e-mails from the site recommending matches — and he reads them! I don’t believe he is actively using the site, and I know he’s not cheating on me. We’re very happy together. But am I wrong to be a little weirded out by this?

Online

You are not “wrong” — or “right” — to be weirded out by this. It’s a feeling based on a fact and so denying or correcting yourself would be an early step in ignoring information just because it’s negative. Bad precedent to set.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

What matters now, and where “right” and “wrong” are valid, is what you do with the information. It would be wrong to come out, accusations blazing, and corner your boyfriend on the profile and the e-mails. There are just too many possible explanations for what you saw.

The right thing would be to tell him you noticed these
e-mails, tell him how you feel about it, and pay careful attention to the way he reacts — body language, emotions, words — and run it through the filter of what you know about him already. Then you decide whether this is something, and he is someone, you need to worry about.

That’s the right way not only because it’s fair to him, but also because approaching it with an open mind gives each of you the best chance to see what’s actually happening here. If instead you jump to conclusions, you risk introducing anger and defensiveness, both of which are notorious for making the truth both harder to express and harder to detect.

Saying you “know” someone is not cheating is also a mistake, because it, too, is a step toward closing your mind to negative information. You may be confident he’s not cheating, or not worried that he’s cheating, or comfortable with your ability to sense when someone is cheating, etc., but you don’t “know.”

No one knows about anyone but themselves, and the sooner we get comfortable with that, the better we handle the vagaries of any relationship. (And the better our bull detectors become.)

Re: Online:

I am getting married tomorrow and both my fiance and I got e-mails today from the online service we met on. We have also gotten them several times a month for the past three years. He left his profile up, but stopped subscribing and has never logged on. I deleted mine, but still get e-mails. They appear as “read” because, when I click on it to delete it, I open the message. It could be innocent, so I would talk to him about it before jumping to conclusions.

Anonymous

True, even resting your cursor on an e-mail can convert it to “read,” depending on your e-mail settings — and dating sites are notoriously persistent e-mailers. Just another reminder that context is everything, thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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