Bad behavior

I did a terrible thing: I read my boyfriend's journal and it wasn't flattering!

By Cary Tennis
June 19, 2003 11:28PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I did a terrible thing: I read my boyfriend's journal. It was just lying there, I had no idea it was his journal, I opened it, and I saw my name. I couldn't not read it. And it wasn't flattering. I confronted him about it, we talked, we made up. Now, the problem is, I can't stop!! He is so trusting, he still leaves it out in plain sight, thinking I would never do it again. Maybe because I swore I would never do it again. But my curiosity and insecurity get the better of me every time! So, yesterday, I read it again. A few weeks ago, I threatened to break up, and though we didn't and made commitments anew, things haven't felt the same since. He had written that part of him wanted to break up too, that he didn't see us working long term. He also wrote that he was looking at porn a lot and wondered if that was an unconscious desire for change and distance from me.


Oh Cary, why did I do this to myself? Should I salvage my pride and leave him before he leaves me? Or do I get over it, knowing that there have been plenty of times when I've written similar or worse things during moments of anger and sadness. How do I know if this is how he really feels, or if he is merely reacting to my almost walking out a few weeks ago? I can't can't can't tell him I read his journal again.

Snooping in San Diego

Dear Snooping,


Sometimes it's the one thing you can't can't can't do that you must must must do. This is one of those times. This isn't about the boyfriend. It's about learning how to live. The way you learn how to live is you practice. This boyfriend is practice. He's not the man you're going to spend your life with. He's just a guy to practice on. But you want to practice in the right way or you get bad habits. So what you do is you say, "I read your journal again." Then you apologize for going back on your word.

Oh, but before you do that, you first figure out what you really felt when you read the journal. This is not an easy thing to do. First, get some quiet time. Turn off the TV or whatever distractions you are using to keep the sharp teeth of devouring reality at bay, and ask yourself: What did you feel before you read the journal? What did you feel while you were reading it? What did you feel afterward? Pay attention to things like: Did you feel excited? Did your palms sweat? Did you feel angry? Did you want to run out of the house? Were you looking over your shoulder as you read it? Did you want to tell someone about it or did you want to keep it a secret? Did you want to destroy the journal? Did you want to hit your boyfriend? Answer these questions. Eliminate certain emotions and pinpoint others. What you're trying to do is make a complete portrait of the thing. You're trying to put in all the elements. What you will have then is a small but enduring portrait of a true moment.

That's what you give to your boyfriend: You give him this portrait of a true moment. In doing so, you rise to the occasion of your own disobedience. You act selflessly. There's no need to openly repent: This in itself is a kind of repentance.


What this has to do with learning how to live is this: The way you learn to live is you construct as many of these true moments as you can, and then string them together like a necklace until you can spend sometimes a whole hour or even a whole day knowing exactly what you feel and think from one moment to the next.

Knowing what you think and feel is not as easy as it seems. You don't really know just how hard it is until you break down an event and examine each part carefully. You might find, for instance, that some of the things he mentioned about you are things that you yourself know -- physical defects, for instance, or inconsistencies, or times you were late or said rude things. Or say, for instance, that he said that you have small boobs. How dare he say such a thing! you might think at first. But is it true? That's what you want to know: Is it true? If it is true, in what sense is it true? What is the actual size of your boobs? By approaching yourself in this way, you can come to a balanced perspective on yourself: Your boobs may be "small" or "big," but you know their exact size. That is a fact, a solid truth in which you can take refuge from judgment.


It is the same with abstract qualities. Were you late, or rude? How late? How rude? How often are you late or rude? Quantify it. Make it particular. Say it out loud. These are the things you come to know intimately as the qualities of your life. That's how you live. And this is how you start: By saying to your boyfriend, "I read your journal again."

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Cary Tennis

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