Trust issues: Readers tell Cary Tennis what they think of the guy who read the diary.

By Salon Staff
Published March 25, 2004 8:11PM (EST)

[Read the Since You Asked column on "Trust Issues."]

Cary Tennis is a gift not only to Salon but to the world. He is patient, wise and incredibly kind. But in answering the woman whose boyfriend read her private journals and is now relentlessly jealous and mistrustful of her -- I think his kindness obfuscated other, darker clues. Jealousy is a form of control. It is one of the first, baby steps toward a relationship of abuse and domination. And the woman's seemingly endless attempts to reassure the boyfriend are her first steps into co-dependency with this sickness. Yes, she was unfaithful with an earlier boyfriend. But he was a boyfriend, not a husband. One doesn't know if she made, then broke, monogamous vows to the earlier boyfriend. But let's say she did. Perhaps the problem wasn't her unfaithfulness but her eagerness to please a man by vowing monogamy prematurely -- before she was experienced and wise enough to live up to that heavy vow. This eagerness to please would be consistent with her current behavior now, with her relentless apologies and "vows" of monagamy to her jealous boyfriend.

By encouraging her to "earn his trust" Cary only enforces a larger, age-old social more that "good girls don't" have sex and must apologize if they do. (Where are the boyfriend's profuse apologies for spying on her privacy?) Trust is fundamentally important but has nothing to do with jealousy. (I would also add that one can't "earn trust." One can only be trustworthy. A partner's willingness to bestow his trust depends to a large degree on his self-confidence.) Love is a very threatening, high-stakes commitment and not for the faint of heart. This weak, jealous man is not ready for love. And the girlfriend can't make the arena safer for him no matter how much she prostrates herself with her apologies. Their relationship will only work if he can take a hard look at his own weaknesses and she deals with her excessive willingness to be a "good girl" and a pleaser, and they both get stronger.

I know. I've been there, done that. And paid with my heart. It is important for Cary and this suffering woman and Salon's readers to see the signs: Jealousy isn't about trust. It's about insecurity and domination.

-- Maria Nation

How can you tell this girl to earn her boyfriend's trust? She's been nothing but reliable and loving and patient, and he's been a jackass. He doesn't know the circumstances of the past cheating, and neither do we, but we do know the circumstances of his breach. He read her diary -- dumping grounds already -- then held the emotional content -- not even an actual event, just an unsent letter -- against her. He's either unhealthily paranoid or a controlling jerk. What could possibly be worth earning here?

To follow up on your metaphor: Say you suspect someone plans to attack you with nuclear weaponry. There's no way they can persuade you otherwise, though they do try. You decide to invade that country and bomb the shit out of it, even though there are no solid grounds for suspicion. (This is the part where he read her diary.) After several thousand civilian casualties, you find some long-abandoned research projects, some WMD-related program activities, but no actual weapons, and certainly no plans to attack.

Is it then the country's responsibility to earn back your trust?! (After all, you did find some pesticides in the rubble. Once a cheater, always a cheater.) Or is it your responsibility to apologize profusely and get the hell out of Dodge?

-- L.

I thought your advice to the woman in "Trust Issues" was very good. There is one thing that I would add. They should learn about the structure of relationships and work to build a better relationship. Right now, theirs has had a serious knock against its underpinnings. They should know just what damage has been done and both work to fix it.

According to researchers, there are five types of intimacy: social, sexual, intellectual, philosophical and recreational. There is an evaluation, the PAIRS evaluation, that measures this. This is important because there is no intimacy without vulnerability, and the tendency after something like this is to hide one's vulnerabilities because one doesn't want to get hurt. In doing so, intimacy is also avoided. It can become a habit.

In my case, my ex-wife didn't tell me about her cheating on a previous husband until we had been married for a year. I forgave her and really forgot about it, until she cheated on me. I realize now that we should have seen a counselor and worked through the issues. I didn't just plaster it over, I was able to forgive at that time. But I think my ex-wife needed more and I didn't realize that. And now there are two more children, mine and hers, growing up in fractured homes.

-- Dan Robinson

I am not sure I agree here.

D really had no right to read F&F's journal; and F&F may have had a multitude of reasons for cheating in the past relationship, including momentary fear, anger, stupidity, or insecurity -- not that cheating is right.

When people live together, they are still entitled to their autonomy and their private pasts. Even good people have done some awkward or unpleasant things, but they are entitled to keep those in the past, and partners need to respect that and not make people process and re-process that moment of stupidity and insecurity. For example, one friend of mine, happily and faithfully married now for eleven years, had sex with the limo driver the night before the wedding. That was probably not a kind thing, it probably represented her fear in making a lifelong commitment, but it is in the past, and there is no reason for her husband to ever know about it. It would be very uncool if he read in her old journal that she had done such a thing.

The same thing is true with a multitude of other past sins, most notably abortion. If he read that as a 19-year-old she had become pregnant by an irresponsible moron and terminated the pregnancy, would he have the right to question her ten years later about it and tell her she was a murderer?

There is very little in our lives that is actually private, and the people whom we love the most need to guard our privacy and respect our pasts and our differences.

It is unfair when someone we love uses something private and historical that we have already anguished over and then clobbers us with it. It's very passive-aggressive. Is nothing closed? Is nothing private? If our lovers can treat us this way, we are better off with strangers.

It is very telling that F&F always has to reassure D about how much she loves him. This guy is slowly torturing her. It's also somewhat gendered behavior in that he is making her feel like a whore or a "bad woman." If he did read the journal and learned of this, it was wrong to confront her, and if it ever came up, he should have been wise and old school about it and said: "I know that was a rough time for you, a bumpy ride, and I know that you are now older and wiser." She may have made a mistake, but he needs to be supportive of her as a whole person now.

He may not be a correct choice in a mate because he is neither respectful of her nor is he supportive of her.

-- Margaret Fernandez

Salon Staff

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