Dear Thomas,
I know my boyfriend is checking up on what I do on the computer. Do I confront him with it?

Dear Unsure,
What you do on your computer is your business. So yes, I’d say you should confront him. Just because people love each other and are in a relationship doesn’t mean that they can snoop on each other.

You might begin by finding out what he was looking for on your machine. Is he jealous? It’s normal for people to be jealous as a relationship develops, but jealousy can become a major problem if it gets too intense.

If the problem is in fact jealousy, rather than confronting him with anger, you might sit down and talk about your feelings that he's intruding on you. Give him some space and encouragement, and allow him to explain himself.

Sometimes in relationships, people confuse intimacy with ownership. You can be very close to your boyfriend—open to him, intimate, and more trusting with confidential things than you are with anyone else. And yet, you are still an individual. Your privacy is precious, and it’s your right to choose the limits of your privacy for anyone close to you. Perhaps your boyfriend is someone who doesn’t know how to respect others' boundaries. In that case, the best approach is to educate, not attack. Just be firm and make it clear to him that you have limits.

As a model, look at your relationships with other people in your life, and think about how, in those relationships, you are able to be both open and private, intimate yet reserving some things for yourself. Are you able to maintain boundaries in your other important relationships, with family and friends? People intrude on us either because they think they can get away with it or because they assume more intimacy than is warranted.

In the meantime, you might find concrete ways to make your computer less accessible to your boyfriend or anyone else (i.e. set up a private password). But if you have to be too protective of your privacy around your boyfriend, then something may be off-kilter in your relationship. Sexism is still rampant in today's society, and some men deal with their insecurities by trying to control “their” woman. These men feel they have a right to know everything she’s doing. If your boyfriend feels this way, my advice would be for you to look for a man who is engaged enough in his own life that he doesn’t need to check up on yours.

A relationship is made up of two parts: each individual and their life together. If either of these components gets lost, you no longer have a relationship. Some people say a couple is two halves making a whole, but I think it’s two wholes making a loving two. Couples getting married sometimes quote Kahlil Gibran, “And stand together, yet not too near together. For the pillars of the temple stand apart.” Or Rainer Maria Rilke, “love is not merging; it is the opportunity for the individual to become something himself.” I’d recommend reading Rilke’s letter on love in "Letters to a Young Poet." There, he offers many insights into this issue of love and privacy.

I believe that love between two people is having a passionate interest in each other, and yet respecting each other’s mystery. We will never know our partners completely, and that’s the way it should be. For you, that lesson could begin by doing what’s necessary to keep your computer private.
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