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My Girlfriend Won't Forgive Me for Reading Her Work


Published February 24, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated February 24, 2016 at 11:48 a.m.

Dear Athena,

I accidentally read my girlfriend's work — an opinion essay about love. I was looking for my own essay, then I stumbled upon hers. I just read the first line, then I saw an error. When I saw her again, I told her about the mistake, and she got angry with me. I told her that I'm really sorry, but she won't forgive me. Please help me.


Mr. Need Advice

Dear Need Advice,

I get that you were trying to be helpful, but it sounds like this situation is a bit more complicated than you realize. Take a moment to understand this from her perspective.

The first offense is that you read her work. That's never OK unless she hands it to you and asks for your opinion. I get it: You were looking for your own piece and "stumbled" upon hers. So you read one line, noticed the mistake and stopped reading? You're telling me you didn't finish it? Even if that's true, she may assume you kept on reading. I would. And if she thinks you were snooping, what's to stop her from thinking you might go through her texts, her emails, her diary, if she has one?

I know you weren't reading her diary, but maybe her personal essay on love feels as intimate as what she would write in one. Love is a pretty broad topic, but I'm guessing there's some private information in there — personal details she might not be ready for you to know. That might be hard to hear, but don't you have any ideas or memories that you keep to yourself? It's up to her to decide if, or when, she wants to share those thoughts with you.

She may also be worried that you misinterpreted what she wrote or saw something out of context. The subject of her essay was love, and you are her boyfriend. Maybe she wanted to protect your feelings. Or maybe she just feels self-conscious about her work and doesn't want to share unfinished products, especially with someone she cares about. Your opinion likely matters to her — a lot — so your criticism might weigh heavily.

The thing to understand here is that your girlfriend feels her privacy has been violated — even if it was accidental. If you smother her with apologies or try to get her to open up about her work, you may push her away. If I were you, I would own up to the mistake, assure her it won't happen again — in any form — and give her some room to breathe. Trust has been severed, but I think it can be repaired.