Two Sense: Did I Overreact When My Boyfriend Cyber-Stalked Me?


My boyfriend, who lives in Hong Kong, just visited me here in SF. A few days into his stay he confronted me with his iPad, with which he had been tracking the location of my cell phone from Hong Kong. I was shocked. He even showed me a map from a few weeks before when I was in Palo Alto with a friend. The map clearly showed a little icon with my name on it, right at my friend’s address. My BF wanted to know who the friend was and why I hadn’t mentioned it to him. I, in turn, told him to leave immediately and lose my number. Later, my techie friend told me it’s because I had turned on the “Find My iPhone” setting. Apparently, all he needed was my Apple ID to track me—which he of course knew, since I used it all the time to download from iTunes. Did I overreact? Or was his behavior truly creepy-stalker level? I feel violated.

He Said: You have every reason to feel violated. What you describe is indeed a form of cyber stalking. Whether you left yourself vulnerable to tracking is irrelevant—as is the enormous geographical divide of your hometowns. Your boyfriend’s lack of trust, perhaps exacerbated by a long-distance relationship, is indeed a serious concern, and one that does not bode well for an intimate, lifelong relationship. I think you did the right thing by throwing him out, so egregious was his violation of your privacy.

It is hard to judge whether the relationship is salvageable based on the information you have provided. It does sound as though, once again, there is a major communication gap, given that he didn't even think twice about mentioning that he had the ability to track your whereabouts. These are the sorts of issues one needs to discuss before you find yourself at an emotional tipping point. Since He Said finds himself answering many variations of this concern about trust, communication and monogamy each week, I'm going to bullet point a few ideas that might help you and others avoid misunderstandings at the beginning of a relationship. If this thread of conversation works for you at this later stage, so much the better:

  • Discuss your feelings about monogamy early on. No, don't bring it up on your first date. But the moment it looks like you have a connection, gradually start talking about your feelings. And don't say what you think she/he wants to hear, but instead try to project your feelings several years down the road—or back to a previous relationship. Of course you can't predict your feelings in five or ten years, which is why you'll need to revisit the topic again over time.
  • Once you have come to a basic agreement (even if it is to punt it down the road or simply agree to disagree), set up fair guidelines about communication. If you chose monogamy, figure out how you’ll deal with issues short of sexual infidelity, from crushes to flirting to heavy petting. Do you prefer a "don't ask, don't tell" arrangement? Or is it important to both of you to share your feelings and experiences whenever something comes up?
  • And, of course, you'll need to discuss what happens if one of you crosses the line that you’ve defined together. Is it something you can work through or does it spell the end? Even though these are purely speculative conversations at this point, talking them through will really help you understand each other better when, inevitably, something emotionally complicated does go down.

She Said: Yes, your boyfriend’s actions were creepy and you saved yourself a lot of trouble by cutting things off. No one should actively track your GPS location without your knowledge and permission—and by “actively track,” I mean that someone is initiating a track on you as opposed to you voluntarily posting your location on a social network (in which case, you reap what you sow). This is a good opportunity to remind readers of the various ways technology can help a suspicious partner, stalker, or even an abusive spouse locate you. Besides the “Find My iPhone” setting and its corresponding app, there are also family-tracking plans offered by cell carriers such as AT&T’s FamilyMaps and Verizon’s Family Locator. Lastly, a real kook could always install a GPS device on your car—and spouses have been known to secretly do so. Bottom line: Your privacy, both online and in the physical world, is vulnerable these days, so be on guard. Keep your logins, passwords, and cell service to yourself, and be mindful as well of what you share on Twitter and Facebook.

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