Jamie Oliver and wife Jools Oliver, with daughters poppy Honey, Daisy Boo and Blossom Rainbow, leave Portland Hospital with their newborn baby son Buddy on September 16, 2010 in London, England.
With a large family and more than a decade of marriage under their belts, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and his wife Jools appear to have the kind of pleasant, steady relationship that many of us might aspire to achieve. But Jools’ confession last week to a British newspaper that she checks up on her husband’s electronic communications to make sure that he’s staying faithful sent waves of shock through, well, people who care about celebrity marriages.
Said Jools of her approach to keeping tabs on her husband, "I’ll check his emails. I’ll check his Twitter. I’ll check his phone. Everything seems fine. He says I’m a jealous girl, but I think I’m fairly laid-back, considering." A stunning revelation? Or a confirmation that electronic communication has made celebrities just as neurotic as the rest of us? Whether more people cheat because mobile phones and the internet make it easier, or people who would cheat anyway are just exploiting the latest technology (as opposed to, I don’t know, making breathy phone calls from telephone boxes, or however they did it in the early '90s), lately it seems that loving in a digital world means that everyone ends up creeping around a partner’s digital life at one point or another.
I speak from sad experience, one that I’d like to chalk up to youthful idiocy, but which still feels like a real blight on my personal history. Just under a decade ago, following a breakup that was heartrending on both sides, I started compulsively reading my ex-boyfriend’s emails (notably, before we broke up, I had the password but never bothered, because they were so uninteresting). Amongst the spam and newsletters, there was nothing of interest except for some emails from mutual friends offering him comfort, mostly identical to the ones that they’d sent me, except with the names changed around. There was also a slightly surprising message of gentle admonishment from my mum to him, saying that she was sorry that we had split up - a few weeks later, speaking on the phone, she sheepishly admitted that she’d sent it; I sheepishly admitted that I’d read it; we sheepishly never spoke of it again.
Eventually I quit my spying. But by ‘eventually’, I mean that I carried on doing it for weeks and weeks until I was completely disgusted with myself. Snooping made me feel the opposite of better about the breakup; it made me feel bad in a multitude of ways. It made me feel bad because I was being a jerk who was reading someone’s email without permission. It made me feel bad because I wasn’t gleaning any information that would make me feel any better about the end of our relationship. Of course I wasn’t; I suppose I hoped that I would find some evidence that he wanted us to reconcile, because it was what I was desperately hoping for. And an utterly ridiculous thing to have been digging for his emails for, seeing how if it had been the case, it was surely something he would have been communicating with me directly about, rather than his colleagues or his landlord (‘I’ve set up the direct debit for next month’s rent; also, I just wanted to mention that I really want to get back together with my ex-girlfriend, even though I know that she is a jerk who is reading this email.’)
And that, I think, is what’s really at the heart of the problem with snooping through a partner’s electronic paper trail: whether you’re seeking evidence of infidelity or evidence of enduring love, the thing that motivates you is without a doubt something that you should discuss with them directly before cracking their passwords or examining their phone when they’re in the shower. It’s a sign that you need to communicate more, or better; a prompt to address the elephants in the room of your relationship together, rather than try to find their root single-handedly. Sleuthing is an act of last resort; not being able to raise your concerns about your relationship with your partner is a problem in itself that may well be as big, if not bigger, as whatever you half-fear and half-hope to find in their text messages or by analysing the number of kisses they put at the end of emails to people who aren’t you. Because once you start counting those "x"s, it’s likely that it’s already too late.