Ask Alison: Snooping, Birthday Gifts, Saying 'I Love You'

Good advice from someone who is terrible at dating


I recently found out that my girlfriend has been reading my email. If I wasn't so angry and disappointed in her, I would be impressed by her snooping skills. She didn't find anything incriminating. I'm not cheating on her, but her last boyfriend did, so she has trust issues. She is constantly asking me about women I'm friends with on Facebook. She goes through my phone and reads my texts. It's exhausting. I don't really know what to do to get us back on track.

It's strange to see such a clear, easy solution to a problem and then have that be the only option that is not available. Of course you have to break up with this person; she is a nightmare.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you feel the need to look at your significant other's phone, you already know the answer. Signs of infidelity are usually so painfully obvious: distance, lack of sex, excuses for running late or strange phone calls. But then there is this small percentage that is just inherently jealous and suspicious, which can't exist in a healthy, functioning relationship.

An equally wonderful and terrible part of being human is our ability to adapt to our situations. In your case, controlling and manipulative have become acceptable. You say that you're exhausted, and you should be, because what your girlfriend is doing is completely unacceptable. The only way to stop this behavior is to remove yourself from the situation.

The idea of blaming an ex for current behavior should also be a huge red flag, although I guess everything pales in comparison to reading your private emails. It is one thing to come out of bad relationship being cautious; it is completely another to inflict the punishment on your next partner (that's you, dude). You should start a relationship whole, or as close to whole as you can. Not as a weird, angry creep who wants to make their partner feel as bad as they do.

For your own sake, you've got to bail. It is not going to get better. The new and inventive ways that she will find to spy on your life will shock and amaze you. Maybe with time and therapy she can come back to the relationship as a reasonable, clearheaded adult, but hopefully by then you'll have moved on to someone who trusts and respects you from the get-go. Imagine how nice that will be.

The girl I've been dating has her birthday in a few days and I don't really know the etiquette on what I should do. We've only been dating for a few weeks, maybe a month. Do I get her a gift? And if so, is there a price limit?

I feel like I hold your fate in my hands. I really want to believe that me telling you yes or no on a gift and that if I suggest a specific item you'll run out and get it because I'm a girl and this girl is a girl and all girls like the same stuff.

As far as etiquette, I'm pretty sure gifts are always okay as long as they're not overly lavish or overly creepy. I also think not buying a gift is totally okay. Really anything except disappearing for a week and then showing up again to resume dating in a vacuum with no significant dates or holidays is totally fine.

The thing about that early phase of dating someone is that you get so stressed out about screwing it up and you just can't. If buying this girl a gift for her birthday freaks her out, then she's probably wasn't into it to begin with. If a thing works, it works. People who get worried about calling too much or too little, it's the same thing. Just be a person and behave reasonably and it will either work or it won't. This relationship does not hinge on... uh... whatever it is you get a person you've only been dating a few weeks. Like a Lomography camera? I don't know. That's cool, right? We all have to pretend to still love film, yeah?

So in summary, because I went on a weird tangent about being yourself, don't disappear and don't go crazy over the top. Probably a nice dinner and if you want you can have the Holga I bought a few years ago but have never used. My phone has a camera in it, who am I kidding?

When should you tell someone that you're in love with them? I'm having a hard time working up the nerve to say it and I can tell that I'm acting weird.

Hey ding dong, you tell someone you're in love with them when you're in love with them. I know it's scary but you've just got to do it. When I was a junior in high school, it took me over an hour to tell my boyfriend that I loved him. The was a lot of dirt kicking and rubbing the back of my neck and honestly, murdering him would have been less painful. But hey, you do it and then it's done.

So do it! stop being weird! Imagine that you're Batman in Batman Begins and you're in love with Katie Holmes and she explodes before you tell her how you feel. Now use that motivation to profess your feelings. Or become a crime fighting millionaire. This has been a weird column and I'm sorry.

If you have questions about relationship etiquette, please send them to Ask Alison [at] The Atlantic [.com].