Letters From Japan: “He Doesn’t Have Any Pictures Of Us!”

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Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to editorial@gplusmedia.com with the subject "Ask Hilary."

Hey Hilary,

I’ve been dating this Japanese guy for a month, and last night we stayed at a hotel together. He went to take a shower and left his phone, unlocked, on the bed. I don’t know why I did it, but I picked it up and clicked the home button. I went through his phone. He’s not cheating on me or anything, I checked his messages, but he had nothing personal at all on his phone. There weren’t even any photos of me, or of us together. It really hurt my feelings. He didn’t have anything about us on his phone — like, I don’t even matter to him. I put it down and tried to ignore it, but it’s still bothering me and I think he knows something’s up now. What do I do? – Feeling Hurt

Dear Feeling Hurt,

If anyone should be feeling hurt, it’s your boyfriend. You snooped on his phone when he obviously trusted you enough to a) not lock it, and b) leave it out in the open with you. You broke his trust by doing that and then gave yourself a complex in the process. That’s not something that a person in an honest, healthy relationship does.

This trend of snooping on your partner’s phone or checking their emails without their consent is toxic. While I can understand wanting to know if someone is cheating (especially if there are red flags about it), just looking through someone else’s property because you can isn’t healthy behavior. If you don’t want someone to judge you by what’s on your phone, then maybe you should leave their phone alone.

When you describe his phone as being “impersonal,” my very first impression is that it might be his work phone — aka, his company provided, “for professional use only” phone. Not the one that he uses in his private life. Many Japanese companies provide workers that have to travel a lot with company phones. Given that you checked his messages and none of the ones you two must obviously send to one another were there, that’s another point towards it being his work phone. Further evidence is that there was nothing on it — you don’t mention it, but I assume along with no photos or texts, you also didn’t find any games or social media type apps on it either? All signs are pointing to it being a work phone.

Why do you need him to validate your status as his girlfriend?

You basically played yourself here, I’m sorry to say. The hurt that you feel at this impersonality of his phone says more about how you feel about the relationship than anything else. If you need external validation in the form of photo backgrounds and relationship-centered details on your partner’s phone, then you probably aren’t secure in your status as boyfriend-girlfriend. That’s something that you should really think about — why do you need him to validate your status as his girlfriend? Is there something missing from the relationship that makes you feel insecure? Or, are you feeling insecure in another area of your life, and want him to lessen that pain?

Honestly speaking, because your boyfriend is now feeling suspicious himself, I think you should tell him what you did. How you tell him is up to you, but I think the only way you’re going to be able to move on from this and hopefully regain his trust, is by telling him the truth. Whether or not he forgives you for it is entirely up to him, however. Technically speaking, you not only broke his trust, but could have gotten him in trouble with his company too (if it’s indeed his work phone), and, if somehow company secrets had been on that phone, you could have even cost him his job.

Setting the work phone aspect aside, it’s clear that your image of what a boyfriend should be and the person he is aren’t lining up. Are you seeing him for who he is, or is he occupying a spot in your life that you’ve set up for very specific benchmarks? Try and spend more time acknowledging him as a person and not an idea, and from there, see if you like being a partner to this man. He may not be very sentimental, and that’s fine, but it may also not be for you. Once again, try to see him as a human being and not a ticked off box on your list of things you want/need in your life and if you see him as worthy of your trust and your love, then give him that. You won’t need to go snooping around on his phone anymore.

Read other Letters From Japan questions and answershere.