Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. Slate’s regular Dear Prudence columnist Daniel Mallory Ortberg will return next week.
Q. Icked out: The other day I was using my boyfriend’s computer, and on the bottom-right side of the desktop there was a file that had recently been downloaded. There was an image of the file right there on the desktop, and it I could tell it was a naked image of some sort. Thinking it was run of the mill porn, which I’m fine with, or an old video I sent him, I clicked it. To my surprise it was an explicit video of his ex-girlfriend, downloaded just a couple days ago. They broke up four years ago, and she broke his heart. It’s always seemed like he has residual feelings for her because he often talks about their breakup and the pain it caused him. I would be surprised to find out he’s been carrying on something inappropriate with her. They don’t talk much, as far as I know, and she lives in another part of the country.
So even though it was downloaded recently, I believe it’s an old file from when they were together that he went digging for in his email or social media. But I can’t be sure, and I’m bothered and creeped out either way. I think in some ways it’s natural to keep old photos of an ex, even if they’re nudes, but watching old videos seem different. I think if it was just a photo, I’d feel less icked out—but video is so intimate. Am I blowing this out of proportion by feeling creeped out? I feel bad and gross for even seeing a small portion of it. Do I bring this up with him, and is there a way to do so without being shaming or accusatory? Should I forget about it and move forward?
A: How exciting to be here on what is virtually the ground floor of a new etiquette question! (I know, I know, people have been deciding what to do with inappropriate pictures of their former lovers since daguerreotypes, this is more a question of ubiquity and scale.)
You need to delete the nudes when you break up with someone, unless by general consent. This is my general ruling, for all people and for all time.
Now, as for you, ma’am. Why were you clicking on his download? Don’t do that. I would not tell him about finding the video at this stage. He didn’t mean for you to see it, it’s a pretty venial sin—which would make me bananas upset, for sure—and she lives on the other side of the country. If it’s still eating at you in a week or two, you have my permission to bring it up, but I’ll definitely want you to be more apologetic about snooping with him than you have been here.