Dear Prudence

Help! I Just Found Out That My Boyfriend Stalked Me for a Year Before We Dated.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

Man sitting, sipping a beer, and a graphic of an eye looking at him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by jelenahinic/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

I recently discovered that my boyfriend of almost two years, Adam, was stalking me for over a year before we met. For context: This is the best relationship I’ve ever had and until recently, I would have told you that Adam was perfect for me. He is thoughtful, funny, caring, and so supportive. I was violently abused growing up and all my relationships before Adam were with guys who hit me too—Adam has never been violent and encouraged me to see a therapist last year to help me through my trauma and internalized homophobia (I’m a gay man). Therapy went well, and it meant the world to me how kind and supportive Adam was throughout.

We moved in together quite recently.

It was when I was on his computer to print something that I found a file with my name in it. (I did a search for my full name to quickly find the document I had sent over to print, and this other one came up as buried within some folder of Adam’s.) The document had last been edited in 2019, before we met. I opened it, and felt like I’d stepped into a horror movie. It was full of information about me: jobs, hobbies, friends, ex-boyfriends, favorite coffee shop (the place where we officially “met” in what seemed to me like a cute coincidence). More chillingly, it contained details of my addresses and my ex-boyfriend’s address.

Adam walked in on me looking at it, and I just started yelling at him, demanding to know what the hell this was. He stalled for a while, then admitted everything. He had first seen me playing piano at a jazz bar he likes (I’m a musician), but I’d blow him off when he tried to talk to me there (I had a boyfriend at the time). He said he “couldn’t get me out of his head” and ended up wanting to know more about me after seeing me there every week, so he started following me. He claims it started innocently enough with standard social media “stalking” but “just sort of escalated.” He said he had never been this obsessive about anyone else, which I think I believe, as I’ve met his ex and they’re on perfectly cordial terms (his ex was friendly and certainly didn’t mention anything along the lines of “by the way, he stalked me”).

I was deeply freaked out and panicked but Adam persuaded me to stay; we’re currently sleeping in separate rooms because I feel so weird around him right now. I wanted to talk to a friend but he begged me not to, saying they wouldn’t understand and that my friends shouldn’t “get a vote in our relationship.” I know this is crazy of me but I am genuinely conflicted. I wish I’d never seen the document. I still love him more than anyone else I’ve ever known and honestly want to give him a chance, since he’s begged forgiveness and said he’ll do anything I want to prove himself trustworthy again. Is there anything he could do that would prove that? Am I being unbelievably stupid for even considering this not a dealbreaker? I feel trapped and slightly crazy right now. Please help.

—Am I Being Crazy?

Dear Am I Being Crazy,

Short answer: No, you’re not! But your boyfriend is. And you should break up with him.

But let’s take a step back. I have to admit my first reaction to your question was way off. I kind of thought, “Well, don’t we all engage in some level of stalking of people we’re dating or hope to date?” After all, I currently have a tab open with the professional website of a guy my friend is chatting with on Tinder, although he hasn’t told her where he works yet. I’ve also lightly vetted him with one of his former colleagues. Would he be absolutely creeped out if he saw evidence of this? Probably. Are my friend and I dangerous psychos? I don’t think so! (I hope not!) We’re just excited and curious.

But something told me to double-check my take and I’m glad I did. When I shared your question on Twitter and asked people to weigh in, a couple of things were clarified for me.

First, all stalking is not created equal. There’s innocent stalking, and then there’s worrisome, scary stalking. The way your boyfriend operated put his behavior in the latter category. The documentation! The addresses! Tracking your movements! Literally showing up to find you at the coffee shop! This is more than just scrolling through someone’s Instagram—or even Googling them and reading all the results—to get a better sense of who they are.

To my mind, having it stored in a document feels very…premeditated, and as though one of them came into the relationship with a huge power imbalance. Googling someone? Cool, normal. Seeing a stranger and figuring out where they hang out to stage a meet cute? Eh. Google doc? Nah —@SaraLang

run, addresses and ex addresses put this waaaayy beyond the “I checked their Instagram too much” category —@JWJones252

Yikes. Leave; he isn’t who you thought he was. And what he actually is is pretty creepy and worrisome. I mean we all stalk, right? But the level and documentation suggest this person is most likely a serial killer. Kidding. Sort of… —@ginandspice

…I think there’s a big difference between availing yourself of whatever info someone has made publicly available about themselves, and doing a deep dive into their personal life and tracking their whereabouts to arrange a “coincidental” meeting at a place they frequent. —@dbzbornak

Second, his attempt to keep you from sharing this with your friends is really concerning and speaks to a possible effort to isolate you from people who would support you and your instincts about what he did. It also suggests that he knows his behavior was wrong.

Here’s the really chilling part: “I wanted to talk to a friend but he begged me not to…” This might have just been an over-the-top crush, but if he’s attempting to isolate you from your support networks, run, don’t walk away from him, and please call a DV hotline ASAP. —@cryingbaseball

I was torn on this until the bf told the OP not to share this with friends. Classic isolation stuff and huge red flag esp given the context —@eparillon

GET OUT!!!!! Yesterday! When he said that Adam told him not to tell anyone, that they wouldn’t understand, THEY’LL UNDERSTAND HE WAS A STALKER! —@aloe9678

Finally, something occurred to me as I read everyone’s extremely alarmed responses: I realized they mirrored the “deeply freaked out” feeling you expressed in your letter. If you’re feeling so horrified by someone’s behavior that you want to sleep in a different room, that’s enough. I know a small voice in your head is probably saying, “But he’s been so great otherwise.” But as @dstar put it, “He *seems* perfect because he researched what a perfect boyfriend to LW would be! it’s creepy AF & LW should not let their apparent compatibility stop them from leaving.”

It’s over. Now that you know what you know, you won’t be happy or at peace, and no amount of rationalizing or therapy will get you there. You don’t have to ask for input or permission to run in the other direction.

Classic Prudie

Q. Discovering a family secret: A few months ago, I took a DNA test to find out my ethnic heritage and after looking at the results online, I saw that I shared a significant amount of DNA with a person who lives across the country (enough to be close relatives). I just received a message from that person explaining that my grandmother had a child decades ago and gave the child up for adoption, therefore one of my parents has a half-sibling and I have a half-cousin I had no idea existed.

The person who contacted me said that they contacted my grandmother in the past to see if she wanted to communicate; she said no, and they didn’t ask again. Because my grandmother refused contact, should I do the same to respect her wishes? Should I risk my family dynamic falling apart to meet this cousin?