Though cell phones were invented only 40 years ago, the feelings that arise when I snoop through my boyfriend’s texts — curiosity, jealousy, insecurity — predate us by centuries.
In Shakespeare’s Othello, jealousy is arguably the most salient conflict. There’s Othello’s jealousy of Desdemona, and Iago’s of Othello, to name just two. But there’s also another, less blatant, conflict at works: between the Venetians and the Turks. In fact it’s easy to forget that at the onset of the play, this is the only conflict there is. Immediately after declaring war on the Turks, the Venetians are enveloped in paranoia. In the Turks’ continuous absence throughout the play, the Venetians’ fear of them is replaced by a fear of what they gradually come to represent—the unknown. It’s this fear of the unknown that annihilates Othello’s ego, turns him into a vulnerable and gullible man, and obliterates his seemingly impenetrable love for Desdemona. And it’s this exact fear that my first boyfriend instilled in me 6 years ago.
I knew my friends were weary of Lenny’s intentions. I had even heard he was meeting up with his ex, Sonya, behind my back. So when he went to the bathroom and left his phone unchaperoned, a nagging intuition told me to snoop his phone. My eyes zeroed in on a text exchange with an unidentified number. Reading his playful invitations to come over, I got my first taste of sunken heart. Little did I know that in the following year I’d be feasting on betrayal. During the two years we were together, he cheated on me with six girls I was well acquainted with — scheming with them behind my back, sneaking over to their houses after lying in my arms all night. And those are only the ones I found out about.
Much like the air of paranoia established by the Turks that weakens Othello in the face of Iago’s temptations, my first case of epic betrayal has predisposed me to jealousy. And it’s been a struggle to trust any of my boyfriends since. Iago is Othello’s own cauldron of secrets, a perverse and tempting drug, almost, that plunges him into a downward spiral of mistrust, resentment, and anxiety. And it was this character that I just couldn’t seem to let go of last night as I was snooping through my current boyfriend’s phone. After discovering all of Lenny’s lies and deceits in that little Motorola device of his, I’ve been skeptical and afraid of what I might find in the cell phones of every guy I’ve dated since. It’s like my own modern-day Iago, beckoning me softly yet ominously, “Let me tell you my secrets…”
The problem with snooping is that you never get the full story. As someone who is prone to jealousy, I can easily misconstrue text messages — which are merely bits and pieces of a conversation — to corroborate my fears. And it’s actually this tactic that Iago uses to shatter Othello’s aplomb. After raising the possibility of Cassio and Desdemona’s affair, Iago knows he can use bits and pieces of the full story, such as Cassio taking Desdemona’s hand, to his own advantage.
Some argue that Othello dictates his own demise. Like the self-fulfilling prophecy, once Othello is determined to find proof of Desdemona’s adultery, nothing can convince him otherwise. And I can’t help but think that if I stay on this path, my fate will be no different. It’s just as easy for me to blame my compulsion to snoop on Lenny and cell phones as it is to blame Othello’s downfall on Iago. But perhaps the solution to my snooping lies in this fact. I don’t want to become a tragedy of jealousy, but to reverse this fate I must first accept that I already am.