What are they really looking for in your phone?

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So what, exactly, is someone hoping to find when they crack a phone. The phone raid is a uniquely modern heist. Inside every person’s phone is a treasure trove of data in one single place: habits, thoughts, likes, routines, desires, purchases, contacts and connections that tell us everything we want to know about a person, and more than plenty we don’t.

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But snooping on someone’s device is also a truly desperate, misguided act. Not because it’s a privacy violation at the deepest level — it most certainly is — but because doing so reveals a far more uncomfortable truth about human pairings. The impulse to snoop is, of course, understandable. What women or men are looking for when they do so seems obvious: infidelity. But that’s not always it. Sometimes it’s just the desire to get into someone’s head and find out where they are, particularly if you feel distant or are facing heavy conflict.

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None of us really knows the person we sleep next to. And turning to a phone’s contents is a dangerous game that may not unmask more than the fact that we’re all just imperfect bundles of flesh, doing our best, without ill intent. It can be an innocent surface swim through a partner’s silly habits, or it can be a deep dive into the midnight zone, a place where no light has ever been shone into the human psyche.

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In a good relationship, though, this zone provokes either no discomfort at all or a comfortable co-existence with the unknown. But when you’re with someone you’re on the fence about, maybe because of a rocky start, rocky middle or rocky everything, maybe because of past dishonesty or multiple warning signs, the unknown is a terrifying abyss. Even when things are great, sometimes your curiosity or self-destructive impulses get the best of you, and before you know it, it’s 3 a.m. and you’re 71 weeks deep in his Instagram likes.

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But the risk is high, dive in, and you may find benign but uncomfortable truths like he’s just really into porn. Or, your worst fears confirmed: flings, bad feelings, a secret family, a second identity, smaller transgressions that add up to a false relationship. Or maybe just something that really sucks but isn’t all that scandalous. They don’t feel the same way you do, they’re starting to be into someone else, they’ve clearly lost that loving feeling.

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