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Attila the Honey

I asked my boyfriend for his e-mail password so I could look at a message he'd mentioned. He grabbed my laptop and said he'd log in and forward it to me. He is a good guy and has never given me reason to distrust him, but if you aren't hiding anything, why would you care whether your girlfriend can read your e-mail, Facebook messages, whatever? He says he feels that people should have a certain amount of privacy in a relationship and doesn't believe in sharing his passwords. Really? Not even with the woman he's been sleeping with for two years? — Suspicious

Of course, there's no place for waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques in a healthy relationship, but after two years of having sex with a guy, you'd think you'd at least be allowed to have a spy drone follow him to the office.

While some women trade sex for dinner, jewelry and major appliances, all you expect is your boyfriend's privacy. Privacy — controlling what information about yourself gets shared with others — is a fundamental right. Yet, I'm amazed by the amount of e-mail I get, mainly from women, who think having regular sex with someone entitles them to roll back that person's privacy to that of a convicted serial killer (save for the flashlight-assisted cavity searches).

Like these other ladies, you seem to be confusing dating with rent-to-own. This man is your romantic partner, not your new washing machine. He gets to choose which hopes, dreams, fears and tasteless jokes he shares with you; you don't get to harvest his e-mail, his organs, and his every thought.

But, should you somehow bully his password out of him and start mowing through his messages, it's like putting people on speakerphone without their knowledge. He needs to disclose the possibility of this to everyone with his e-mail address: "When you write me, it's as if you've written everyone I've slept with recently." (Subject line: "I'm whipped.")

Keep in mind that you aren't suspicious of him because you found a thong in his travel mug but because you feel entitled to loot his digital life and he refuses to let you. (Why don't you just put truth serum on his salad?) A desire for privacy isn't evidence of sneakiness. People show different sides of themselves to different people, and he's likely to feel curtailed in who he is and what he writes if Big Girlfriend is always watching: "Um, you spelled 'trough-licker' wrong in that misogynistic e-mail to Jeff." (Suddenly, NSFW — Not Safe For Work — has an alternate meaning: No Sex For Weeks.)

You won't make a man trustworthy by turning your relationship into a police state. The time to figure out whether somebody's ethical is before you get into a committed relationship with him. If you can't trust your boyfriend, why are you with him? If you can, accept that his information is his property, and leave him be when he closes the bathroom door to his mind. Relationships are actually richer when those in them have private lives, when they're two people who come together to share a lot of things instead of two people who share absolutely everything — down to a single e-mail address: JenniferNJason@WeAreNowOneBigBlob.com.

It's reigning men

I'm 23, and I realized that I don't know who I am. I just got out of a two-year relationship with a musician. I totally cleaved to his world — sold his CDs, promoted the band, started writing songs. But, it really wasn't me, and "we" were all about him. Before him, I dated a Rolfer, and my world became all about "body alignment" and Pilates and whatever else he was preaching. I feel like I lose myself in a man and then get nothing back. — Disappearing

When you're between boyfriends, it's got to be hard to know whether to spend the day picketing Wall Street or occupying a dressing room at Abercrombie. What happened, you started your search for self but then your feet got tired? You actually have to go out and answer the question "Who am I?"; you can't just cheat off whomever you're sleeping with.

Consider doing as a guest on my radio show, therapist Dossie Easton, did. In her 20s, she decided to find out who she was when she wasn't "trying to be somebody's old lady" and vowed to remain unpartnered (though not celibate) for five years. Maybe you don't have to stay unpartnered for five years, as Dossie actually did, but you should keep fishing around for what you're all about until you bring more to a relationship than a blank slate and a willingness to take notes.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail adviceamy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle To Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society.

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