Dear Auntie SparkNotes,
I have a confession to make: I read my older sister's diary.
My sister will begin her sophomore year of college this fall. The diary is from her Freshman year of high school. I will admit I started reading it as a vengeful act. My sister and I have not gotten along for many years. We have a considerably large age difference and I love her purely for the fact that she is family, otherwise I hated her. But since dissecting that diary, I don't! It was so odd! I saw myself in those pages, it's freaky how similar we are! I finally understood what my sister had gone through her first year of highschool; how she felt, and why she was stressed and snappish. It reminded me of my own experiences! Plus I feel as though my jealously for her has evaporated! She was "perfect" throughout high school. Over-achiever, class president three years running, prom coordinator, dancer, honors student — but by reading her diary I see she was so much more, recognize her insecurities and her faults. She had awesome adventures I never knew about. I just want my high school career to be as successful and amazing as hers, and I have begun to feel a genuine love for her.
But now I am wondering...should I feel evil? Is this a despicable thing for me to have done? Did I cross some unknown line? I would hate it if anyone read my present-day diary but it probably wouldn't matter five years from now to me! It's been so long since she's written anything, so why should it matter? I feel as though I have gained so much by reading it, but I don't know if what I did was right. Advice? Opinions? Do I need to tell my sister? I feel as though that would strain our relationship that I was hoping to make better.
Okay, Sparkler, here's the deal: no, you don't have to tell your sister that you read her diary.
That is, if you will solemnly swear, under penalty of salmon, to never, ever, ever violate somebody's privacy like that again.
Because as heartwarming as it is that your sister's diary let you see her as the flawed and fabulous human being she is, the answer is yes: it was very wrong of you to read it. It doesn't matter if she wrote it five years ago, five days, or five minutes; without explicit permission, reading a person's private journal (or correspondence, or any other written thing intended for somebody who is not you) is one-hundred percent not okay. And while I don't want to sully your positive takeaway from this experience, I also wouldn't be much of an agony aunt if I let you slip past me with a wink and an obtuse question about whether you crossed "some unknown line."
Because darling, come on: you didn't cross an unknown line. You crossed an obvious one, of which you were well aware, because you were cheesed at your sister and wanted to exact revenge by reading her diary. The fact that you came away with the best kind of feelings doesn't change the fact that you started out with some pretty crappy intentions, okay?
And I tell you this not because I want you to feel terrible about yourself—there's no need for that—but because there are better ways to understand a person's humanity than by pawing through their private shizz. And while you had a positive outcome in this case, it's important to note that snooping rarely results in a happy ending; mostly, it's just a good way to learn the sort of disturbing information about your loved ones that makes you want to douse your brain in bleach and then set it on fire.
But you know that now, right? Right! So take your new perspective and put it to use—not just by talking to your sister, engaging her on common ground, and asking her advice, but by reminding yourself as needed that people are more than their surface selves. And if you want a glimpse at what's underneath, you don't need to snoop; usually, you just have to ask.
Did you ever learn a secret that changed the way you think of someone... for the better? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.