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Emily Yoffe: Does love mean sharing passwords?
Farhad Manjoo: I'm Slate's technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.
Emily Yoffe: I'm Emily Yoffe, Slate's Dear Prudence advice columnist, and this is Manners for the Digital Age.
Farhad Manjoo: This week's question comes from a man who shares his e-life with his wife. He writes, "Dear Emily and Farhad, about eight years ago, my girlfriend and I were on a double date and it came up that she and I knew each other's email and computer passwords. The other couple was taken aback. In particular, one of them was my computer science classmate and he didn't understand how I could compromise my personal security and privacy so cavalierly. We're all now married, and I'm wondering, is password swapping the new joint checking account or cohabitation for the digital millennium? Sincerely, Corey."
So Emily, what do you think? Do you share your passwords with your loved ones?
Emily Yoffe: Well, I think marriages are based on trust. For some people, that does mean sharing passwords. And for some people, that means not sharing passwords—"I trust you enough that, hey, this is your zone of privacy and I don't need to look at your email."
I can't remember if I know my husband's password or he knows mine. I know that if I needed it, he'd tell me, but I also feel there's something in me, I don't really want to need it. I do think that people should not swap this information until they have exchanged marriage vows or in an equivalent level of commitment.
As Dear Prudence, I get a lot of emails from people who were dating and they shared passwords and now one person continues to track the other on Facebook or track their emails and stuff. It is like the joint checking account. You're not going to have a joint checking account if you're just dating.
Farhad Manjoo: I completely agree with everything you just said. I didn't know if I'd ever say that. But I do.
I think you're right. The main thing I agree with is it depends on the specific relationship and the specific kind of marriage. Some people need to have this information to achieve a certain kind of trust. Some people, because they trust each other, don't need to have this information.
I have no idea what my wife's email password is, but we do have a joint bank account. I guess we have different feelings about email and checking.
For me, I feel it's important to have a private communication space. I consider my email a very private space. A lot of it is just work, but a lot of it is talking to friends. I consider it a key part of my identity what I write there. It would be very odd for me to have somebody, even my wife, rifle through my email. I don't think she would rifle. But just to be able to look at things I was writing before we met or my email correspondence to a close friend or something, it would feel like a violation in some way.
I would give her my password if she asked for it, but I don't think she would ask for it.
Emily Yoffe: I agree with you about that. Even if you're married, you're still separate people and you're entitled to communicate with friends. Or as you say, even your work emails, I wouldn't dream of going and scanning through his emails and he wouldn't do that to me, except, again, as Dear Prudence, people do that when they feel "I think I need to check the emails to see what's actually going on." But then you're in a whole different situation and you're in trouble.
So I think we agree that maybe part of trust is saying, "No, there's a zone of privacy there. I don't need to know."
So Farhad, we have very similar marriages, but what if you're in a situation where one person feels, no, what trust means is that you're both open to each other and the other feels, "I don't want to give you my email password."
Farhad Manjoo: I guess that's a conversation those people should have before they get married, because it seems like a big deal to me. It suggests a difference in their level of trust with each other.
Emily Yoffe: That's interesting. Now before you get married, you should discuss, "Do we want children? Can you be in touch with your exes? And are we going to swap passwords?"
Farhad Manjoo: Well, I don't think you have to discuss it, but I think that if you know each other well enough, you would know whether the person would want your password or considers that an important part of having a good relationship.
Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is DigitalManners@slate.com.
Emily Yoffe: You can also join our new Facebook page, where we carry on the conversation throughout the week. Go to Facebook.com/digitalmanners.
Farhad Manjoo: And we'll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.