Dear Auntie Seraphic,
I'm currently involved in a convoluted and drama-filled situation, and I'm at a loss as to what to do. Here's the shortest version of the story:
I have been friends with a family of Nice Catholic Boys and Nice Catholic Girls for the past twenty years. The sister I was closest to (let’s call her A) moved out of the country last year. A has never been good at communication, and I rarely hear from her despite the emails and letters I[...] write on a regular basis. When I get frustrated with her silence, I turn to [another] NCG (B) who is not only a mutual friend of ours, she is dating the brother (C) of A. B and I write several emails a day to each other, talk on the phone often, and try to get together as frequently as our schedules allow.
Recently, A came back to [our nation] for a month’s vacation. B and I found out that A was angry with us because she was informed that we have been “badmouthing” her while she’s been away. We were both fairly surprised because most of our frustrations come out in our emails. Both B and I tried to contact A via emails, letters, and phone calls, but she refuses to talk to us to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, C and B have been holding on to their strained relationship.
After two months of this drama, B and I were told that the original story was not quite true. Whoever the “informer” was didn’t hear us saying these things; this person hacked into our email account, read our emails, and copied and pasted quotes about A into a Word document. These quotes are not chronological and completely out of context. And now they have been forwarded to C.
B and I are completely humiliated and hurt that someone would be malicious enough to do something like this. Our privacy has been completely invaded; our emails are like our diaries. I believe that venting is a natural thing to do and these emails were only meant for B and I to see. It’s especially hurtful that this would be done by our nice Catholic friends who should know better and are now causing friendships and relationships to be hurt and possibly ended.
I feel like I’ve done all I can do but is there something here that I’m missing? I’ve tried to contact A to no avail. I’ve said novenas and rosaries and offered Masses and Communions for the resolution of this ridiculous situation. Please give me some advice on how to handle the situation. Thank you!
The Unwilling Drama Queen
Dear Unwilling Drama Queen,
How awful! What a mess! Whoever read your emails and sent A this cut-and-paste poison pen letter did a terrible, terrible thing. He or she or they are not "nice" or "friends"-- they are evil-doing enemies. (Um, do you know who it was?) If he or she or they are Catholics, they ought to know they have committed at least two or three awful sins and need a good tearstained grovel in the confessional on Saturday afternoon.
Your story reminds me that email is not safe (more on this below), and that we have all got to be very careful with what we put in writing.
You've already tried to contact A, and it hasn't worked. And you've been storming heaven, and heaven hasn't sent a resolution yet. Perhaps it is time to be silent--and to change all your passwords, if you haven't done that already.
You and B have been terribly wronged by someone. That, to me, is the most important thing. Someone has stolen from both of you. This must be traumatic. Just ghastly. I want to say that before I give you a short sermon on the dangers of venting. No matter what you and B said, I think you are both the most sinned against here.
I agree that it is perfectly natural for women to blow off steam when we feel hurt by other women, although I don't think it is always a wise or helpful thing to do. The Christian life demands that we "rise above" the natural. And although I assume my friends gossip and complain about me, I sort of hope they don't. Someone once sent an email about me to me by mistake, and it permanently affected my relationship with three people.
Meanwhile, it is a very bad idea for a woman (or man) to discuss a member of her (or his) beloved's family with a third party. Blood really is thicker than water. In an ideal situation, B would have told you that she can't discuss A because A is C's sister. Such reticence is not just kind, it is rock-solid prudent.
Personally, I don't allow anyone outside the family to complain about members of my family. My siblings and I may look like cold and bloodless Anglo-Saxons, but say the wrong thing and we turn into seething claymore-wielding clansmen. My married brother's wife is now my sister, to be defended to the death; my unmarried brother's girlfriend (if he had one) is a stranger, at best a charming acquaintance, at worst a threat to family peace. I feel badly for C who is now torn between his sister A and his girlfriend B. That said, I repeat that the person you should all be worried about is the malevolent creep (creeps or creepette) who sent that cut-and-paste email.
The only thing you could say to A--if you ever manage to talk to A, who might not ever want to talk to you, and you must respect that---is "We were only complaining because we really like you and want you to contact us more often. We're horrified that someone got into our accounts and sent you that cut-and-paste email. If we had any idea that could happen, we would never have written a word."
Meanwhile, since both you and B were (and still are) frustrated by A's lack of communication, you both may have to pray for detachment. The painful truth may be that you care for A more than she cares for either of you. Leave her be.
I spoke to a computer security expert, and he said that the first thing I should state is that I am not a lawyer (IANAL). He's not a lawyer, either. So that done, I now will tell you that he told me that hacking is very hard to prove. And, worse, email is considered public communication unless it has been encrypted. It is just too easy for others to read.
You might forget to log off on a home or college computer, and then the person who uses it next finds out, reads, cuts and pastes, steals your password, emails all your contacts pretending to be you. You might unconsciously press "Send All" when you meant to press "Send". You might absentmindedly send an email to the wrong person, and she or he might forward it to everyone in town. You might forward an email to someone, forgetting that there's an entire correspondence under the latest message. Public, public, public.
Unencrypted email is nothing like a diary or a letter. It is much more like a postcard--a postcard any postman (remember the Chesterton story?) can alter invisibly, with your name still scrawled at the bottom. I find this terrifying.
Therefore, my last bit of advice is to remember this lesson and swear never again to send anyone anything by email that you would not want read at your wedding or funeral. I just did myself.
Grace and peace,