From Handbags to Habit -- The Evolution of a Snooper
I think I was born a snooper. I can't remember a time when I did not want to snoop, even though I understood that it was wrong. That was the lure, knowing that I could get caught, yet being drawn in by what I might encounter. I think there has always been a thrill involved in it for me. However, the stereotypical romp through a medicine cabinet has never seduced me the way it has others. I think this is because I started out snooping in such an intimate area, a woman's purse.
My earliest memories of peering into the secret lives of others involve the purses of my Grandmother's friends. My Gram was a Southerner and entertained the Southern habit of going to "visit," which back in those days meant getting fairly dressed up with your finest bag in tow. The women would gather at one home and leave all their purses in the same room. Most of these ladies were well into their sixties and had large Southern homes, filled with antiques and very few things that would entertain a five year old. Gradually, the conversation would build to point where I knew I could slip away and try to entertain myself. The purses would beckon to me, call my name. All of them sitting in a nice row -- so many different shapes and textures, not to mention the lure of the unknown items, gold compacts, Estee Lauder orange lipsticks whose shiny casings matched the mysterious compacts, and oh wonders of wonders, Juicy Fruit! The smell of the sugary gum would waft to my nose in the instant that my meddling fingers violated the clasp of the purse. Its aroma had a hypnotic means of erasing any doubt about forging ahead in my intrusion.
Alas, the risk involved here was great and the consequences mighty, if one were caught. After being discovered deeply involved in my task, my purse snooping was, for a time, halted. So I moved on to the depths of my Gram's dresser drawers and her gigantic cedar chest. Digging around there required a finesse that I eventually acquired but failed in miserably at first. My Gram was fastidious about her physical environment, everything had a place and should be in it, and if it were moved even a little, she knew it. Not surprisingly, I frequently got in trouble for my ventures in her room. The psychology of this heightened the appeal. Now, not only was there the risk that I could get caught in the act, but also the added thrill that I might be called on it at a later date, say when my Gram actually figured it out or discovered something out of place. So there was the waiting: Will she notice? Will she be angry?
Eventually I graduated to my mother's room, which was a much easier target as she was preoccupied and did not notice my forays as easily. My confidence was so boosted at this point that I began to branch out to the dressers and closets of relatives' houses when we would visit. I could spend hours rifling through the possessions of others; it was so fascinating to me.
In high school, my obsession developed even further. I hung out in a clique with several other girls. We all had lockers in different areas of the school and knew each others' locker combinations so that we could keep our books closer to our classes. Frequently, someone would leave her purse in her locker and lo and behold I was delivered back to the origins of my fascination -- although now the loot was better and the stakes higher. I was no longer a little girl who didn't know better. If I were caught, my peer group could ostracize me. But the payoff was like having your own private make-up counter for teenagers. No longer was I confined to the world of old lady make-up -- quite the opposite in fact. All of a sudden I was privy to a bounty of sparkly blue and green eye shadows, tutti-frutti lip glosses that would blind your boyfriend with their shine, and grape Bubble Yum. Yes, with the bloom of my hormones came the refinement of my tastes.
Today, I no longer rifle through the purses of friends and strangers. Although I must say that if you handed me your purse and said, "Feel free to snoop through this to your heart's content," that part of me would sigh and the word "nirvana" would pass over my lips. Somewhere in time, I honed my prying to a more interpersonal level and blossomed into a bonafide co-dependent. Ah, those were the days, butting into the lives of my friends and family, inspiring their confidence, advising them and so on. Others might call it helpful; some might point to its dysfunctional nature, but at its lowest common denominator, it was snooping. Several therapists later, I focus on my own life and attend to it, rather than the lives, purses, and dresser drawers of those who are near and dear to me. (By the way, going to a 12-Step meeting is a great way to find out what others are doing in their lives!)
Living in the dorms for a while and having roommates opened up new doors, as did having a live-in boyfriend. (Although snooping amongst the effects of the male species is not nearly as much fun.) I even put my affliction to good use, going to graduate school, throwing myself into research, writing the best papers, because I was such a good researcher. (Such an acceptable word!)
Am I cured? I should say not! Thank the universe for the Internet! I now have an outlet with an abundance of places that I can snoop and still be considered socially acceptable. I can go to a stranger's website and see her wedding, her children, find out their names, and how she met her husband. I can read private diaries that are on the web for that very purpose! I can go to a discussion board and find out where people live, how many pets they have, even what they are eating on a daily basis!
I'm not ashamed to say that I am a snooper, because I know I am in good company. I just suspect my fellow snoopers have been too busy...um..."surfing," to take the time to write an essay on this topic.
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