This week’s news has been flooded with debate over the Ashley Madison website breach and resulting data dump. Granted, the hacking of a website carries legal/ethical ramifications, but is it any less ethical to cheat on your significant other? What if a particular incident of hacking is to expose injustice or betrayal? Would it be acceptable to expose those who commit treason against our country? If so, why would interpersonal treachery mean so little?
First off, let us keep in mind that nothing on the internet is secure. This is evident by the data breaches of major corporations, financial institutions and our own government. No reasonable person should believe that a hook up or dating site would have better security measures than the Internal Revenue Service (who were also recently compromised). Secondly, no sensitive financial information or social security numbers have been released (thus far) by those responsible for the Ashley Madison breach. Several writers have played the ‘slippery slope’ card, cries of ‘The internet is no longer safe!’ (again, it never has been) and the reaching theory that exposure of deception will cause humiliation so devastating that it will lead to mass suicides/homicides.
I have seen numerous comments in defense of those who utilized the site. Flimsy arguments that perhaps members are in an ‘open’ marriage. Fair enough, but why would you have to pay a website that prides itself on discretion if you are polyamorous? Maybe members were just ‘curious’? Ok, but curiosity is an indication that you are lacking something in your marriage. Some commenters were berating others for being prudes. When did fidelity become sententious? If you aren’t having your physical needs met, you need to have a conversation with your partner as to why. It is one or both of you that have a deeper underlying problem preventing intimacy or the type of intimacy you desire. If you two can’t make that work or be complacent in a relationship void of intimate interactions, you shouldn’t be together.
The argument I found most maddening was ‘It’s no one’s business!’. Almost. It is not 99.9% of the world’s business, the exception being the person being cheated on. They absolutely have the right to know if they are being deceived, if their relationship is a lie, if they have no idea the kind of person their partner really is and if they are potentially being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases.
The victims in this situation are not a company created and branded specifically for people looking to secretly break their commitment/vows. Ashley Madison are profiteers of philanderers (I’m modernizing this term to apply to women as well). Nor should we have compassion for those who intentionally went looking for or followed through with an affair. They made a deliberate choice, even if it was a moment of feeling spiteful or neglected, it is a choice. The only victims in this situation are the unknowing spouses and any children between them. These are the individuals who will be forever damaged by the decision to be unfaithful.
Even if the spouse forgives, they have experienced the emotional equivalent of rape. They will have been traumatized by their partner’s betrayal. They will always carry (at minimum) a sliver of doubt, they will never fully recover their self-esteem, they will never look at the cheater quite the same. It is like breaking a beautiful piece of china and gluing it back together. At first glance it may seem perfect, but the closer you examine it, the fine cracks and missing fragments will stand out.
The children, if they aren’t old enough to understand, will learn in time what led to the demise of their parent’s relationship. Expect insecurity, anger and anxiety if divorce is the outcome. If the parents stay together, and worse, if the infidelity is reoccurring, expect emulation in their adult relationships. I wonder if those who cheat ever think about their daughters marrying a guy just like dad or their sons finding a girl just like mom? Would they be happy knowing they have set the example that being sneaky, manipulative and dishonest is acceptable behavior? Would they be proud knowing they have raised a tolerant little doormat who attracts deceitful jerks?
The other nagging questions I have are, if you are looking for a more fulfilling relationship, do you honestly believe one founded in betrayal is going to last? If you just want to shag everyone you can, why the hell are you still married or in a committed relationship? You don’t want to lose half of your money? Hire a good lawyer. You can’t bring yourself to hurt your kids? If that is the reason, spending time covertly whoring around has already taken time out of your relationship with them.
Aside from certain cases of bi-polar disorder with severe compulsions, I think there are universal reasons that lead to the choice to be unfaithful. Vengeance, harboring resentment towards your significant other, a lack of desire or loss of interest because they no longer find their partner attractive, a means of masking their own insecurities/inflating the ego. While these are all valid feelings, the problem is how one chooses to address said feelings.
If one has these or similar issues with their partner, it is not only cowardly and weak to avoid addressing the problem(s), it is lazy and selfish to skip right into having an affair. Holding resentment and anger towards someone you share a life with guarantees the relationship is doomed. Even in war, peace is only achieved through diplomacy and compromise. Say one side kicks the shit out of the other, simply surrendering creates an atmosphere of distrust and tension that can last for decades. You have to be willing to negotiate and you can not negotiate if you withhold.
To those who are considering straying from your partner- expressing your feelings, addressing the issues your have within your relationship does not mean berating, belittling, shaming or acting hostile. It needs to be done with clarity, compassion, encouragement and optimism. Hoping it resolves itself or throwing in the towel without putting forth effort is self-sabotage. If you can be honest and specific in what it is that you want/need, you have a chance of making things right.
To those who have been cheated on- If you have caught them or if you know in your heart that they are and it is a lack of tangible evidence, stop and evaluate your situation. If your significant other is attempting to gaslight you, if they are making you think you’re crazy or can look you in the eye and lie…is this is the kind of person you want to invest your life in?
For both parties involved- If you have already attempted to be constructive and you are met with indifference, if your feelings are dismissed by your partner, if they outright refuse to work with you or put all the responsibility on you to mend the relationship, it is quite apparent that your are no longer their priority. Don’t cheat, leave with dignity. Do not waste another moment of each other’s time.