Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Cheater's Perspective on the Ashley Madison Leaks

In case you've been living under a rock for the past three weeks, hackers have recently dumped around 30 gigabytes of user data from the infidelity-promoting website Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison is essentially a dating site that is designed to help married people find partners for having affairs. It's a totally appalling premise, but one we shouldn't find surprising considering that we live in a cultural climate that discounts marriage and laughs at the notion of monogamy.

As a person who's actually had an affair, I want to lend my voice to the public fray as the web tries to sort out what happened and what's coming next. Every few days, a new celebrity's name appears on the data dump, implicating them into a life of moral decay and shrouding their public persona in darkness. We need to take a moment and gain a wider perspective on this highly controversial incident.

The most foundational conclusion we can reach about this issue is that the users of Ashley Madison are people mired in wickedness and dishonesty, and that the entire premise of the website is purely disgusting. That's just a gut reaction. If you click on any article about the hack, you'll find that the majority of comments surround this idea. People continue to recycle the same sentiments: the cheaters deserve to be revealed, what goes around comes around, they got what they were asking for. I agree wholeheartedly -- there are practical and social consequences for infidelity, and one of those is a loss of reputation and the shame that comes along with it. Just look at what the media's doing to Josh Duggar and the Christian vlogger Sam Rader.

Beyond the pearl-clutching, I feel like there's some deeper truth to be found beneath this fiasco. Every affair is a tragedy, a disaster in the lives of those it touches. There were nearly 30 million people on Ashley Madison -- that's a nation full of broken marriages, even if the faults and cracks were concealed by a digital veil. 30 million tragedies... that weighs heavy on my heart. Something is deeply wrong with our perspective on marriage if that many people are seeking affairs. So let's put aside the memes and the wise cracks and dig for deeper truth.

Perhaps one of the most profound thoughts to take away from this data breach is that statistics are reporting that between 85-95% of Ashley Madison users were male. Aside from the fact that this means AM was essentially a scam, a cesspool of men seeking women where there were none to be found, it also says something very disturbing about the male condition, or about the male perspective on marriage in our society. Do men really seek affairs that much more than women? Are men really that awful at fidelity?

Yes, and no. Other studies have shown that, although men do struggle more in this area, it's not to the magnitude shown by AM's database. Some estimates have asserted that around 70% of men and 50-60% of women will struggle in the area of fidelity. So, although men aren't that much more likely to seek affairs, they apparently are more likely to do it in a fundamentally different way. What social mechanisms can explain away the fact that AM was almost entirely filled by men? Statistically speaking, where were the women? And why are men even slightly more prone to infidelity than women, even by conservative figures?

Those are questions I can't yet answer, as disturbing as they might be.  One thing's for sure, though. Men and women alike need to revisit the statistics I mentioned above -- through all the moralizing, wisecracks, and judgmental commentary, the public must begin to realize that infidelity is tragic but it is not rare. I have to say that again... let me rephrase it. Unfaithfulness is horrible, but it's not uncommon. It's very common, actually. Every newlywed who gasps in disgust at the AM scandal needs to realize that they are susceptible to this. They. Are. We must go beyond our pearl-clutching and find a place where we face reality, so we can build a better future for our marriage and for society as a whole.

What are you doing in your marriage to defend it from the very real temptation that infidelity brings? What are you doing to protect your spouse and guard your own heart? What do you really believe about the foundations of marriage and the incidence of unfaithfulness? These are the questions we all must look in the mirror, before we eventually come face-to-face with the same crisis that the AM users are facing now. Let's turn our idle thoughts into intentional action.

Take a moment today to really reflect on the sad reality that affairs are everywhere. Evaluate the needs of your marriage and make a plan to fight for your spouse. It's worth it, and it's so crucially necessary.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about The Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from infidelity. We encourage you to subscribe via e-mail for regular updates.

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