Ever since I wrote on Thursday about the Ashley Madison hack and resulting reactions and consequences, I’ve heard from dozens of people who used the site. They offer a remarkably wide range of reasons for having done so. I’m posting below one email I received that I find particularly illuminating, which I very lightly edited to correct a few obvious typographical errors:
Thank you for the kindness and humanity you have manifested to those of us whose data is now a source of public mockery and shame on AM.
I am female, hold a job with a lot of responsibility, have three kids, one with special needs, and a husband with whom I have not been intimate for several years due to his cancer treatments.
I also used to write about marriage law policy, encouraging traditional marriage for the good of children. My institution has a morality clause in all contracts.
Mine is a loveless, sexless, parenting marriage. I will care for my husband if his cancer spreads, we manage good will for the sake of the children, but we cannot talk about my emotional or sexual needs without him fixating on his death and crying.
I went on AM out of loneliness and despair, and found friendship, both male and female, with others trapped in terrible marriages trying to do right by their children.
My experiences have led me to soften my views of marriage as my own marriage is a deeply humbling, painful longterm commitment.
I expect to be ridiculed by colleagues, to lose my job, and to be publicly shamed, especially as a hypocrite. Yes, I used a credit card. In my case, I will get no sympathy from the right or the left as I do not fit into either of their simplistic paradigms.
I have received email from Trustify that I have been searched, and it is soliciting me to purchase its services. And I am receiving lots of spam with racy headings.
That is my story. When my outing happens, I suppose I might as well take a stand for those who are trapped in bad marriages. Many of us are doing the best we can, trying in our own imperfect way to cope with alienation, lovelessness, and physical deprivation.
I do not want to hurt my children or husband. I truly wish I had a good one and I want happy marriages for others. I did what I did trying to cope. Maybe it was a bad idea but again, I have met some very decent people on AM, some of whom are now dear friends.
Thank you again.
As I argued last week, even for the most simplistic, worst-case-scenario, cartoon-villain depictions of the Ashley Madison user — a spouse who selfishly seeks hedonistic pleasure with indifference toward his or her own marital vows and by deceiving the spouse — that’s nobody’s business other than those who are parties to that marriage or, perhaps, their family members and close friends. But as the fallout begins from this leak, as people’s careers and reputations begin to be ruined, as unconfirmed reports emerge that some users have committed suicide, it’s worth remembering that the reality is often far more complex than the smug moralizers suggest.
The private lives and sexual choices of fully formed adults are usually very complicated and thus impossible to understand — and certainly impossible to judge — without wallowing around in the most intimate details, none of which are any of your business. That’s a very good reason not to try to sit in judgment and condemn from afar.
As I acknowledged, there is an arguably valid case for such outing: namely, where someone with public influence is hypocritically crusading for legally enforced morality, holding themselves out as beacons of virtues they in fact violate, and harming others through that advocacy. It’s possible this emailer falls within that category: She says her past work involved “encouraging traditional marriage for the good of children.”
It’s worth remembering that even in these “easy” cases, human beings are usually far more complex than the good/evil caricatures we’re all tempted to propagate in order to undermine political adversaries and inflate our own self-worth. Even if you interpret what she’s done in the most ungenerous light possible — even if you conclude that she’s the most extreme case where it’s clear she’s guilty of hypocrisy — are her actions evil and really deserving of full-scale reputational ruin and worse? Is anyone really capable of sitting in stern, doubt-free judgment of the choices she’s made in her most private realm?