Rainy day musings on marriage, the Ashley Madison hack and judgment

I find myself sitting here on a cool and rainy day with the weight of the world straining my shoulders, pondering my life and my future as I stand at the crossroads of upheaval and change…yet I find myself absolutely engrossed in the story of the Ashley Madison hack and the almost unanimous judgment.

In case you aren’t up to speed let me help you. Ashley Madison is a website that, for the most part, is designed to help married people cheat on their spouses.  It’s safe to say that most people find such a site morally reprehensible, yet the reality is that people do cheat on their spouses (quite often on both sides of the gender fence) and in this market-driven world apparently the market created a niche to help such people. Funny thing is, cheating is as old as time; people have always cheated. It’s just that in our app-heavy, convenience-driven world, someone decided to make it easier for such people. A group calling itself The Impact Team found the whole situation morally repugnant and after telling AM’s parent group to take down the site and being rebuffed, it decided to release data on millions of users. Turns out some of the users of the site are quite known and, well, I suspect the past few days for those people have been quite uncomfortable.  

The majority of people I know have no sympathy for cheaters and I imagine most of my readers are in that same group. Which is why my own feelings on the matter may be a surprise. After over 20 years of marriage between two marriages, I think that marriages are complex and the reasons why people step out are even more complex. I think that we live in a culture that has elevated the institution of marriage without providing most people with a realistic framework for what a marriage really entails.

Most of us assume that all a marriage needs is love and, while love is an important piece of marriage, it is not the most important factor in my opinion. As I deal with my own shifting marital landscape, I can say that two people can love, respect and adore each other but be woefully unprepared for the hard work of sharing their life with another or evolve into two people who aren’t compatible cohabiting anymore, no matter how much they like each other. Marriage requires the ability to surrender and compromise and as long as the ongoing process of surrender and compromise is mutually beneficial, then the marriage continues. But sometimes that process is no longer mutually beneficial and to stay married means to give up so much of ourselves that we become a shell of who we once were.

Marriages hit rocky patches for any number of reasons and ideally a couple can fix the issue or resolve to end the relationship in a mindful and compassionate manner. However, life doesn’t always yield to best practices and relationships and connections become messy. Sometimes partners step out rather than to leave and while no doubt that is a questionable choice, one bad decision does not make a person beyond redemption nor does it invalidate any and all good they have done. It’s also a little presumptuous of those on the outside to assume there isn’t a silent or overt acceptance on the part of the other spouse to allow what so many of us would call indiscretions.

However in a 24-hour cycle world where we can consume details non-stop, it becomes easy to become judge and jury and to issue proclamations on those we will never know and revel in our own sense of righteousness. We may not cheat on our spouses but we easily forget the time we steal time and/or material from our employers when we choose to check our Facebook pages from the office or the office supplies we bring home. Or maybe it’s the “business” lunches we claim to lower our tax burden.

Yet our “cheats” will rarely be discovered and almost certainly never become public fodder so we pat ourselves on the back for being “good” people when in essence few of us are really good. Even professional do-gooders have bad moments. In case you haven’t figured out, I am not a fan of public pitchforks and shame sessions that often forget the humanity of those who transgressed and while shame can have merit, the public shame that has become our norm is rarely helpful and often far more dangerous because it forgets that we are dealing with people. It doesn’t give them a chance to reflect and change but instead exposes them to the entire world, risking (at times) their physical safety, employment and more.

At the end of the day, if one partner has cheated, that is for that couple and their family to deal with and decide their next steps, not outside people. Our culture is fickle when it comes to matters of cheating since we don’t lump all cheating in the same boat yet we find some strict moral compass on cheating when it involves married people…then again, as I noted before we have created a market that elevates marriage to an often unachievable standard.

Having lost a dear friend to suicide many years ago over the shame of an adulterous relationship, it scares me to think of how many lives could be prematurely ended over this hack and while we may all be having a good laugh and feeling better because we would never cheat…the fact is we don’t know what curveballs life will throw at us. Life is funny like that, as soon as we think we know what we would do, life sometimes takes us someplace else. Yet I suspect the one thing we all would like no matter what road we travel is respect and compassion for our less-than-stellar moments.
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