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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12 thoughts on “Rainy day musings on marriage, the Ashley Madison hack and judgment”

  1. You hit one something very important: public shaming. I am not a fan. It’s so bloodthirsty. That being said, I can’t take the lying. A few years back there was a survey of what folks couldn’t stand the most. The top spot went to cheating. On the list were things like suicide, murderers, etc. It was heavy. Cheaters, that’s what people loathe more than anything else. I think leave me, fine, but don’t cheat and be deceptive. If it’s an agreed upon open relationship that’s one thing. But leading double lives, nope.

  2. Thanks for your compassionate, sensitive words about marriage and public
    shaming, and an extra big thanks for all your good words over the course of
    this tempestuous year.

  3. I suppose there are many reasons why people cheat, but a huge part of me believes that we are not monogamous by nature and marriage doesn’t change that. As with anything, there are exceptions.

  4. I like you, Shay. I have read your “musings” for years, and always with great anticipation. To be sure, I will continue to be a faithful reader, providing, from time to time, a rare comment.

    We have never met, but it’s always my hope that I’ll be recognized, nevertheless.

  5. being at the tail end of my other cheating on me, i have stayed blissfully ignorant of this current event. relationships are so very very very hard. people always ask me why i am so angry at the other woman & not mad at my other (which i am, but it’s easier to be pissed at someone i don’t see every day.) i tell them it is because i understand why he did what he did. i don’t like that he did it, and i feel betrayed; however, i understand–due to the dynamics & dysfunctions of our relationship–how he could rationalize hurting me like this. relationships are complicated. like most other things in life, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions or judge others without knowing the whole story–which we will never be privy to. i don’t even know the whole story in my own relationship, how could i presume to know what another couple is experiencing?
    thanks for writing this.

  6. Shay, people are free to do as they choose, as there’s no right or wrong, just cause and effect. Yet, even this should give them pause.

    Why should it? Because our conduct, our behavior, as well as our actions are governed by a law. It’s called the Law of Retribution, or the Law of Reciprocity. Some call it Karma, while others call it The Golden Rule. I like the way this Bible passage expresses it:

    “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Gal 6:7

    Under the Mosaic Law it’s expressed this way:

    “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
    Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
    Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Ex 21:23-25

    Simply put, if we sow it, we’ll reap it, that which is considered good, that which is considered evil, and that which is considered ugly. If we lie and deceive, we’ll be lied to, and deceived. If we steal, it shall be stolen from us. If we “cheat,” then we shall be cheated in return, whether it’s called adultery, or the padding of one’s resume. If we take a life, then our life shall be taken, and on and on, if not in this life, then in lives to follow.

    Justice always prevails.

    There’s Only One of Us Here, and what we do to another, we do to ourselves. I’m aggrieved for our world, that is, “troubled and distressed in spirit,” that it has yet to understand collectively this simple Rule of Life.

    • Daylight Worker, have we met? I appreciate your words and yet I am perplexed, do you feel your mission is to save me? I have noticed a tone in your comments that coming from an Evangelical background that definitely comes across as seeking to save. If I have misread you, I apologize. However I know the Word of God quite well and understand that none are good and none are perfect except a man called Jesus. Ultimately we will all give account for our actions and deeds and yet too many of us especially within the church temporal consider themselves “good” when in reality none of us are good. There is no sin-a- meter and whether a man cheats on his wife or cheats his employer, the greater issue is his dishonesty. Yet humans are flawed, there is no escaping that and to deny that is to at some level to live dishonestly. Justice does indeed prevail but I am not sure that either one of us is qualified to make that call. You quote Paul and the Old Testament, interesting choices since Jesus himself spoke on sin and throwing stones.

      • You have “misread” me. My mission is not “Evangelical,” if you mean by “Evangelical” that I’m out to save the world.

        I’m not.

        From my perspective there’s nothing to save the world from. I only meant to share, but it appears that I have missed the mark.

        I have no “stones” to throw. The stone that I do have is only a “stone which I have set for a pillar.” I will take my leave now and bother you no longer.

          • You have pinned the very puritanical nature of the American culture … that culture that from the very beginning pitted the “worthy” against the “unworthy” however this is defined ,,,,,, money, skin color, gender …etc. One of the dominant issues has always been the the handling of “Sex”. Hiding behind the curtains of the bedroom or really ?

  7. Thoughtful and generous. My mother used to say that two people could love each but not live together. As a young, young person when she died, it was many, many years before I understood the complexity of that statement.

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