Trust, Betrayal and Ashley Madison

Thinking of cheating? Well think again. These days although it is easier than ever to have an affair the reality is that it is even easier to get caught. This week’s alleged privacy data breach of Ashley Madison’s dating site for married people is confirmation that clandestine coupling is not for the faint of heart.

“Life is short, have an affair” is the company slogan. This lures people in much like a seductive mistress in a den of iniquity. Quite the tag line for an imperfect world where, in part because of the internet entitlement is the order of the day. Having our needs and secret fantasies met privately of course is a right.

I am surprised at the responses to the realization that extramarital affairs are common.  With some of the statistics of the website being around thirty seven million worldwide members to the two hundred thousand in Ottawa citizens in a city of eight hundred thousand, it seems that fidelity may be an unrealistic dream.  The nightmare of the alleged breach and exposure of people in Parliament makes it seem like affairs of the heart trump affairs of state. Perhaps we need to bring "the Donald" to Parliament Hill.

Many of my patients have confessed memberships in a club that boasts privacy in penetralia. They may have cheated for a plethora of reasons but the one common denominator is that they are all panicked. And so they should be, their right to privacy has been breached. But what about their partners?

What has surprised me above all else is the reaction to the cheating spouses as many people find this behaviour repugnant, forgetting their own foibles. So many people are irrationally angry with the cheaters. Many people who have expressed this sentiment to me have been targets of discrimination and hatred themselves.  

We can say it is human nature to judge others. It makes one feel better about themselves. Perhaps on one level, it builds one's self esteem, makes us feel better about ourselves and our choices. One may say “I smoked pot, ran a red light, beat my wife but at least I never cheated on her.” Do we get some satisfaction knowing someone was worse than we were? Who is to judge?

People in relationships and marriages cheat for a multitude of reasons and they stem from cultural to educational to psychological, emotional to relational. Many couples stop having sex for medical reasons and at the risk of hurting their partner may have chosen what they thought of as the most secretive spot to have their sexual needs and biological urges met.

Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirt bags, and deserve no such discretion,” the hackers wrote in an online manifesto. “Too bad for Ashley Madison, you promised secrecy and didn’t deliver.”

Well as karma would have it, the trusted cannot be trusted. Those who cheated on their partners, those who breached their own marital vows and agreements with their husbands, wives and other life mates have been betrayed as well.  What goes around comes around comes to mind.

That said, my faith in humankind will be lost if the sexual desires, fantasies, nude photos and clandestine affairs of private citizens are splattered across the internet, like a modern day Scarlet letter on steroids.

It seems to me that 37 million people have been betrayed in this marital minefield from those who have been cheated on to those who have cheated to those who encouraged cheating.  Betrayal is one of the most damaging emotions as it cuts to the core of trust the cornerstone of any relationship.

Before we judge a person, we must walk in their shoes, walk their path traveled, live their fears, sorrow, pains and joys. We all have a story and only the truth is interesting. This is a sad story and all of the players deserve empathy and understanding. Judge lest ye be judged my friends.