Ashley Madison hack reveals nothing surprising at all

by Sarah Firisen

AshleyBig news: millions of married people, mainly men, are using the Internet to try to cheat on their spouses. The Ashley Madison hack scandal, the data dump of records of 32 million would-be adulterers, is apparently a surprise to some people. Not to me. Ever since I started online dating after my divorce, I’ve been blown away by the realization of just how many people, not all men, but probably primarily men, are in some way or another looking to cheat on a spouse. Based on the interactions I had over a few years, I’d break down these men (and I was only interacting with men) into a few categories:

  1. Saying they’re in open marriages – maybe they are, maybe they’re not.
  2. Feeling out the waters, maybe indulging in some online flirtation for titillation but probably wouldn’t go through with anything in person – probably
  3. Making their status as married men looking for an affair very clear upfront – not many of these
  4. Pretending to be single and actively cheating on spouses

I was a big Googler of men I was considering dating. Call me paranoid, suspicious, closed minded, whatever you want. The fact is, what I used to find by pretty simple Google searches of these men was pretty horrifying. There was the guy whose Tinder profile photo turned out to be his wedding photo up on Facebook, except with his wife cropped out for his dating profile. When I called him on his marital status, he of course initially tried to pretend otherwise. When I told him his wife’s name and where she lived (people, secure your Facebook pages for heaven’s sake), he finally spiraled through a bunch of lies: they were separated – I pointed out that in a Facebook post the week before she called him the love of her life and said that these 3 months of marriage – yes, they were newlyweds – had been the happiest of her life. Then he told me that he was planning on leaving her, she just didn’t know yet. Then, he told me she was pregnant.

I do think that, as this opinion piece points out, one of the more troubling revelations of this hacking scandal is that it’s shown how many people are stupid enough to use real email addresses, and in many cases work email addresses, often government emails, to sign up for a site like Ashley Madison. Or in fact any dating website. Given how trivially easy it is to sign up for a Gmail account, I believe that the women who discover that their husbands didn’t bother to do that before signing up to cheat, should divorce them for stupidity if nothing else. A friend of a friend’s email turned up in this data dump and he is a professional IT security consultant! All his clients should immediately fire him for this faux pas.

I’m thrilled that all Americans straight and gay now have the right to marry. I’m just not sure why anyone is bothering anymore. Is anyone really happily married? Okay, past the first 5 years, is anyone happily married? Let’s take out people who never had children, they may still be happy. Everyone else? Another friend had dated a guy for a few months. Things fell apart. She found his name in the Ashley Madison list. He’d admitted to her that when he was married he had an affair when he’d been married, but he claimed that it was a one-time fling with someone he knew, clearly not true given the existence of his name in this data dump. Said friend and I both agreed that she’d dodged a bullet there; we both felt that there’s all the difference in the world between something that just sort of happens between two people who know each other. Drinking too much at the Christmas party, traveling a lot for work together, a lot of us can imagine how something might start with a colleague or friend. Maybe we haven’t cheated, but the opportunity and the temptation has presented itself. But signing up for an online dating site in order to cheat, that’s really in a different league in my opinion. And maybe that’s the problem these days, it’s just so easy to do that.

The old fashioned way of cheating took effort. It took opportunity. There was risk and the real danger of exposure. Nowadays, the barrier to entry is so damned low. Of course, if you’re an idiot and use your Facebook photos for your dating profile, or use your real email address, or any of the things that are so easy to search on and expose, then the risk and danger can be even greater than it used to be; I often knew who these men’s wives were from Facebook and could have easily contacted them. But if you employ even a modicum of common sense, it’s possible to cheat away to your heart’s content.

So the question is, how many people do? This article does a back of the envelope calculation “Let’s guess that 10 million accounts are real and from the United States, and nearly all are men. That still seems high, actually, as there are only 65 million married men in the United States, so that would put 15 percent of them on Ashley Madison.” And that doesn’t include men not using this site but using Tinder or OK Cupid or something else. That is a hell of a lot of men trying to cheat. And that number doesn’t include people who are cheating and not using online tools to meet their hookups. I read one number that claims that 30-60% of all married people in the USA will engage in infidelity at some point in their married lives. I could imagine it being higher actually. And given the number of divorces, I’m probably right.

The wedding industry is a juggernaut in this country and we’re still bombarded with treacle sweet goo about romance, love and marriage from all sides. I try to not be too jaundiced, but these days, when someone gleefully tells me they’re getting married, I start to calculate how many good years the marriage likely has. It’s so easy to get caught up in the stuff, the bridal showers, engagement parties, wedding dresses, gift registries, all the things that make weddings so desirable for so many people, honestly, particularly women. I know a disturbingly large number of smart, educated, professionally successful women in their late 30s early 40s who will willingly admit that they consider themselves failures for not being married yet. Why is this? Why do they so long to throw themselves into an institution that, by any standards, isn’t a success. Will the hard facts of this Ashley Madison hack bring a cold shower of reality to these women?