Users of Ashley Madison Are Human Beings, Too

Photo: WeHeartIt
ashley madison

A female user of the site offers her take on who the men on Ashley Madison are.

Are the 39 million people registered on Ashley Madison all scumbags?

It’s easy maybe, safe even, to lump them all in such a big garbage bin in our minds. Feels good to categorize them like that, separate them from us, that is, the good people.

But hmmm. Ashley Madison.

I’ve heard of Ashley Madison endlessly on the Howard Stern Show, but never knew much about it — even despite the fact that the godforsaken song on the ads gets stuck in my head whenever I hear it. (Just writing that sentence did it in fact. Ugh.)

With so much about Ashley Madison in the news lately, I wanted to talk to someone who really knows the ins and outs of the site (sorry, unintentional bad pun) to hear more.

So I tracked down one such someone. Her name is Lynne (no, not her real name) and has used the site for over two years now.

Lynne is married, has kids, and guess what — loves her husband.

Why does she use Ashley Madison, then? She explained. Due to medical issues, her husband can’t perform sexually. She went to Ashley Madison only after many years of feeling frustrated in a sexless yet otherwise pretty-OK marriage. She's also told him about her extramarital relationships, and she has his blessing. So in other words, what she's doing isn't exactly "cheating."

“Are you worried your identity will be leaked now?” I asked her.

“No, no, that’s not how it works,” she said. “They don’t have women’s information.”


So here’s the deal, ‘cause I didn’t know, and maybe I’m slow on the uptake even after reading many of the trending pieces on the web, but whatever:

Only the men have to register real information, because only men have to pay to use the site; for women, it's free.

So as a woman, Lynne’s real name is nowhere to be found on the site’s database. She uses an email address she set up specifically for this purpose — an email address that is in no way connected to her real name or identity.

But I was really interested in hearing about the men she encountered through the site. Were they scumbags? (I didn’t use that word.)

“Do you feel bad for all those men who are being exposed?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, without hesitation. “I do.”

And what she went on to say really made me stop and think.

“Conventional wisdom,” she continued, “is that cheaters are scum."

"But I’ve met lots of men now on Ashley Madison. And even though I don’t feel cheating is right, and I don’t advocate it, I will say that generally behind every cheater, there’s a human story that you’d have some sympathy for if you heard it. More times than not, a sad story. Or tragic. They’re deeply unhappy or unfulfilled in their marriages, but have made a decision to stay in the marriage for the kids, for economic reasons, or simply because they still love their wives despite the deterioration their their romantic or sexual relationships. Or some combination of those things. In most cases, the men have discussed their dissatisfaction with their wives, but they can't make progress for various reasons. In my experience it’s rare that a man goes on Ashley Madison just because he wants a thrill. There’s usually pain and angst going back years behind their decision to use the site.”

She went on to argue that — like it or not — the fact that there are tens of millions of people on the site points to just how pervasive the feeling of emptiness is among married people.

“The site is quite obviously fulfilling a great need,” she says.

We could ask ourselves why. And then ask what is there to do about it? Lynne feels that in this country the only two socially acceptable choices are: fix the marriage, or get a divorce. “But these guys don’t want a divorce, and they don’t know how to fix it. To say that fixing it is difficult would be an understatement. Most of us have tried repeatedly and failed. And in the end, we're human beings with physical needs. These men, as well as women in my situation, feel that we need an outlet. In many cases, having that outlet preserves the peace at home by acting as a safety valve to release tension. No, it's not ideal, but it's reality.”

Lynne, in turn, put me in touch with one of the men she had met on the site, Bob (again, not his real name).

Bob had this to say:

"The people who posted the personal, private, data of Ashley Madison users have never had to live in a loveless, sexless, lonely marriage. They have never endured decades of unhappiness for the sake of their children, have never had to put on a happy public face during the day, only to lie awake at night next to a 'stranger,' who offers no comfort. My daughter is in college, and my own marriage will eventually end. But the criminals who released those files have no right to say on what terms it will end, or how, or how we will deal with that eventuality. It isn't their business." 

"On Ashley Madison, I have corresponded with, becomes friends with several women who have likewise endured unhappy marriages for the sake of the children. I learned I was not alone. I made friends, shared gripes, listened when they cried. Shared in small joys. I did recently meet somebody for an affair, but I value the friendships above all."

Over the next days and weeks, lots of Ashley Madison men’s names — like Bob's — will be bandied about. In Scarlet Letter fashion, with genders reversed, the men will be brandished with the letter A. I choose not to read their names. After all, life is short. Who has time for another witch hunt?