Cheating Isn’t That Bad

Two people may have committed suicide as a result of the Ashley Madison attack, according to Toronto Police Acting Staff Superintendent Bryce Evans. Says Evans:

“The social impact behind this (hacking) – we’re talking about families. We’re talking about their children, we’re talking about their wives, we’re talking about their male partners. […] It’s going to have impacts on their lives. We’re now going to have hate crimes that are a result of this. There are so many things that are happening. The reality is … this is not the fun and games that has been portrayed.”

The moralizing we do over cheating is out of control, and the Ashley Madison hack is exposing the cracks in our culture’s attitudes toward cheaters. For instance, here’s a useful perspective from Dan Savage:

“The outing of 37,000,000 adulterers (and wannabe adulterers) all at once means we will soon be hearing different stories about different kinds of infidelities, i.e., the kinds of infidelities that saved marriages, the kinds of infidelities that were mutually agreed to within marriages, the kinds of infidelities where there was no easily identifiable victim or the victimization was mutual.”

Amen, Savage. This was in response to a woman who’d written to Glenn Greenwald, who has been issuing op-eds over at The Intercept in vehement opposition to the Ashley Madison hackers and the “puritanical glee” the public has been expressing over having this data available. The woman works for a conservative think tank and has a morality clause: She’s the kind of hypocrite you could justify outing as a cheater.

At the same time, she cheated because:

“I am female, hold a job with a lot of responsibility, have three kids, one with special needs, and a husband with whom I have not been intimate for several years due to his cancer treatments…. Mine is a loveless, sexless, parenting marriage. I will care for my husband if his cancer spreads, we manage good will for the sake of the children, but we cannot talk about my emotional or sexual needs without him fixating on his death and crying. I went on AM out of loneliness and despair, and found friendship, both male and female, with others trapped in terrible marriages trying to do right by their children.”

In other words: relationships are complicated. The fact that there are 37 million Ashley Madison users who have been exposed means that there are 37 million different circumstances in which people felt compelled to cheat. I remember being told repeatedly in my youth, in grade-school, that once someone’s a cheater they’ll always be a cheater. But that version of people who cheat as inherently morally corrupt means that we’re all supposed to be not striving for perfection, but just perfect from the get-go in our relationships. And it’s cruel to expect people to be perfect, to have complete control over their emotions, to never be impulsive, to never be confused about what to do when our relationships get messy, to never make stupid, hurtful, and/or bad decisions. It’s also cruel to tell someone that once they fuck up, they’re broken, and they’ll never be fixed.

When people cheat, it means that there’s something wrong with the relationship. The important thing isn’t the fact of someone sticking it in someone other than their partner, the important thing is figuring out what that thing is that’s wrong, and figuring out whether or not it’s worth resolving. Sometimes that thing is that one person is a compulsive liar and doesn’t care about his or her partner’s feelings enough to be honest and faithful. Sometimes that thing is that both parties are under a tremendous amount of duress because of circumstances completely external to the relationship that are also completely outside of their control, and they’re just imperfect and impulsive. And sometimes it’s one of 37 million other reasons.

The point of which is to say that cheating isn’t necessarily a death knell for relationships, so our disgust over people who stay with cheaters isn’t fair. And also, that it is no one’s business to judge a cheater except for that cheater’s partner. The fact that our culture has become so judgmental that the public has driven people to suicide over their mistakes and bad judgment in their private relationships is more fucked up than the fact that they cheated in the first place.

[Reuters]
[The Stranger]
[The Intercept (1), (2)]

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