Dear Concerned Spouse,
I'll be quick—I know you have a lot on your mind this morning—but there are two things I want you to think about before you search for your spouse's name on Ashley Madison.
1. Do you really want to know? Many people who were cheated on and found out—because they discovered evidence, because the cheater unburdened themselves (and burdened their spouse), because a couples counselor insisted the cheater disclose, because the cheater/cheatee/counselor all fell for the hype about honesty always being the best policy—later expressed regret about finding out. If the affair was discreet ("on the down low, under the radar, careful") and an isolated incident (a single infidelity/affair, not serial adultery/numerous affairs) many cheatees will tell you (lots have told me) that would've preferred not to know. Ignorance can be marital bliss.
2. There are lots of "fakes and flakes" on hookup sites and apps. Talk to anyone who has actually looked for sex partners online and they'll bitch about about the flakes and fakes who wasted their time. They'll bitch about all the people—scores of them, some of them dogs—who exchanged text messages with them, swapped sexy photos with them, and shared their fantasies with them and then disappeared on them—went silent, ghosted them, blocked their numbers—when it was time to meet up and fuck. Sometimes they disappeared on them after making concrete plans to meet up and fuck. So finding spouse's name on Ashely Madison—if you decide to search for it—doesn't mean your spouse ever intended to cheat on you. Your partner may only have fantasized about cheating on you—and, yeah, that sucks, and only cuckolds/cuckquaens like having their noses rubbed in that. But be honest: have you ever fantasized about cheating on your partner? Have you ever masturbated about someone else—a waiter, a movie star, a neighbor, someone at your gym?
Was I too late? Did you already search for—and find—your spouse's name on Ashley Madison? Here's one thing to listen to and one thing to watch before you call a lawyer...
A. Listen to my conversation with Anna Sale, the host of WNYC's Death, Sex & Money. Here's the relevant bit...
ANNA SALE: And what do you want to know about me?
DAN SAVAGE: Are you in a committed relationship?
AS: I am.
DS: Are you non-monogamous?
AS: We’re monogamous.
DS: So what would you do if you found out that he cheated, or what do you think he’d do if he found out that you cheated? And cheating is something that will probably happen. Like, just putting that out there first, the research and the data shows that roughly 50% of men, 50% of women, in long-term relationships, at some point will cheat. And those 50% of men are not married to those 50% of women. So it will touch almost all committed monogamous relationships. So what’s gonna be your reaction if and when that happens to you?
AS: I know, I mean, I read you Dan Savage and you make me uncomfortable. Because intellectually, I understand all this, I get the desire, I get that it’s not rational. And I get that it’s a real thing. But it—I don’t know what I would do with the hurt. I have a really difficult time seeing a way outside of it being okay. Or seeing a way for it to be okay.
DS: Yeah. My advice would be, if and when it happens, you know when people always say, when they talk about the people they love most in their lives? I would take a bullet for this person, I would walk through fire for this person — that’s hurt. You’re saying I would hurt for this person. In a really profound and life-threatening way. I would take a bullet. I would walk through fire. Infidelity, when people believe in monogamy and monogamy is what they want, infidelity is that bullet. So if you look at your husband and think, I can take a bullet for that man.
We’re not married yet. I’m not even there.
DS: If you look at your partner and think I love you so much I could take a bullet for you, just if and when it happens, remember that feeling, because that’s the moment where you take the bullet. And some people accuse me because I’m pro non-monogamy that I’m giving get out of jail free cards to serial adulterers. And I’m not. People should honor the commitments that they make. If you make an monogamous commitment, you should attempt to keep it, attempt to honor it, do your best. And then if it happens to you, if you get cheated on, what is love and what is forgiveness if you can’t forgive the person you claim to love most in the world for a betrayal that really cuts you to the core? And because infidelity is so common, these things should be thought about well in advance of them happening. Because I think if you set your mind to, that is something—as painful as it is to get through, love each other through, forgive each other for, you’re likelier to actually get through it, love each other through it, and forgive each other for it when it happens. If it happens.
B. Watch to Esther Perel's recent TED Talk, which has already been viewed more than two million times. These twenty minutes could save your marriage:
The important takeaways:
"Betrayal in a relationship comes in many forms. There are many ways that we betray our partner. With contempt, with neglect, with indifference, with violence. Sexual betrayal is only one way to hurt a partner. In other words: The victim of an affair is not always the victim of the marriage."
"When a couple comes to me in the aftermath of an affair that has been revealed, I will often tell them this: Today in the West most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages. And some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?"