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Yesterday, moments after reading widely circulated Gizmodo piece that revealed how few women were on Ashley Madison (and that many of the actual real created by actual women were barely active), and not long after I was interviewed about the hack on the CBC's program Q, I got an email from a woman who said she used Ashley Madison. We had an interesting email exchange about her experiences. I'm posting here with her permission.

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Thank you for the perspective you keep bringing to this. It is like you are throwing us a rope, when others are eager to eviscerate us.

I tried Ashley Madison after my husband of two decades gave me the green light to explore, with the condition that I be very discreet and ensure he never, ever heard even a whisper about the details. We had married young and while our sex life is good, both my libido and my curiosity are far stronger than his. I have honored his request and am so grateful for this freedom.

I have connected with friends and lovers who deeply enrich my life, and I remain happily married. Some of them have far more difficult situations at home. While I and my lovers created special email addresses for AM and other sites that we use, even those of us who were careful are terrified. The way our modern devices sync and correlate data makes us all feel exposed.

Dan, I would hate my husband to regret the freedom he gave me. I ache for my dear friends who fear the loss of their spouses, children, and jobs. I am an public official and I would have so much to lose if exposed. And why should I have to explain myself or the "legitimacy" of my actions? Why have people decided they can be arbiters of someone else's private behavior? And why on earth have some government agencies decided to ruin lives over this—this expression of loneliness, longing, the need for connection.

Anyway, I know you are getting a zillion emails like mine, but please keep it up. We need you.—Former Ashley Madison Member

Can I ask you a question? People are pointing out that almost all the members of AM were men—there were very, very few women on the site, and many of the women who were on the site never responded to any of the men who contracted them via AM (as opposed to the thousands of fake accounts that were fake, which no one got a response from obviously). I’m curious what your experience on the site was like—as one of the few women there. Were you buried in responses? Was your experience on AM generally positive? Or, as one of the very few women with an active account, did you find the attention overwhelming?—Dan

Truthfully, I found the site so difficult to navigate that I used it relatively infrequently. I mostly heard from couples seeking a third (I enjoy being the unicorn) and other women looking for bisexual experiences. (Real? Fake? Who knows? I never met an actual woman from the site.) It felt harder to sort through the possibilities on AM than it was on OkCupid, Fet Life, and APG. AM didn't seem well set up for messaging, so the protocol was to message briefly and then shift to email or kik messaging.

But yes, I got a lot of messages and it was very difficult to sort through them! Plus I got a lot of unsolicited email from the site. (Not from specific people, but from the site itself, telling me about potential matches. Hated that.) Because of the hack, I deleted my (beloved) OKCupid profile and my Fet Kife profile. Kept only APG. (Paid site, so they have my address from when I used a credit card—here's hoping for no more hacks, and a little privacy.)—FAMM

Wait—what’s APG?—Dan

APG is the Alternate Playground. It is really a swingers' site, not a dating site, but there are singles on there, too.—FAMM

The messages you got from men—the ones you looked at—did everyone have a tale of woe? Or were some of them upfront about being the kind of callous, cheating bastards the public imagines all male AM members to be?—Dan

I would say about 70% had a plausible tale of woe, though sometimes this was just lonely/bored/not enough attention at home (not in a creepy way, but in a genuine way). 30% wanted straight up casual sex and were kind of cocky about the cheating. Part of that is the bravado though, I think—men know that being too pathetic does not attract women.—FAMM

That's interesting—I figured there would be guys on there who were faking tales of woe to make themselves seem more sympathetic/deserving of your attention. You're suggesting that it was the opposite—guys with legit tales of woe faked being callous, cheating bastards to make themselves seem more attractive.

Okay, as I've said about ten thousand times since news of hack broke: People hear about infidelities that lead to divorce—people hear about the ones that destroy marriages—but people never hear about the infidelities that save marriages. Have you participated in an infidelity that saved a marriage? What I mean, of course, is have you participated in the kind of “cheating” that made it possible for a married person who might’ve otherwise divorced their partner—a partner who would’ve been devastated by the divorce—to stay married and stay sane?—Dan

Yes, absolutely I have, and it changed my view of marriage and cheating. And it is much less dramatic than the cancer story you shared—and probably more common.

My closest lover is a married man with three children and a 18-year marriage. His wife older than he is. When they married, they rushed to have children because she was in her mid 30s and time was ticking. They are well known in their community and have all the things we associate with being married—a mortgage, cars, pets, friends. He adores his children and is very involved in their lives.

But he and his wife struggle—contempt, years of fighting, personality quirks they resent. They have both been in years of individual therapy and participated in marriage counseling and retreats. He feels lonely and rejected, but he does love her and they both love the life they have built together. There is absolutely no pretense that he wants to abandon this life he has built. He never pretends he wants to replace her with me. He is mostly happy with his life.

From me, he gets intimacy, connection, and no-limits sex (his wife likes sex just fine but can mostly live without it, and she is much less sexually open minded than I am). I can hear Dear Prudence saying that it is this intimacy with me that undermines his marriage and creates a barrier to real intimacy with his wife. I probably would have thought that too.

But it just isn't so. The joy and pleasure he gets from the time with me infuses the rest of his life. I am able to offer him my affection and support without needing to get into an argument about whose turn it is to make dinner or why this month's credit bill is so high. Not needing her to give him everything—to meet all of his needs—has given him the ability to step back and appreciate what she can give him, and to see the things he loves about her in a new light.

I know that sounds crazy. I never thought I would feel not only sympathetic about cheating, but persuaded that it changes people's lives in positive ways and allows them to maintain the family and community structures we all value.

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It has been an amazing emotional chapter of my life, and I am not ashamed of that. I believe he is a better husband and father because he feels loved and valued, and that allows his wife to better appreciate him.—FAMM

P.S. I thought about one other reason that AM and OKCupid strike me as important to this conversation about cheating to save a marriage: They allow cheaters to connect with people totally outside their real-life communities, which is far safer for everyone. I do not know this man's wife, our kids do not attend school together, we do not have mutual friends. Sites like AM allow people like us to find each other so that our real lives and secret lives are totally separate, which I think protects everyone.