The Curse of Ashley Madison

Fortunately, most of the "Unethical Websites" exposed on the Ethics Scoreboard experience little traffic and do limited harm. Not so the Ashley Madison site, featured here in January, 2005, which encourages, facilitates, and romanticizes adultery. The following letter to the Scoreboard, from an apparently satisfied Ashley Madison user, amply illustrates the ethical confusion that this site spreads:

Dear Mr. Marshall,

I just read your review of the AshleyMadison web site and feel it is completely false. I joined the site myself after I found out my husband had an affair with a co worker of his. I have met 14 wonderful guys who agree with my terms to be just friends. I have no desire to stoop to the level of this home wrecking co-worker who actively pursued my husband and turned on all the charm until he could no longer resist. Yes the site is made up of those who are looking for something that is lacking in their own marriages and I don’t judge. These are all consenting adults and know what is at stake. I have resounded myself to realize it may be unreasonable to expect one person can fulfill another persons every need. Clearly my husband was missing something in our marriage that I could not provide. If he can only get those needs met by someone other than me and at the same time keep our family intact I think that would be far better for all involved. To destroy our family with a divorce will hurt all involved financially and emotionally to the point none of us could recover. I have had 4 months to deal with my situation and I truly believe there is far worse things one could do than expand their circle of friends… And the other spouse has to also realize that if their spouse had everything they needed at home they wouldn’t be looking elsewhere.

The letter is simultaneously fascinating, infuriating and sad. The writer, emotionally devastated by the betrayal of her husband, responds by deciding to inflict the same emotional pain on other women (Fourteen other women!) rather than addressing the problems in her own relationship. She dismisses any wrongdoing in this, because unlike the "other woman" in her own situation, she uses the web site to locate willing adulterers, and does not "pursue" them.

Notice that her self-esteem is thoroughly shattered by all of this: she blames herself and the "home-wrecker" but not her husband, whom she deems "powerless" to resist the siren song of a shameless hussy. Then the letter devolves into a chain of rationalizations and euphemisms:

  • "…the site is made up of those who are looking for something that is lacking in their own marriages…" Of course, the place to engage in a hunt for what is missing in a marriage is the marriage itself, not an adultery-brokering web site. The marriage commitment puts the responsibility on both parties to work to strengthen their bond, not to go elsewhere when something seems to be "missing."

  • "Yes the site is made up of those who are looking for something that is lacking in their own marriages and I don’t judge…" And this is what happens when people are unwilling or unable to judge: they lose their moral and ethical compasses. Bulletin: the people who frequent this website are willingly hurting their spouses and children, and that must be judged…as wrong.

  • "These are all consenting adults and know what is at stake." Ah, yes, the old "consenting adults" dodge. Bill and Monica were "consenting adults," remember. Of course, Hillary, Chelsea, and the nation, who were all ultimately and predictably affected and damaged by the affair, didn’t consent, just as the vast majority of the families and friends of the adulterers assisted by Ashley Madison haven’t consented. Ethically, you don’t have a consenting adult defense until all the stakeholders in your conduct have consented with full disclosure. My wife and her lover cannot ethically "consent" to destroy my family.

  • "I truly believe there [are] far worse things one could do…" This, the most untenable of all rationalizations, is the mark of a desperate wrong-doer. Sure, there is always something worse: you didn’t rob a cancer clinic, torture puppies or fly a plane into a building…well, hooray for you! The problem is that we don’t evaluate our conduct against a standard of bad behavior; we evaluate it by standards of good behavior. The writer hurt and damaged by an adulterous husband and knowing full well the pain that creates, is intentionally and unrepentantly doing the same to other married women. It’s not the worst thing, but it’s bad enough.

The letter provides powerful evidence of how the Internet can spread the contagion of unethical behavior, destroying lives and families by confusing the values of those who are emotionally damaged and vulnerable. The proper, ethical, and logical response to marital problems is to attempt to solve them, one way or the other. Inflicting the problems on other marriages, the approach Ashley Madison champions, is irresponsible, self-destructive, and despicable.

Here, at the Ethics Scoreboard, we do judge….and recommend it heartily.


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