The Curse of Ashley
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
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
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,
Here, at the Ethics Scoreboard, we do judge….and recommend it heartily.