Unless you're just coming out of a medically induced coma, you know about Ashley Madison, the "dating" website for married people that was recently hacked. The site has this motto: "Life is short. Have an affair."
The email addresses of 32 million people who signed up to use the site were released online, exposing millions of cheaters to the world -- and exposing the world to the fact that 32 million people had at least seriously considered betraying their families.
The news hits especially close to home for all of us Must-Have and Must-Do Parents. By definition, we are couples who spend lots of time apart. We are couples who have more opportunities -- both the Must-Have and the Must-Do Parent -- to cheat. We are couples who are more prone to loneliness and more likely to be unhappy in our relationships. We are couples who might just be looking at the neighbor's grass and thinking that it looks a tad greener.
We are also people who have more to lose when one of us decides to cheat.
A Must-Have Parent has very likely put him or herself in a weaker earning position in order to accommodate the Must-Do Parent's demanding career. If an affair leads to divorce -- and it often does -- that Must-Have Parent will find him or herself struggling financially for years to come. By agreeing to be the Must-Have Parent and giving up some of his or her earning power, that parent enters into an additional, if unspoken, contract with the Must-Do Parent that the Must-Do won't violate that trust.
The Must-Do Parent also has more to lose than parents in other situations. By surrendering the bulk of the parenting to the Must-Have and working that life-devouring job, the Must-Do typically already has a weaker relationship with the children than the Must-Have. If the marriage ends, the Must-Do could very well lose his or her children, an absolutely devastating prospect.
And both outcomes, losing financial security and losing relationships with the children you love, can happen no matter who is at fault. If one partner cheats, both lose.
Most people don't walk down the aisle expecting that there will be an Ashley Madison account in either of their futures. No one wants betrayal to happen ... no one except maybe Ashley Madison.
It's really easy to hate Ashley Madison. I mean, what's not to hate? Hate away, I'll bring the beer.
It's also easy to hate the hackers, because hackers. What's not to hate about hackers? Sticking their mouse fingers into everyone else's business, wrecking lives willy-nilly. I'll bring the beer to a hacker bashing party, too. Anytime.
But I'm glad those Ashley Madison user lists were made public. I think the hackers did the world a solid by shining on a bright light on the stuff that many people would rather keep in the dark. If nothing else, they gave us an opportunity to clarify a position that seems to have gotten a little muddy -- muddy enough to confuse 32 million people.
Though the people who signed up for that site are responsible for their choices, it's worth noting that Ashley Madison ADVERTISED its services. It even tried to advertise during the Super Bowl. It hunted people online and used every Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley trick to lure people into the worst decision of their lives. It used its messaging to minimize the harm the service was sure to cause. There are dealers and then there are pushers. Ashley Madison is a pusher.
And it's not just Ashley Madison putting out those messages, not by a stretch. There are TV shows, movies, books and songs that make cheating sound like it's just a decision, like any other decision. Sometimes they even make it sound romantic. They rarely show the fallout that occurs afterward.
By creating an opportunity for the world to opine on the topic, the Ashley Madison hackers have left no doubt that most people still find cheating despicable.
Wanna know what your friends, co-workers and family members will think of you if they ever find out that you had an affair? Read what they're writing on Facebook about Ashley Madison. That's what they'll think of you, too.
So, particularly if your email address isn't on that list, be thankful for the Ashley Madison hackers, Must-Haves and Must-Dos. They have reminded all of us that, despite the messaging we might have heard to the contrary, loyalty and fidelity are still important things. They've given us all a chance to recommit to partnerships that can't exist without trust.
And if your or your spouse's email was on that list, well, all hope is not lost. There's help out there for you. With hard work, a good counselor, and an unwavering commitment from each of you to do whatever it takes, you can make things right again. You might even make them better.
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