Ashley Madison scandal? One of the oldest, most boring stories ever


As you probably know, I’m a paid contributor for Forbes, where I write about women and money. In the past month I’ve written two posts about the Ashley Madison Hack:

20 Million Men Active On Ashley Madison: Why That Is A Great Wake-Up Call For Women

Ashley Madison Hack Would Mean ‘Boon for Divorce Lawyers and Marriage Therapists’

Together, these posts have gotten about 240,000 page views, which is a lot. That’s great for my bottom line, and OK, it was really cool that Tony Robbins gave one of my posts a Twitter shout-out. But the mania around this Ashley Madison story leaves me full of, well, fatigue.

While the hacker angle, and its implication for greater Internet security, are indeed compelling — scary, even — that is not what is driving the traffic to these sites, and the headlines that continue to mushroom on social media, a full six weeks after the story broke.

Comments on these sites mimic the general sentiment about infidelity — it is so shocking that so many people — mostly men! — are unfaithful! Unprecedented! Horrifying! Sick!

Maybe some of those adjectives hold, that is your opinion. But “shocking”? Common people, grow up.

I’m in the business of stories, and through my career as a journalist — and most recently, a blogger writing largely about issues surrounding divorce — I hear lots and lots of stories. Brilliant stories. Horrifying stories. Sad and funny stories. Triumphant and heartbreaking tales. But after nearly 20 years of wrangling stories professionally I attest:

There are no new stories. 

As much as the tales that absolutely devastate the parties at hand — don’t get me wrong — I’m not belittling you — the plots of the unfaithful are old as time. They are archetypes and no matter how often they have been told — in literature, rom-coms, couplets or in private, blubbering confessions to therapists and personal trainers and bros at the bar — they always feel to the parties involved as singular, wracked with shame.

Themes include:

  • He struggles in his career, while she thrives in hers. He is emasculated, she’s not attracted to him any more. #oldstory
  • She stays home, resents that he doesn’t participate enough, or appreciate her efforts. He ups his efforts at the office, resents that she doesn’t appreciate the pressure he’s under or how hard he works. His female colleague, however, does. #oldstory
  • He drinks/smokes up/spends too much. She’s co-dependent. Until she’s not. Either he finds someone who is, or she finds someone who isn’t an addict, or both. #oldstory
  • They have babies. She dotes on them, and not on him. Plus, she gets fat. #oldstory
  • On business trips he frequents massage parlors/brothels/escort services. She finds the history in the computer cache or credit card bills. He says that things just aren’t the same. The hardly ever have sex any more. #oldstory
  • He doesn’t care what she has to say. The stay-at-home dad down the street does. #oldstory
  • Things aren’t horrible, they just aren’t great. Sex is infrequent, life is stressful and they find one another annoying. Facebook is full of old girlfriends and boyfriends. Flirting ensues. #oldstory
  • Someone’s bored. They cheat. #oldstory
  • So what’s the takeaways?
    1. No reason to feel ashamed, or ugly or like a failure when someone cheats on you. It really is just part of the human experience. Lots of people way smarter than me argue that monogamy is not inherent to our DNA (while others argue that we have free will, so get over it already), but whatevs. You likely signed up for the ever-after fidelity version of events, and that didn’t happen, and that is devastating. But you’re not alone. so let go of shame.
    2. If you haven’t been cheated on — or you haven’t caught him yet — plan accordingly. As I write ad nauseam, ladies, you are an adult. This Ashley Madison business, with its 20 million actively seeking married men? One of them could very well be your husband — either on the stupid site itself, or at that conference he goes to every year, or when he says he’s playing rugby with the guys. It just happens, so get your financial house in order and think about how you can support your self and your kids.
    3. Talk about it. The thing with shame is it prevents people from sharing their old, old stories, which means that all those horrible feelings get trapped inside and ferment and grow because they never see the light of day. You’ll be surprised — once you start sharing, other people will share with you their, old boring story. That’s why all these old boring stories are so great!
    4. Let it go already. You know those people who regal you with tales of the fact their husband cheated, with a younger woman/her best friend/the nanny. For years and years and years they tell that tired tale? If you feel bored by her story, imagine how bored she is.
    5. If you are married, pay attention to your marriage. I’m no married expert — I’m single and dating around, remember? But marriage is a hell of a lot of work. Maybe too much work.  But if you’re in it, and want to stay in it, work at it. Because it takes two to make it work, and two to end it — one party is never to blame for infidelity.

Have lots of sex. Talk a lot. Make him feel manly and appreciated, and tell him in a way that isn’t annoying. Don’t put up with too much drinking or spending or weed. That is totally not acceptable, ever. And if someone steps out, maybe it isn’t the end of the world. Maybe if we stopped acting like infidelity is so shocking, but instead something that more or less will likely happen, we can deal with it instead of accepting it as a foregone end to marriage.



2 thoughts on “Ashley Madison scandal? One of the oldest, most boring stories ever

  1. Agree 100%. Not sure why people are shocked, but as someone who has experienced cheating in my marriage I get why it hurts, things are racing through your mind. For me it was, “How could I be so stupid?” Then that sense of “Why did I trust he would be faithful?” Then the red flag analyzing and the realization that it wasn’t meant to be. It really is a process of going through grief so whatever the outcome (either divorce/breakup or you stay together) you will make it out to the other side. Yes this is old news, but we want an ideal to hang our identities on. Anything that seems to challenge that, challenges who we are and if coupled up, challenges the core of why we got together in the first place. I just finished reading an old NYT post about how to fall in love with anyone. Sounded cheeky but the author’s words ring true for me ( Love is a lot more pliable than we think and we are responsible for our own choices. That’s really what the lesson is here. We decide to choose what we want to do. Want to cheat? Choose that. Don’t want to cheat? Then we don’t.

    1. Hey Heather — really great points. Love that NYT piece, and you are right: “Love is a lot more pliable than we think and we are responsible for our own choices.”

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