In the wake of all this Ashely Madison drama, I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships. Granted, I don’t have a romantic one of my own to express an educated opinion on, but I have many years worth of observation, numerous human sexuality classes, and a thorough knowledge of platonic relationships to back up what I’m about to say. So here goes:
I don’t think infidelity is inherently wrong. I think what causes infidelity related conflict is miscommunication (or lack there of) about wants and needs within a relationship.
In this day and age there are more numerous and creative ways to cheat then ever before. But I think the definition of cheating is also inherently fluid. Its boundaries must reflect each individual couple’s beliefs and values. For example: some people may consider watching explicit videos to be a form of cheating, while others may insist that not informing their spouse of an extramarital affair within a specified amount of time or sexting is what crosses the line. It depends on what each couple has agreed upon as the standard norms for their own relationship. Cheating is therefore anything that falls outside of those norms.
Thus one part of the problem with the Ashley Madison hack is that a group of people took it upon themselves to apply their own definition to someone else’s relationship. But it’s not acceptable to apply that kind of judgement to someone else, especially without context.
In her Ted Talk, Rethinking Infidelity: A Talk for Anyone Who Has Ever Loved, Esther Perel said:
“We have a romantic ideal in which we turn to one person to fulfill an endless list of needs: to be my greatest lover, my best friend, the best parent, my trusted confidant, my emotional companion, my intellectual equal. And I am it: I’m chosen, I’m unique, I’m indispensable, I’m irreplaceable, I’m the one. And infidelity tells me I’m not.”
I love this quote because it captures a unique perspective on monogamy. In marital culture there is a pervasive belief that our spouse must fulfill all of these roles. In some cases they do and there are a great many happily monogamous couples out there in the world living their lives with no question of divorce or infidelity. But that’s a lot of pressure put on one person’s shoulders and a lot of blame to lay if things don’t work out as planned.
Our society teaches us that people (mostly men, to be honest) cheat because of their fear of commitment or their dissatisfaction with the relationship they’re in. Maybe they cheat for adventure or simply because they can. I don’t know. There are a lot of possible reasons. But what I do know is this: people change over time. They make mistakes, they learn from them, and sometimes they evolve into different people. Sometimes they do this at the same rate as their spouse, and sometimes people who love each other grow apart or form new relationships outside their marriage. It’s part of what makes us human and it’s not always done in spite/hatred/boredom of their partner. Can it be? Yes. Is it always? Definitely not.
So why have I been thinking about infidelity when I’m not even in a relationship? Because I think understanding how and why relationships fall apart is essential to understanding how to build and maintain one. To understand how and why people leave relationships helps me to know what elements to include in my own and what conversations to have when developing shared norms with someone down the road. It teaches me about reasonable expectations and those which may be more difficult to achieve. Understanding what my “cheating” boundaries are now can only help me down the line.
The other aspect of the Ashley Madison hack, which I haven’t talked about in this post, is invasion of privacy. And while I could go on at great length on this topic, let me just say this for now:
It is never acceptable to reveal personal information about someone else without their permission.
No matter how immoral you may judge their behavior to be, its wrong to treat someone with that kind of disrespect, not to mention illegal. I don’t personally believe that Ashley Madison promotes healthy relationships, but its users were adults who knew what they were signing up for. They had as much right to reflect on that decision themselves as anyone else and the fact that their privacy was stolen away from them is just as shameful as any morally grey decisions that may or may not have been made by its users.
Let me know about your thoughts down in the comment section below.