Ashley Madison, the popular and much-maligned website for people who want to have extramarital affairs, was hacked this week. The headlines have read, "Ashley Madison Hack Could Expose 37 Million Cheaters" and "Cheaters Fear Ashley Madison Hack."
Cheaters! Cheaters! Cheaters!
Most pundits -- pick your network -- who talked about the hack did so with a slight-to-overt condescending tone, as if to say, "those adulterers deserve it." Well, those adulterers are everywhere.
Did you know that 20 percent of the entire city of Ottawa, with a population of 883,000, is registered on Ashley Madison? That's 189,810 users in Ottawa alone. Yes, the company is Canada-based, but there's got to be more than patriotism going on with those numbers.
Would you believe that 25.1 percent of Ashley Madison's 37 million users worldwide are Evangelical Christians? And another 22.75 percent are Catholic? Those are Ashley Madison's own numbers, according to their survey conducted in 2014 of 105,000 users. Apparently, there's more than one way to be born again.
New Year's Day is huge for dating site sign-ups, and Ashley Madison is no exception. On January 1, 2014, over 27,000 married Americans logged onto the site for the first time seeking an affair. That's 344 percent higher than a typical day. Thousands resolved to start the new year off with a bang.
If Ashley Madison alone has more than 37 million married people looking for affairs, imagine how many millions more are "cheating" without the use of a website.
So why -- along with the important and necessary discussions about cyber security -- aren't we also using this hack to talk about the potential downsides of monogamy?
We live in a world where, with a handful of exceptions, monogamous relationships are the ideal. Yet, millions of people cheat. Ashley Madison, with its slogan, "Life is short. Have an affair." only exists because most of us are conditioned to believe that a monogamous relationship is the only virtuous choice and that to step outside the bounds of monogamy, we must to do so clandestinely. So we lie to our partners.
Whether or not human beings are designed to be monogamous is not the point. The fact that millions upon millions of us struggle with the reality of monogamy is. Why isn't that making it into the conversation? Why aren't we talking about the causes of cheating and about the ways in which non-monogamous, rather than monogamous relationships may be a more honest and realistic choice for some couples?
So many of us exist in our relationships according to restrictive norms that were established centuries ago, norms that speak to the sanctity of relationships without considering the happiness and freedom of the individuals involved.
Should a (happily or unhappily) married person not be able to explore certain sexual desires with another partner if their spouse is unwilling to do so?
Should a married couple who are in love with but no longer sexually turned on by each other be condemned to a life without sex for the sake of monogamy?
Let's encourage couples to be open with their desires and to the experience of relationships not limited by the demands of conditioned beliefs on what is and isn't moral. Within every relationship are independent guidelines that work for the two people involved. Those guidelines should only be created by the two people involved. They need to make their own rules.
It's not that non-monogamy is a better option for all couples. But it's worth acknowledging that it is an option. Contrary to what this Ashley Madison controversy suggests, it is possible to have an extramarital affair without being deceitful.
I'm not advocating for non-monogamy; I'm advocating for honesty. Rather than push couples to be faithful, no matter what, let's encourage them to be truthful, no matter what. That way, they're not cheating themselves out of the possibility of an authentic and fulfilling relationship.