In the aftermath of a hack that revealed the identities of millions of users of the infidelity dating website Ashley Madison, people everywhere have faced an impossible question: should you find out whether someone you love has ever signed up for Ashley Madison? Do you even want to know?
Samantha*, a 48-year-old woman in the Mid-Atlantic, decided to use https://ashley.cynic.al to see if her husband of five years was among those whose information was included in the leaked records. It turned out that he was. Here’s Samantha’s story, told to me the day after she confronted him about using the site:
At work, I like to take breaks and look at The New York Times. It was around 3 p.m. and I was taking my coffee break at my desk, reading about the Ashley Madison hack. I saw links to pages where you could enter an e-mail address and see if someone had an account on the site. Suddenly, my heart just started pounding really hard.
I thought, "never in a million years." And then I entered my husband's e-mail address and there it was.
I put my e-mail address in just to double check that it was real. It said my e-mail wasn’t in the database. I think I just lost feeling in every part of my body. I went numb. I was like a zombie.
I printed out the page. My husband and I talk a lot during the day and he had been trying to text me and call me and I wasn’t answering. I got in my car, but I don’t even really know how I got home. I put my iPhone on record and started talking into it. I said, "I’m driving home to confront my husband right now. I found his name and address on this site that said he was part of the Ashley Madison leak.”
My husband was in the kitchen and he was surprised to see me home. He knew that something was wrong.
I said, "Look at the pain and the grief on my face, do you see it?”
He said, “I do. What’s going on?”
I said, “I found your name and e-mail address on Ashley Madison.”
He said, “No you didn’t.”
I said, “You know exactly what I am talking about.”
He was going pale. He kept swallowing. I know my husband very well: he was in a panic.
I said, “I don’t think you realize how serious this is.”
He said that he only went on it once, just out of curiosity, when he was in a bad place in his previous relationship. He said he didn’t talk to anybody.
I told him I didn’t believe a word he was saying.
He followed me upstairs and his story got more and more involved. I looked up at him and said, “Look at me and listen carefully: I want a divorce.” I said it twice. I had never said that to my husband before.
We just celebrated our five year anniversary last week. We’ve known each other since we were 14. We grew up in the same town. We dated for a little while — even back then I knew there was something special about him. We tried to get together over the years and it never worked out. He ended up marrying someone else and having a baby. I was married, too. And then we found each other, six years ago on Facebook.
We have had a beautiful, amazing relationship. We have a beautiful family.
But on some level, I’m also not very surprised. I was married to an alcoholic when I went on Facebook and found him. I was looking to get out of my marriage. I was lonely and unhappy. He was also in a long-term relationship that wasn’t giving him what he wanted.
We were both looking for a way out. We found each other, we got out. We were both online investigating possibilities other than the relationship we were in at the time. So in a way, why should I expect anything else? If he’s willing to do it with you, he’s probably willing to do it to you. To be frank, I feel the same way about myself.
And there’s been a lot of resentment on my side because my husband has a problem with online pornography and he’s been unwilling to let go of it. I’ve found it on our home computer. To me, all of this shows a pattern.
When I said I wanted a divorce, his face went pale. He started crying and swearing on his father’s grave that he wasn’t lying to me.
He said he kept hearing about Ashley Madison on the radio and talk shows and was curious so he went on.
I said, “I don’t care what happened or when it happened or whether you went in there and chatted with anyone. This is a breach of trust. I don’t respect you.”
After that, I just sat in the spare room for a long time.
Later, I was online, looking for apartments, and I had a moment where I thought to myself, "Wait a minute" and called him upstairs.
I looked at him and I said, "You’re going to have your second chance here, but you’re going to have to earn it.”
He started sobbing into his hands. It was the worst moment of my life. And I know it was the worst moment in his. He was so desperately sorry.
After that, my stepson came over and we had a wonderful evening as a family. I was feeling like this was doable.
But I woke up this morning and it was all fresh again. I’m feeling lots of different emotions.
I tend to believe his story. But I don’t know that it matters. How will I ever know if he was telling me the truth? I feel like we have a beautiful marriage, but maybe I’m just living in la-la-land.
Either way, it shows the possibility that this is something that he’s willing and able to do in a relationship, in a commitment. It shocks me. It strikes me to the core. If he would do it in another relationship, why wouldnt he do it any other time?
I told my husband that our marriage is day-to-day right now.
I don’t know if our marriage is going to survive it. Today I was able to get an emergency appointment with a marriage therapist to see if there’s any way to fix it. But I don’t think that there is, frankly. I can’t imagine going through life not trusting him.
I’m not so sure that I’m mad at the hackers. I’m really kind of grateful. This is something I needed to know.
*We've changed this name to protect Samantha's privacy. Her words have also been edited for length and clarity.