Love in the age of Ashley Madison

There has been a lot of talk on the news recently about Ashley Madison getting hacked and the details of all those who registered on it being published online. I kinda ignored the story at the time but something about it has obviously hung around in my subconscious.

I took a coach up to London on Wednesday to go and watch American Idiot at the Arts Theatre (which by the way was great fun -good to see a rock musical that actually rocks). The coach journey was incredibly long. There had been an accident because of the torrential downpours we hit on the motorway to London so we had to take an alternate route and were delayed by about an hour. No problem, I love being able to sit and relax and watch the scenery go by. I had left plenty of time and I figured there was nothing I could do about the delay so why worry about it.

I was sat near the front of the coach. At the back was a group of teenage girls. They were highly excitable and very loud for the entirety of the journey. They played music from their phones and talked at the top of their voices. So much so that the entire coach could hear everything they were saying. Again I have no issue with this and can quite easily shut this off (try living with four kids for three years!). What really struck me was their topic of conversation for almost the entire three hours of the journey. All they talked about was sex, relationships, who’d slept with who. It seems they had all chopped and changed guys fairly frequently. Some of them sleeping with the same guys and they openly compared graphic notes about this. (Incidentally apparently Kieran is really good in bed – he got top marks from several of them). 


The subject moved on to Snap Chat and the inevitable “sexts” that they sent each other, the embarrassment when one of them had sent something explicit to the wrong person and how someone had captured a screenshot of something and shared it on Facebook causing one of their friends to fall out with the rest of them. 

I chuckled quietly to myself and tried to remember what I was like ten years ago. I’m not sure I was that bad but who knows. I shut them off and fell asleep for a bit waking occasionally to pick up a new bit of the conversation.

I didn’t think much more about it. I wasn’t shocked by anything I’d heard. It just all seemed normal. This fact alone should be something of a revelation in the way that we think about things these days.

It wasn’t until after I’d watched American Idiot that something clicked. The show is about post 9/11 America and how the events at the World Trade Centre were a catalyst for change, not just across America but across the world. People became despondent, losing faith in their Governments and were sick of being manipulated by the media propaganda. It all feels a bit doom-and-gloom I know but it feels like there has been a shift in attitudes starting in the mid-nineties, escalating with the terror attacks and growing rapidly with the Facebook generation.

Sex is no longer a taboo subject. It’s wide open and everyone is doing it (apparently with everyone else). Not only doing it but discussing the most intimate details of it openly and publicly. It’s the reason that sites like Ashley Madison are thriving. It seems we live in an age where hardly anyone is happy with what they’ve got. They’re always on the look-out for the next big thrill or to add some excitement to their otherwise mundane existence.

The media has broken countless stories about people committing suicide after hearing that details of the sites registrants had been released. Plenty of marriages breaking up, families torn apart and cheats being discovered. It has caused controversy and pain.

But why the shock? I’m sorry but if you’re going to register on a site specifically designed with the intention of cheating on your partner then you deserve to get caught out and have no-one to blame but yourself if you do. If things are really that bad with the relationship that you’re in then why not do the right thing and leave? Why risk someone else getting hurt just to get a cheap thrill yourself?

I’ve been cheated on in the past (it sucks and it hurts) and I’ve also fallen for someone who is in a relationship with someone else (that also sucks and hurts). I look at my friends and see lots of them sleeping together as “mates” – the old friends with benefits gig which is fun but ultimately unsatisfying long-term, a lot of us have been there and done that. I see lots of people complaining about not being able to find the right person when they always go for idiots and then wonder why they are screwed around. I also see lots of people complaining about the person that they’re with and how they’re not happy with them. I’ve had people try and justify cheating and screwing people around by saying “well we didn’t have sex so I don’t see it as cheating”. 


I throw my hands up in the air, ask myself what is the point? Why bother? And I really begin to question and wonder what has happened to love and if it really is dead. Can it survive in a time where nothing seems or feels permanent. Being theatrical I’m going to quote Shakespeare and say he was spot on when he said: “The course of true love n’e’er did run smooth.”

Then I look at my friends who are making it work. Those who are committed to each other. Who have had difficulties but worked through them and become stronger and closer because of them. The couples who you see together and just know will be together forever because when they are together it’s only each other that they see. They’re content. In love and it’s enough. And you feel a pang of hope for the rest of us. 

I think turning thirty next year has made me re-evaluate a lot of things in my life. Long-term plans amongst them and perhaps even settling down. That all sounds very adult… Oh dear! But it does make you realise there’s more to life when you see so many people getting engaged, married or having kids together and being happy.

There is a MEME doing the rounds on Facebook which sums up the situation quite nicely. It’s a quote from an old couple who have been married for 65 years. When asked how they had managed to stay together they replied “We were born in a generation where if something was broken, you’d fix it. Not throw it away.” Who knows if an old couple actually said that or not. It doesn’t matter, the sentiment is beautiful and shows the dramatic change in attitude towards love and relationships these days.

In an age where we’re connected to more and more people by technology and have so many more ways of communication how much do we actually really talk anymore? I think this is a huge part of the problem. We’re so busy creating online personas and being mesmerised by screens that we’re loosing all sense of intimacy as everything we do becomes public information online. There is no part of ourselves that we’re really hiding anymore. Everything is laid bare for the whole world to see. It’s very easy to start a “relationship” with someone via Facebook. To flirt. To joke around. To test the waters. All whilst hiding behind the computer screen. This leads to distrust and paranoia. I can completely understand why people have trust issues when their partners are constantly glued to their phones. It’s far too easy to stray. And more and more people seem to be accepting it as “the norm”.

An interesting discussion that I saw today on Facebook was from a guy asking for advice. His girlfriend had been cheated on in the past and asked him as a show of faith for his Facebook password to view his account. Facebook has become a private space for many people and it was interesting to see the responses the guy got from other friends. Some people said “if you’ve got nothing to hide then give it to her”, others were up in arms about “breach of your own personal privacy – she had no right to ask etc…” I was torn. I have nothing to hide but I do have a lot of conversations with a lot of people about private things on Facebook. How would I feel if someone asked me for my password? It’s a difficult decision but I think if someone really needed to see everything I’d let them. If that’s what it took to put their mind at ease. If you have nothing to hide then there’s no problem right? The same with text messages on your mobile phone.

Here’s the thing though. We put so much of our private lives on platforms such as Facebook. Sending private messages to friends about extremely personal things. What we naively think is that everything we put on there will remain private. It’s only a matter of time before Facebook is hacked as well and everything we don’t want people seeing is exposed. It’s an inevitability. Nothing online is ever going to be 100% safe and secure. Look at all the hacked Snap Chat accounts fairly recently. Perhaps some conversations are better had the old fashioned way, in person, actually talking to real people. If in doubt simply just don’t put anything online you wouldn’t be happy with someone else seeing. Simple.

People forget that cheating isn’t always about sleeping with someone else. There are other ways to cheat on a person. If you’re flirting with others via Facebook, Snap Chat or text whilst in a relationship with someone else then you really need to question why you are doing it and what the consequences would be if you were found out. What you may see as harmless fun may completely destroy your partner. Also what about the other people you’re having these chats with? How do they feel knowing that ultimately you’re just screwing them around and leading them on? If you feel you have to justify it or lie about it then I’m afraid you know what you’re doing is wrong. Is it really worth people getting hurt over?

When you have feelings for someone it can be very difficult to see the bigger picture. Emotions have a way of blurring everything and only letting you see what you want to see. Your vision of your future with that person. It can be difficult to do the right thing or indeed to even know what the right thing is. And unfortunately people do get hurt in the fallout. Especially when the truth has become distorted by an intricate web of lies, mistrust and dishonesty. But you always have a choice. If things are meant to work out they will but if things are really that bad sometimes the best thing you can do is close the door and walk away. Best policy – don’t cheat. If you have feelings for someone else then by all means be honest but do the right thing and finish with your partner first. It will hurt them much less in the long run. It won’t be easy but then when is life ever easy – it will however be honest and the right thing to do and perhaps even give you hope in the future if you have truly fallen for the other person. But if you really don’t feel for the other person and it’s just a bit of fun you seriously need to question why you’re doing it and if chucking everything you have away is really worth it. 

Lies always have a way of coming out, whether that’s through dodgy websites or by you letting something inadvertently slip. The truth has a way of always finding you. It will hunt you down and it will expose you. So save yourself the hassle and just be honest. It really is that simple.


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