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Greenwald writes: "The private lives and sexual choices of fully formed adults are usually very complicated and thus impossible to understand - and certainly impossible to judge - without wallowing around in the most intimate details, none of which are any of your business."

Glenn Greenwald. (photo: Guardian UK)
Glenn Greenwald. (photo: Guardian UK)

Email From a Married, Female Ashley Madison User

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

25 August 15


ver since I wrote on Thursday about the Ashley Madison hack and resulting reactions and consequences, I’ve heard from dozens of people who used the site. They offer a remarkably wide range of reasons for having done so. I’m posting below one email I received that I find particularly illuminating, which I very lightly edited to correct a few obvious typographical errors:

Dear Glenn,

Thank you for the kindness and humanity you have manifested to those of us whose data is now a source of public mockery and shame on AM.

I am female, hold a job with a lot of responsibility, have three kids, one with special needs, and a husband with whom I have not been intimate for several years due to his cancer treatments.

I also used to write about marriage law policy, encouraging traditional marriage for the good of children. My institution has a morality clause in all contracts.

Mine is a loveless, sexless, parenting marriage. I will care for my husband if his cancer spreads, we manage good will for the sake of the children, but we cannot talk about my emotional or sexual needs without him fixating on his death and crying.

I went on AM out of loneliness and despair, and found friendship, both male and female, with others trapped in terrible marriages trying to do right by their children.

My experiences have led me to soften my views of marriage as my own marriage is a deeply humbling, painful longterm commitment.

I expect to be ridiculed by colleagues, to lose my job, and to be publicly shamed, especially as a hypocrite. Yes, I used a credit card. In my case, I will get no sympathy from the right or the left as I do not fit into either of their simplistic paradigms.

I have received email from Trustify that I have been searched, and it is soliciting me to purchase its services. And I am receiving lots of spam with racy headings.

That is my story. When my outing happens, I suppose I might as well take a stand for those who are trapped in bad marriages. Many of us are doing the best we can, trying in our own imperfect way to cope with alienation, lovelessness, and physical deprivation.

I do not want to hurt my children or husband. I truly wish I had a good one and I want happy marriages for others. I did what I did trying to cope. Maybe it was a bad idea but again, I have met some very decent people on AM, some of whom are now dear friends.

Thank you again.


As I argued last week, even for the most simplistic, worst-case-scenario, cartoon-villain depictions of the Ashley Madison user — a spouse who selfishly seeks hedonistic pleasure with indifference toward his or her own marital vows and by deceiving the spouse — that’s nobody’s business other than those who are parties to that marriage or, perhaps, their family members and close friends. But as the fallout begins from this leak, as people’s careers and reputations begin to be ruined, as unconfirmed reports emerge that some users have committed suicide, it’s worth remembering that the reality is often far more complex than the smug moralizers suggest.

The private lives and sexual choices of fully formed adults are usually very complicated and thus impossible to understand — and certainly impossible to judge — without wallowing around in the most intimate details, none of which are any of your business. That’s a very good reason not to try to sit in judgment and condemn from afar.

As I acknowledged, there is an arguably valid case for such outing: namely, where someone with public influence is hypocritically crusading for legally enforced morality, holding themselves out as beacons of virtues they in fact violate, and harming others through that advocacy. It’s possible this emailer falls within that category: She says her past work involved “encouraging traditional marriage for the good of children.”

It’s worth remembering that even in these “easy” cases, human beings are usually far more complex than the good/evil caricatures we’re all tempted to propagate in order to undermine political adversaries and inflate our own self-worth. Even if you interpret what she’s done in the most ungenerous light possible — even if you conclude that she’s the most extreme case where it’s clear she’s guilty of hypocrisy — are her actions evil and really deserving of full-scale reputational ruin and worse? Is anyone really capable of sitting in stern, doubt-free judgment of the choices she’s made in her most private realm? your social media marketing partner


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+69 # Radscal 2015-08-25 13:14
Spot on, Glenn.

Yes, there are instances where people with public influence who hypocritically enforce on others some "moral standards" which they themselves not just fail to "live up to," but actively reject for years. And many of those people need to be exposed.

Otherwise, what consenting adults choose to do which does not harm others is no one's frigging business, and those "liberals" who are marinating in schadenfreude are as hypocritical as those they are "outing."
+43 # polpuffin 2015-08-25 13:22
Who dares to judge? How dare anyone to judge someone else's marriage?
+34 # RCW 2015-08-25 13:42
polpuffin: You overstate your position. As a marriage counselor, I have been involved with situations that were overtly or subtly abusive to the point that a person was being destroyed, and it was necessary for me to make a call.
+12 # jsluka 2015-08-25 14:39
I 'thumbed up polpuffin, but then read your response and wish I hadn't.
+4 # JJS 2015-08-26 19:09
When a couple or individual comes to you for professional advice you have a contractual obligation to provide your honest effort service. That would include your professional judgments of their situation.
+5 # RCW 2015-08-26 21:31
JJS: You are correct, but polpuffin's remark does not allow for that, and my reason for replying is that too often discussions are conducted in all or nothing terms that suggest to me a lack of reflection upon an issue. Would you limit judgment to a professional only and deny it to a close compassionate friend or parent?
+2 # JJS 2015-08-27 18:19
RCW, I'm very much NOT of an all or nothing mentality.
Most situations, especially personal relationships, require reflection and consideration on the part of those involved, including acquaintances, friends and family who are also involved.
I would not limit judgment to professionals only, but if you are not a professional, (or not asked) but only a close, compassionate friend or parent, you are treading into "none of your business" territory. Of course, if there is abuse and/or danger to life or well being then intervention is needed.
+2 # RCW 2015-08-27 20:07
JJS: That is my thumbs up for you. RCW
+51 # medusa 2015-08-25 13:28
A remarkable and eloquent letter, thanks for posting it.
+10 # jazzman633 2015-08-25 13:34
I guarantee you that NOBODY whose marriage is deliriously happy and problem-free is going to visit AM.
+14 # EternalTruth 2015-08-25 17:46
Maybe the reason the marriage is deliriously happy is that they have the trust and support of their spouses to visit AM, with the understanding that one person can never meet all of the physical, social, and emotional needs of another.
+8 # JetpackAngel 2015-08-26 00:14
Shame it's only letting me thumbs-up you once.
+7 # gdsharpe 2015-08-26 12:00
Quoting jazzman633:
I guarantee you that NOBODY whose marriage is deliriously happy and problem-free is going to visit AM.
Doesn't exist.
+64 # JSRaleigh 2015-08-25 13:39
The Bible sez, "Judge not, lest you be judged."

Even though I'm not religious, that works for me.

And again, in the Bible, Jesus says, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone..."

I do, however, think it IS reasonable to enjoy a certain amount of schadenfreude about several obnoxious, very vocal, PUBLIC moralists being outed for their hypocrisy.
+40 # beachboy 2015-08-25 13:53
Glen, you are terrific! I admire your work and person for some time now...and today I am moved by your wonderful compassion and humanity! Usually cutting away the filthy layers of hypocrisy and deceit in brutal power politics for society, this time it's society and its primitive urges to judge others while lacking a life. Thanks for your personal strength and great work!
+6 # 2015-08-25 13:53
To Anonymous.
Get a LifeLock credit protection account and you should be safe from exposure.
+37 # dimenson 2015-08-25 14:04
Lot's of glass houses; way too many stones.
Thank you Glenn!
+13 # Lorraine B. 2015-08-25 14:07
Judge not that ye be not judged.
-37 # jimmyjames 2015-08-25 14:42
I still remember Bill Clinton's infidelity with Monica and thought at the time, "if I was married to such a cold fish such as Hillary, I might also be tempted". She is still a cold fish and does not deserve our vote for President.
+20 # janla 2015-08-25 17:25
Quoting jimmyjames:
I still remember Bill Clinton's infidelity with Monica and thought at the time, "if I was married to such a cold fish such as Hillary, I might also be tempted". She is still a cold fish and does not deserve our vote for President.

Big judgment call here. How do you know she is a cold fish?
-9 # Michon 2015-08-26 00:41
I can feel her through the pages of her interviews.
0 # RLF 2015-08-27 06:41
Bill Isn't a cold fish? Maybe he is just a dick.
+39 # Wally Jasper 2015-08-25 14:47
Glenn's last two paragraphs beg for an examination of the word "hypocrisy." The word refers to someone who spouts and ostensibly upholds a set of moral principles while secretly acting against them. In the case of this email writer, it seems that when she wrote her moralistic opinions, she fully believed in them and abided by them. However, life situations and conditions change, and these changes call for different responses. The person who wrote her opinions was not exactly the same person who acted against them. We humans are not static "things" but living, dynamic beings who grow and learn and develop as we move through life. To demand that we must always adhere to previous beliefs, and even to previous identities, imposes an unjust and severe limitation on our own evolution, both as individuals and as a species. Let's give ourselves (and each other) some slack in being flexible and adaptable to life that presents itself anew more often than we may realize.
+22 # lorenbliss 2015-08-25 15:42
Once again, by their gleefully sadistic persecution of anyone who dares not conform to their prosperity-gosp el norms, the people of the United States, whether Left or Right, demonstrate their morally imbecilic viciousness.

In Moron Nation, the sociological savagery of high school never ends. Instead it pursues us to the grave.

(Yeah, this is too often true of the [alleged] Left also -- often even in its most avowedly secular forms. Google and read Joreen Freeman's "Trashing," and realize what she experienced in the women's movement is equally applicable to the whole of USian society. We are all saturated from birth in those unspeakably vicious prosperity-gosp el values, and only a precious few of us truly transcend their puritanical malignancy.)

Superb job of reporting, Mr. Greenwald, for which I thank and salute you.
+32 # jpmarat 2015-08-25 15:46
I do not agree that someone happy in a marriage would never have extramarital sex. IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. Our culture is NUTS about sex. In some cultures, sex outside of even happy marriages is the NORM. We need a different devil. How about newscasts that deliberately lie? Textbooks that deliberately lie? Teachers who deliberately lie? People who set out to have their kids brainwashed, in church and elsewhere, into believing what their ignorant parents believe? Mindless patriotism? Now there's a REAL devil. Makes snipers serial murderers. Make pilots mass murderers. Makes US all accessories to mega murder. More sex, less greed. Mother Earth would prefer that we recreate in less destructive ways.
+1 # tgemberl 2015-08-28 20:22
But don't underestimate the tragic effects adultery can have in people's lives. It can scar children for life, keep them from being able to experience intimacy.

Anonymous's case might not be that bad. Perhaps not all adulteries are equal. But there are some really terrible cases.

Maybe this is the balance we need: don't be too judgmental, but don't dismiss the seriousness of betrayals, either. I think it's possible to be sensitive to both sides of it.
+24 # seeuingoa 2015-08-25 15:54
A very nice article Glenn.

I used to say the same (when Clinton was asked about Monica Lewinsky):

You can´t await a thruthful answer
when you ask a question you have no
right to ask.
+7 # chomper2 2015-08-25 19:22
Yes, Clinton was asked a question no DECENT man would ever ask another, for it requires an answer disparaging of a woman.
+8 # markovchhaney 2015-08-25 19:39
I have no interest in seeing the typical AM user "outed." I do make exceptions for anyone using it who is in a position of power and preaches against "sin" whether from the pulpit or any other place of authority.

And I also think that targeting the corporation and owners of AM for their false advertising is legitimate. To the extent that they've been exposed as liars and crooks, I'm perfectly content. Too bad the hackers weren't more selective about whose data they released.
+6 # Dongi 2015-08-25 22:04
It's complicated in being human, in being married to a sick mate and trying to hold things together for the sake of the kids. We still have needs for things physical, emotional and spiritual. So what's wrong with AM in helping us meet those needs?
+10 # 1wolff 2015-08-26 04:54
I hope I speak for the majority of people in this world of ours: "Who cares?"

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