The af­fair stripped bare on Ash­ley Madi­son

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Heather Mallick Heather Mallick is a na­tional af­fairs colum­nist for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

Great sex is the high­est peak of hu­man life. Golly!

It's a thou­sand red berries pop­ping in your mouth, and they're dusted with ke­tamine. It's learn­ing to stand. It's call­ing your teacher "Mommy" and ev­ery­one in class laugh­ing at you and then Miss Dock­stader say­ing, "I wish I were your mommy."

Sex is the best of times. If all goes well, you're in your happy place for three to 12 sec­onds, and the run-up to that mo­ment is, my god.

I know this to be true be­cause 37 mil­lion mar­ried peo­ple, most of them in North Amer­ica, risked ev­ery­thing — a spouse's love, the in­no­cence of chil­dren, parental re­gard, the house, the car, and pos­si­bly the ca­reer — to sign up on Ash­ley­Madi­son.com, the Uber-for-adul­ter­ers web­site that sets up se­cret af­fairs. And then a group call­ing it­self the Im­pact Team hacked the site for rea­sons that re­main un­clear. It is not known how large the data leak has been.

"Life is short. Have an af­fair" was the slo­gan, and as its users dis­cov­ered this week, life is not short at all. It is un­rea­son­ably and painfully long.

On a weird note, the com­pany was named af­ter the two most pop­u­lar baby names in 2001. It's not a porn name. (My porn name is Skip­per Seaborne. Would you have signed away your sex­ual pri­vacy to Skip­perSe­aborne.com? I doubt it.)

Ash­ley Madi­son is owned by Avid Life Media — they're Cana­dian and are we not proud — and their planned IPO in Lon­don won't go well, or even go. Cus­tomers are shocked and hurt that a web­site they trusted would be­tray them with a pau­per's level of cy­ber­se­cu­rity. How could you do this to me, Ash­ley Madi­son?

Isn't it odd when a tech com­pany's moth­er­lode, which is its data­base, be­comes its great­est li­a­bil­ity. If only we didn't know so much about our cus­tomers, I have never heard a dig­i­tal startup say.

I won­der about adul­tery as I do about dodgy Se­nate ex­penses, or shoplift­ing, or rap­ing un­con­scious sur­gi­cal pa­tients or any shoddy thing: why do peo­ple think they'll get away with it? Why lie? Es­pe­cially when it's all online.

Adul­tery is so dif­fi­cult nowa­days, es­pe­cially with the demise of the pay phone. You used to see them at the dough­nut shop on a Fri­day af­ter­noon, shifty-look­ing mid­dle-aged men with a glint in their eye.

And even so, adul­tery be­yond one-night stands is said not to work out. Even­tu­ally she'll get sick of room ser­vice and clam­our to eat in the ho­tel res­tau­rant, where one can be seen. One is seen. And yet one does not re­gret it be­cause the sex was com­pet­i­tive, the way great sex should be.

Any­body can have sex. But we want that first fine care­less rap­ture, and the fris­son of cheat­ing makes sex filth­ier and bet­ter. It may be that some Ash­ley Madi­son cus­tomers are still mak­ing dates even af­ter the ship hit the ice­berg. I do not judge. I once read a Carol Ann Duffy poem called "Adul­tery" and never got over it. "Wear dark glasses in the rain/Re­gard what was un­hurt/as though through a bruise./Guilt. A sick, green tint … Para­noia for lunch; too much/to drink, as a hand on your thigh/tilts the res­tau­rant ... So write the script - ill­ness and debt, a ring thrown away in a gar­den."

I have been re­li­ably in­formed that peo­ple don't for­give adul­tery, not truly, also that you re­gard the spouse you cheated on with a level of con­tempt. You don't like this feel­ing but you do feel it.

Sex­ual de­sire is a drug. You keep it in a vial. You could have put some ef­fort into it, stud­ied a man across a room and felt that vi­tal thump in your belly, you could have ap­proached him, bought a burner phone. But no, you were like Ed Grim­ley wait­ing for Christ­mas, and you went on Ash­ley Madi­son.

I will not de­mo­nize sex­ual de­sire, even though Rus­sell Smith's bril­liant new short story col­lec­tion, Con­fi­dence, makes Toronto peo­ple on the prowl look like with­ered ma­lign elves out to do harm. It's an ex­tra­or­di­nary book, but imag­ine its eight sto­ries turn into 37 mil­lion, with­draw­ing silently like a wave and then driv­ing to­ward us with spare room couches, le­gal bills, slaps, bruises, For Sale signs and shat­tered wind­shields in a tsunami of hurt and sor­row.

This vol­ume of in­stant terror and pain was not pre­vi­ously pos­si­ble in hu­man history. Our pri­vacy is gone. De­sire, of course, re­mains.

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