Like Troy Hunt in Australia, Kristen Brown, in California, found herself operating as a sort of on-the-go counsellor during these strange months. For Brown, a 29-year-old journalist, it began when she started interviewing victims of the Ashley Madison leak for the website . Interviewees kept wanting to talk, though, long after she’d published – a lot of these people, Brown guessed, left without anyone else they could speak to frankly. “I was basically functioning as a therapist for them. They were crushed by what happened.” Brown guessed she’d spoken to about 200 of those affected by the hack over the past six months.
To an unusual degree, Brown thought, a tone of moral judgment skewed the commentary and discussion around the Ashley Madison affair. “It’s a gut reaction, to pass a moral judgement,” she said. “Because nobody likes the idea of being cheated on themselves. You don’t want to find your own partner on Ashley Madison. But spending hours and hours on the phone with these people, it became so clear to me how frigging complicated relationships are.”
But then I spoke to others who’d, say, been with their wife since they were 19 – they loved their wives but there were problems, there were kids, they’d stopped sleeping together
‘Maybe we need privacy disasters like this to help us wake up’: Brian Krebs, the cybercrime journalist who broke the Ashley Madison story in . Photograph: Daniel Rosenbaum/New York Times/Redux/Eyevine
Brown continued: “We all have this idea of the site as completely salacious, right? Cheating men cheating on their unassuming wives. And I did speak to those men. They had good partnerships, their lives worked, they didn’t want to upend everything. They just weren’t fulfilled or satisfied romantically. Some people were on the site with the permission of their spouses. I talked to one woman who was afraid to leave her husband, and being on Ashley Madison was her way of working out what to do. Some people I spoke to were single and didn’t together2night want attachment and using Ashley Madison was just a way. People’s reasons were complex. They were real.”
It was a relationship that was precious to him
This, more or less, had always been Michael’s reasoning for cheating. His situation was complex, and real. He told me he had been unfaithful to his wife “from after we first got married”, conducting a string of one-off or months- or years-long affairs for almost 30 years. “As life partners, my wife and I fit really well. We are very, very good friends – that describes us. ”
And not always, said Michael, a particularly satisfying way. He wasn’t even sure that every woman he spoke to during his time on the site was genuine. Sometimes, when conversation had a flavour of “classic soft porn”, he said, he wondered if his correspondents were employees of the company, reading from scripts. (The likely truth, as suggested by internal documentation made available in the leak, was stranger still. Coders at Ashley Madison had created a network of fake, flirtatious chatbots to converse with men like Michael, teasing them into maintaining their subscriptions on the site. It was for this reason that commentators began to doubt whether Ashley Madison had as many subscribers as it advertised; Avid Life Media, ever since the leak, has always claimed to have a healthy and even growing userbase.)
Michael had met someone real through Ashley Madison. Like him she was in a stable companionable marriage, only one that lacked a certain dimension. She lived in the north of England. She had children. She and Michael shared tastes in books and spoke a lot on the phone. Sometimes they discussed their partners and their respective marriages, other times they steered from the subject. There was a sexual element to the affair, Michael said, but they never slept together.