Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week by signing up in the box below. Please send your questions for publication to email@example.com. (Questions may be edited.)
Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
After reading about the Ashley Madison hack, I went to one of the websites that lets you search the data and learned that my husband’s old email address was included in the list of accounts. I went to AshleyMadison.com, typed in his email, and then tried a couple of his old passwords. That logged me into an actual account. There was no photo, and there had been no activity on the account. However, I was sure it was my husband’s because of the password, as well as interests he had checked, like “philosophy” and “opera.” I was livid. I texted him that I had found his account looking for a “disease-free woman” and that he shouldn’t bother coming home until he gave me an explanation. He came home to deny that he had ever created the account. He said they must have pulled the information from some other website. He was furious at me and said his trust in me was almost completely gone for “spying” on him. I don’t believe that he has ever cheated on me—we talk all the time during the day—but it seems unlikely he didn’t create the account. He swears he has no recollection of it, and that if he were going to cheat on me he would have set up a different email address to do it. I thought he’d admit it and apologize, and I would have believed that he’d never used it. But now I feel like I have no resolution. What do I do?
One thing’s for certain: If you’re looking to cheat, don’t list “philosophy” and “opera” as your interests. Ah, the dark web we weave when we search the Dark Web to see if our spouses are trying to get laid via Ashley Madison. You say you are sure your husband has never cheated on you, yet you couldn’t help but take a gander at the hacked info, and you found his name. I have to kind of admire the total nerve of your guy in disowning not only his email address but his password and interests. But the most useful evidence you received is that there was no activity associated with your husband’s disputed account. Lots of people, indulging in fantasy or curiosity, use the Internet not to actually get into bed with strangers, but to imagine what it would be like to do so. If this is indeed your husband’s account, you have pretty good confirmation that he never pursued any of the disease-free women he perused. Yes, your husband didn’t react as you expected, but he likely didn’t expect to ever be confronted about this. I think you should go to him and say your suggestion is that the two of you agree to forget you’ve ever heard of Ashley Madison.
I was one of the 32 million people who had their data breached by the Ashley Madison hack. The problem? I am innocent of any wrongdoing—no, really. About four years ago, I saw a late-night ad about Ashley Madison. I was single, bored, and curious about this new cultural brazenness. I surfed the site for an hour or two, and didn’t contact anyone. After feeling a little creeped out, I signed off and that was that. I have been happily married for the past two years. This morning I got an email notification from a service that informs me if my data has been breached. The email was about the Ashley Madison hack. I feel I should let my wife know that my data was on there, but I also know that my explanation, while true, is not verifiable—there was nothing to indicate the date of my use. I don’t want to needlessly upset her. But I also don’t want this information getting to her, no matter how unlikely, then having to try and explain myself. What should I do?
—Hacked but Innocent
Let me start with a note to my own husband: Dearest, you have been married 20 years, six more than Ashley Madison has existed, so if your name shows up in this data dump, the “I was single at the time” excuse is not going to fly. Back to you, Hacked. As I told the first letter writer, many people use the Web to entertain fantasies they don’t end up carrying out. I don’t know you, yet I believe you when you say that several years ago you poked around this website out of curiosity and found yourself more repelled than aroused. So surely your wife, who actually knows you, is going to believe you. It’s true that there is nothing really for you to tell, but since the nation’s productivity is being diverted to seeing who used Ashley Madison, your fear that someone might identify you is not entirely idle. So get ahead of this by showing your wife the notification you got, then explaining it sparked your memory of a brief, unsatisfying, and never repeated exploration of the cheating site. Explain that you don’t want some nosy friend to look you up and alarm her for no reason. Then tell her how sorry you are for married people who haven’t found the happiness that you two have.
I work for a smallish unit of local government, about 250 employees. Curiosity got the best of me (it always does), and I looked up a few guys at work who give off a “philanderer” vibe on one of the Ashley Madison search sites. One guy had used his government-issued email address to register an account. The local press has been writing about other government email addresses they have found on the site, but our addresses don’t end in .gov, so nobody has found this guy yet. The employee in question is divorced after being caught having multiple affairs (one with a secretary in the office), so it’s not like this would break up his family. I do a lot of HR work, and this is a clear violation of our email use policies. I don’t want to get him in trouble, but I also don’t want to pick up the paper and see this headline and have my boss be caught off guard. My boss and I discussed the recent media coverage in general, and I asked him what he would do if someone here got caught. He thought no one here was stupid enough to use his or her work email address for that. Should I just shut up or should I talk to my boss?
—Biting My Tongue for Now
Apparently your boss, lucky for him, never heard of Anthony Weiner. If he had, he would have been disabused of the notion that no one is stupid enough to use the Internet to engage in lewd behavior while in a government office. Let’s say you tell your boss that you were moved to snoop around about the guys in the office. (Good news, Boss, your name didn’t show up!) Say you inform him he was wrong to think no one in the office was idiotic enough to use a work email to look for sexual partners, illicit or otherwise. What you’ll probably find is that instead of rewarding your enterprise, he’ll consider it unpleasant to employ the kind of person who seeks to pre-emptively ruin a colleague’s career—even if you have decided the guy is such a cad that it would be well-deserved. If your co-worker’s name comes out, your boss will deal with it. I urge you not be the cause of this outing.
After the hacked Ashley Madison data was released, I decided to type in the emails of men I knew offhand. My fiancé and my dad were not in it. However, my fiftysomething married uncle was. I am pretty close to him and his wife. They have no kids and have never seemed like the most in-love couple, but seem generally happy. Do I do anything with this information? I have not told anyone, not even my fiancé. I don’t know if my uncle just signed up or if he’s an active user, but it makes me sick thinking of him cheating on my wonderful aunt. Do I have a duty to bring this up to my parents? His wife? Or do I now face knowing his secret and keeping it to myself?
It’s true that now people who view themselves as do-gooders will be informing friends and family that they have investigated the Ashley Madison hack on their behalf, and are passing on the news that a spouse is possibly a cheater. I hope most of these do-gooders are told to mind their own business. Something compelled you to check out your father and fiancé—I bet both would be deeply distressed to think you were suspicious of them. But then, bingo, you got a hit on your uncle. I urge you not to insert yourself into your aunt and uncle’s sex life. I do not have a blanket prohibition on telling innocent parties that are being cheated on. But searching the Ashley Madison data for people who have not asked for your help does not rise to the level of must-tell news. If your aunt wants to know if her husband frequents the site, surely she has the computer skills to look for herself.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Need to Know: My ex didn’t reveal she was transgender—until her sister told me.”
“Foreign Affair: My husband has fallen in love with our 16-year-old exchange student.”
“Money Honey: My friends say my boyfriend is a freeloader. How do I get them to back off?”
“Night Crawler: My daughter slept at a friend’s and woke up to a man tickling her.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Shoot the Messenger: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose husband texts his female co-worker all the time.”
“’Twas Months After Christmas: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a letter writer who wants the neighbors to take down their holiday decorations.”
“Bed and Break-In: In a live chat, Prudie advises a letter writer who caught a hotel employee sniffing sheets and pillows.”
“Porcelain Revenge: In a live chat, Prudie, advises a woman who used to dip a couple's toothbrushes in the toilet.”