I've been married for 12 years next week. I'm 43 now and I'd be lying to myself if I said I'd never in those 12 years looked at another woman and thought she was attractive. I doubt any honest man could do that. It's the way our brains are wired. Even those of us with conditions like ADD, depression and bipolar mood disorder would agree that men in particular are hardwired to find attraction in the female form.
I know there are men my wife finds attractive as well. Neither of us is threatened by this in our marriage as we are completely committed to one another.
But what exactly constitutes an "affair"?
My closest friend is a younger woman. We have a lot in common spiritually and have had many conversations about our shared Faith and interests. She knows me intellectually and probably emotionally as well as my wife does. Our friendship has been a support for both of us through difficult times and a joy for both of us in good. Spiritually we have a closer understanding of the Bible than I have with my wife. Emotionally I feel a connection with her I don't have with anyone else - but it's not romantic.
The problem is how others perceive the friendship. I don't make friends easily due to my past still haunting me. With this person however things were very different. A few years ago before I was married I would probably have been nervous to strike a conversation with her. I never imagined when we met that a friendship so strong and supportive would come from it. After God stepped in and the friendship encountered what I can only call a baptism of fire we became very close friends and have been in a position to counsel and support each other as a result.
I was accused several times of cheating on my wife with her emotionally by colleagues. I've had close female friends before and so was able to deal with the comments easily, but it would be foolish to assume the possibility for an inappropriate level of emotional intimacy could have developed. I think both of us recognised that and as a result it simply didn't happen. I came very quickly to see her as a sister I could depend on and tried to be a brother to her.
But where does the line fall?
I think the Ashley Madison site is repugnant. Life is a precious thing - and unlike the site's tagline states - and it goes a long time after we leave this world behind. Marriage is under enough strain without this kind of attack being flaunted. Apparently reports of several hundred church leaders being active members have surfaced. Their behaviour too is repulsive. To disrespect your spouse in private is one thing, but this is so far beyond that. To put some perspective on the site from God's side, let's consider Joseph's encounter with Potiphar's wife:
"[Potiphar] is not greater in this house than I am; nor has he kept anything from me except you, for you are his wife. How then can I do this great evil and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9)How can I sin against God? Joseph's question when offered adulterous sexual relations with his owner's wife. Not "How can I do that to Potiphar?" Joseph's rebuffing of her makes it clear against whom the offense is.
It's an offense against God.
This one passage among hundreds in the Bible underscores the need to recognise sin when we see it for what it is. True a physical encounter with another person may give some pleasure for a time. But God gives us a conscience and it is set off by that kind of behaviour.
When I was accused of having an affair it wasn't by my wife but by colleagues. If anything was said to her she didn't share it with me that I recall. To both of us - as far as I know - the concept was moot. I was married and committed to that relationship. We both knew that and although my wife and my friend never personally met (yet) there have never been any secrets between the three of us and all of us have had telephonic contact independent of each other.
Ashley Madison is different. It is set up explicitly to destroy lives through extramarital relationships. These sites have been around for years, it's no secret. But this one in particular got caught. And marriages have disintegrated, trusts have been destroyed, churches have been left without shepherds.
All because of a few clicks on a website.
We need to look at what an affair is. Did I have an emotional affair with my friend? Was I emotionally unfaithful to my wife by turning to another woman for support at a time of crisis in my life?
I don't believe so because I was totally honest with my wife about the friendship from day one. I made no attempt to hide anything from her about my feelings for my friend. I'll be brutally honest: I love her dearly. But I love her the way I would love my sister.
It's a choice.
Contrary to what the world would have us believe we are not slaves to our hormones. We have a choice. Even my dogs are faithful to each other. I'm better than a dog.
So are you.
The affair starts in the imagination we develop. Before I was married I was in love with a woman I'd known for years and had a very close friendship with. She came to stay with me several times - separate rooms I stress - and I with her. I had to fight my emotions every day I had contact with her.
For me, THAT was an emotional affair. I loved her deeply, and not as a sister. I told her my feelings and she never told me if she reciprocated, but the friendship got much deeper and closer afterwards.
In different circumstances things could have turned out very differently. I feel I must add that we were both single, but we lived a long way (in British terms) from one another. I spent a long time imagining what it would be like to be involved with her. And not just physically. It was an affair of the heart.
What Ashley Madison does is it attributes those lustful feelings as being positive and something to be explicitly sought out in every sense of the word.
The existence of a dating site is not in itself damning. I met my wife through one - we were both single. But a site specifically designed to promote adultery is a completely different animal. To become a member you have to be in a relationship as I understand it from what I've read. The implications are damning.
"Shun immorality and all sexual looseness [flee from impurity in thought, word, or deed]. Any other sin which a man commits is one outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you, Whom you have received [as a Gift] from God? You are not your own, You were bought with a price [purchased with a preciousness and paid for, made His own]. So then, honor God and bring glory to Him in your body." (1 Corinthians 6: 18-20)
Let's make sure they don't forget the Cross as well.