I'm the perfect house sitter, although no one ever asks me to do it. My perfection stems not from a good and reliable character, although I think I have some of that, but more from not wanting to know too much about my friends. In short, I don't snoop.
I won't go through your cabinets, I won't know where you keep your sex toys, and I won't discover your totally legitimate prescription for percocet. Because I don't want to know that about you. Not unless you want to tell me.
When I was 13 my grandfather died and my mother and I went to Alabama to support my grandmother. I never saw so many casseroles in my life. Piled up on counters, stacked in the fridge with no more room in the freezer. Most were not to my taste (at 13 I'm pretty sure I referred to them as "inedible"), being variants of recipes that called for Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, potato chips, chicken and celery. We ate them because no one wants to cook at a time like this. Even the "lemon" Jello molds with pineapple, carrots and Miracle Whip. (I'm pretty sure that's what they serve in prison and that alone would deter me from a life of crime.)
The thing I remember most is that everyone was chain smoking. My grandmother had a thing called a "silent butler" and it became my job (because "I'm bored") to go around the house emptying the overflowing ashtrays before they started a house fire. I liked that job. The silent butler was cool, you pressed a tab to open the lid, poured the ashes and butts into the bowl and plop! Dropped the top to conceal the ashes. The ashes would make a fine dust in the air as they tumbled into the bowl and a small mushroom cloud would appear, then vanish as I dropped the lid closed. Ah the 70s.
I would make a tour around the house several times a day, and a shortcut into the family room required me to pass through my grandfather's room and his private bathroom. It was a little creepy so I would always rush through it, but since everyone was so solemn and tearful, I would rush as quietly as possible.
I should have stomped my feet because on one of my rounds I surprised an old aunt rummaging through my dead grandfather's medicine cabinet. As I entered the bathroom, fully expecting to find it empty, I startled her. She had pill bottles arranged around the sink and was pulling more down from the cabinet, looking at the labels. Something about it felt criminally wrong (13 is the perfect age for making extreme judgements), and I ran out of the room and told my mother. It was a quiet scandal, a tempest in a teapot, or a silent butler if you will. I could never look at my great aunt the same way again and she didn't much like me either. (Bratty kids. Should mind their own damn business.) I'll never forget the way she looked at me, not directly, but reversed in the bathroom mirror like Medusa. The mirror probably saved my life.
It was a life-changing event.
Seeing someone rifling through the medicine cabinet of a dead person felt like a gross invasion of privacy and it didn't matter that the person being invaded wasn't around to care. I cared on his behalf. As a 13 year old, I had no real idea what could be in those pill bottles. I didn't know that people could or would use prescription medicine for anything other than illness, which made her behavior bewildering. What could she want in there? Why would she do something like that?
In the years since I have visited friends and lived with roommates. Never have I gone through their cabinets or personal stuff. I figure if they want me to know something, they will tell me. And if they don't want to tell me, chances are good I don't want to know. That might seem funny to you, because I am generally a curious person and I care about you. But just think about what's lurking in those private places: wart removal pads, yeast infection cream, bipolar medication, Polaroids and Rogaine. Or, um, that's what I've heard is in there. That's not what's in my cabinet. Let's go back to the kitchen and finish this story over a cocktail, shall we?
Today I read Dear Prudence, Slate's version of Dear Abby, only more savvy and just as practical, and there were several letters from women who had looked up email addresses to see if they had accounts on Ashley Madison.
I knew someone eventually would dump the hacked data into a searchable database for everyone to see and I knew there would be plenty of people who would start investigating. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but be surprised at people's reactions. What did they think they would find? If you're putting in his address, it's because you already have an inkling that something is wrong. Are you sure you want to know?
If yes, then you better get ready for the reaction that comes from this surreptitious lookup. One woman who wrote to Prudence was able to log into her husband's obviously abandoned account and then was surprised when he got angry at her for invading his privacy. Another person was running a personal investigation on her colleagues and wanted to know if she should report her discoveries to her boss. (No.) Emily Yoffe, AKA Dear Prudence, gave them good advice, mostly telling them to mind their own business and forget about it.
As you might guess, I totally agree with this.
Here's the thing: even if someone you know is in that database, you and I have no right to know about it. Because it's not our account. Your spouse may be in there, browsing pictures, daydreaming about affairs, but it doesn't mean he's cheating (especially if the data about the low number of actual women registered at Ashley Madison is true.) Your loving spouse is, after all, a human being and all of us humans have been known to daydream from time to time.
In the same way that you don't want anyone going through your medicine chest (or underwear drawer), you don't want to force someone you love to explain the private and unexplainable. Porn is an industry for a reason. Sites like Ashley Madison exist for a reason. They are symptoms of feelings you probably already know about. ("We're going through a dry period"... "we're staying together for the kids," or money, or through inertia.
Or, more likely, everything is fine and he was just curious.
At the end of the day, you don't really want to know if he is in that database because you know it's a quintessential case of curiosity killing the cat. Until or unless you're ready to deal with the reasons why your partner might want to daydream or even experiment with cheating, back away from that database as quietly as possible.
There is nothing in the Ashley Madison data for you, unless you have an account. And if that is the case my friend, I'm afraid you are screwed. You can stay at my house for a while. I won't go through your stuff.