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'I was sick of trying to save my marriage. One night, I created a profile on Ashley Madison.'

I was sick of trying to save my marriage. After my husband bankrupted me by investing money, borrowed in my name, into a ponzi scheme, he stopped getting out of bed and became a conspiracy theorist.

He believed 9/11 was an inside job and that every mass shooting was a hoax orchestrated by the US government to get us to give up our guns.

He believed in chemtrails and that aliens lived in underground tunnels in New Mexico, thanks to a treaty signed by Eisenhower.

The moon was hollow, built by ancient aliens who had traveled to our galaxy on spaceships that defied the laws of gravity.

I’d married a tall, handsome, engaging man with advanced degrees in Physics from an Ivy League university. That man disappeared.

WATCH: Robin Bailey and Bec Sparrow share why their first marriages were big mistakes. Post continues below.

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Our lives began to change when the housing bubble burst. We would eventually lose everything, even our house.

When I married my husband, all I knew was he was a real-estate investor who owned ten houses. He was effusively friendly and slightly nerdy — the picture-perfect “nice Jewish guy.”

He came from a family with money and had travelled the world. I married him, thinking our love would last forever.

I got pregnant, had the baby and discovered I was pregnant again nine months later. I gave birth a second time, and everything was perfect. Our children were healthy. We set about raising them in a four-bedroom house in a nice suburb of Los Angeles.

Our lives began to change when the housing bubble burst. We would eventually lose everything, even our house.

With the onset of the housing crisis, my husband tried to keep us afloat by investing in what he thought was a good business deal. He used my credit to take out a loan. The man running the racket ultimately went to prison. I went bankrupt.

That was when my husband started getting into conspiracy. My brainy physicist-cum-investor husband decided the moon was hollow and Newtonian laws were a hoax.

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No family intervention (there were several), no psychiatrist (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia by two different shrinks), or love on my part could pull him away from his beliefs or get him out of bed and looking for work again.

I tried to keep our marriage together by arranging dinners out and enticing him to have sex. We’d just go back to arguing or simply ignoring each other.

The passion fizzled. We lived together in the same house, but avoided each other.

I wanted out of my marriage but knew I couldn’t leave.

Listen to Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split on how you know if your relationship is over. Post continues below.

One night, after arguing yet again about another one of my husband’s insane conspiracies, I decided I’d had it. I was sick of living with a crazy person, sick of picking up his clothes off the floor, sick of washing his dishes, sick of cleaning the house (now a rental) and basically doing all the heavy lifting that rearing our two children necessitated of me.

I wanted to feel desired again. I wanted out of my marriage but knew I couldn’t leave. With my credit the way it was, I couldn’t even get an apartment on my own.

There was no money for child support. My husband’s parents had already intimated that I couldn’t count on them for help.

My mother was dead and my relationship with my father had always been strained.

I had no support structure. At a certain point I’d stopped trying to make friends. My husband always ruined everything by discussing his conspiracy theories with any new people we met.

I remember sitting at my computer and realising that if I couldn’t leave my husband, I could cheat.

But how? I’d never cheated on a lover in my entire life. I had no idea how cheating even worked. Who would I cheat with? I wasn’t in college anymore, or going out to clubs and parties like I did when I was younger. I’d been married for years.

What was I supposed to do? Lock eyes with another unhappily married father at one of my children’s soccer tournaments?

I typed “wife wants to cheat on husband” into Google. Ashley Madison popped up first in the search.

Sure, I knew about the website. I knew it had been hacked and that any number of celebrities had been caught cheating there.

You have to remember how desperate I was. I clicked on the link and that took me to the site’s landing page.

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The landing page featured a woman’s face as its main image. She held her index finger pressed to her rouged lips. A wedding band graced her ring finger, just like mine did.

What would I have done had I been confronted with a man’s face? Clicked away? Of course men cheated. They weren’t programmed for monogamy. They were programmed to spread their seed.

But to see a woman’s face? This told me there were other women out there just like me.

There were other women just as miserable in their marriages, who couldn’t leave because of the children, because of their age, because of lack of money, because of the commitment they’d made to their husbands.

"There were other women just as miserable in their marriages, who couldn’t leave."

I clicked on “see your matches” then selected “attached female seeking males” from a list of options. The idea was just to see the kind of men who were on the site. Whoever designed the site predicted that.

I couldn’t see my matches without first creating an account. I had to create an avatar. “Sveltemama” came to mind. I laughed out loud. I hadn’t been svelte in ages.

I looked nothing like I had in my twenties when I had actually been svelte. Sure, I slimmed down after the births of our two sons, but that left my stomach sagging. My belly took on the characteristics of a Shar-Pei dog’s skin. Ripples of flesh hung heavily wherever gravity called. I’d lost the weight but not the skin.

After breastfeeding twice, my breasts also sagged — not just my breasts but my nipples, too. I had drooping nipples, but this wasn’t something to be disclosed. Ashley Madison wasn’t a place where honesty counted.

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Did I want a short-term or long-term affair or “anything goes”? I didn’t want to leave my husband, so I selected “short term.”

I was prompted to agree to the site’s terms and conditions. What rights was I signing away by clicking “accept”? Promise not to hurt my husband too much if he found out? Don’t blame Ashley Madison when he did?

I selected “agree” without reading the terms. My matches were still withheld from me. I had to upload a photo first. “Most women upload a picture of themselves.”

Blurring my face was an option. That or I could superimpose a mask over my eyes, like some kind of Eyes Wide Shut, only a hackneyed version, as bogus as the marriage vows everyone on this site had made to their spouse but broken.

I snapped a selfie and cringed. Bags swelled under my eyes. Wrinkles spoked out from the corners. At least the coarse hair on my chin was gone. I’d plucked it days earlier, disqualifying myself as a bearded lady.

People sometimes joked that I looked like the Mona Lisa. I have the same hooded eyelids and high cheekbones. Looking at my photo I saw I still resembled the Mona Lisa, only now my enigmatic smile was curled in an expression of contempt.

I didn’t need to see their faces to know I didn’t want them. Their avatars and catch phrases said enough.

My high cheekbones still jutted out, only my cheeks were sunken below. The fat in my face had diverted to my ass, another liability of ageing.

I chose to blur the photo. One of the dads from my children’s school could find me here. Worse, he could find me, but still not want me because of how bad I looked.

My matches finally presented themselves. They hailed from cities like Monrovia, South Gate and Whittier. Most of their faces were also blurred. I didn’t need to see their faces to know I didn’t want them. Their avatars and catch phrases said enough.

Crossfitdaddy: Big O for you.

Discreet_joe: Same reason you’re here.

Oralguy69: u lick me i lick u.

I learned something that night. I learned that though I was lonely and desperate, I didn’t want just sex.

I wanted love — the kind of love I used to have for my husband.

It was time to leave.

Though I didn’t ever end up cheating on my husband with a man from Ashley Madison, even making a profile there made me realise just how unhappy I was.

Ashley Madison didn’t help me cheat, but it did help me finally leave my husband.

This story originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. For more from Lara Sterling, you can find her work here. Or on her Twitter: @larasterling.
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