When hackers first exposed the millions of men who signed up at Ashley Madison in hopes of cheating on their wives, the resulting furor overlooked a more surreal and tragic aspect of the scandal.

Namely, these husbands wrecked their reputations and wasted their money for no good reason. What they thought they were buying—the prospect of romance—was never really available. Yet these men fell for the scam when the genuine article was already theirs to have.

Of course, when I refer to romance I don’t mean some fleeting extramarital fling. I allude instead to the best relationship any man will ever find—the one with his wife.

True, men can be famously stupid in regard to their best interests. And, for those of us who by God’s grace have remained true to our spouses, it’s tempting to indulge in sweet schadenfreude at the news of so many would-be cheaters themselves being cheated.

After all, however sad the situation, the irony is also amazingly rich.

Lopsided Figures

The numbers first unveiled by the hackers revealed what seemed a pathetic disparity between hunters and quarry: 35 million men vying for the illicit attention of 5 million women.

But even these figures turned out to be mind-bogglingly bogus. In reality, it’s doubtful any male clients scored with any of Ashley Madison’s digital sirens, because all but a few thousand of the site’s female accounts were almost certainly fake.

To quote one computer guy who aanalyzed the data: “Out of 5.5 million female accounts, roughly zero percent had ever shown any kind of activity at all, after the day they were created.”

This claim echoes the 2012 story of an Ashley Madison employee who sued the company, claiming she had sustained repetitive stress injuries while creating fake profiles of “alluring females.”

That so many men were bilked for so long, of course, does seem to defy credulity. One has to ask: How could such a fraud have been perpetuated? The answer is that its business model was cunningly based on two things its customers were willing to offer in ample supply: gullibility and duplicity.

Worst-Kept Secret

The conmen at Ashley Madison relied on unhappy men forking over money to indulge the fantasy that out there, somewhere, were bored, busty brides who wanted nothing more than to hop in the sack with middle-aged Pillsbury doughboys. The hucksters relied as well on the shame factor preventing its 100 percent dissatisfied customer base from airing their grievances. It being a clandestine service, with whom could the suckers compare notes?

Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s hard for men in our sex-besotted, information-overloaded society. You can’t even stand in line at the grocery checkout without having to pry your gaze off the cover of Cosmo and onto something more innocuous—like the nutritional summary for Mentos.

But guys, consider: Relationships are only worth what you put into them. If you want your marriage to succeed, you’re going to have to work at it.

Then there’s the fact that your wife will never compare favorably to a fantasy, because unlike a fantasy, you wife actually exists. She’s flesh and blood. When she’s overworked and under the weather, she gets irritable. When she overeats, she gains weight. (Don’t laugh, gents—the muffin top is no respecter of persons.)

But as a real woman who loved you enough to marry you, she’s the best deal you’ve got going. She is worth all the patience, longsuffering and sacrifice you can muster—and more.

Think about this the next time you’re in danger of being suckered by some virtual vamp. Why fall for a scam when you could be nurturing the curvy companion within arm’s reach?

I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s the right thing to do. And ultimately, it’s the best thing—for both of you.