Indiscretion is no longer discreet. Gone are the days of clandestine meetings, sideways glances across an office or illicit gestures in a dark parking lot. Now you can get those same thrills and more in your email box for only a $49 joining fee. It seems too ridiculous to be true, but this is point we’ve reached- a multi-million dollar cash cow of a business that easily enables us to meet our perfect affair partner online. So lucrative is the venture that the corporate slogan: “Life is short- have an affair” has been pasted on billboards and is running in television advertising worldwide. Yet, promoting the most hurtful betrayals that many people will face in their lifetime as the fun, spice of life is not always as easy as it looks. The company has fought unsuccessfully for the right to plaster the slogan on citywide transportation in its hometown of Toronto; even after they offered money to subsidize rider fares. Their offer was vetoed by five of the six members of the transportation committee, but not before the leader was found to have cheated on his longtime partner several times, ruining his run for mayor. Likewise, the NFL turned down an advertising bid during the coveted Super Bowl hours.
This same ambivalence about the morality of their participation in the site’s offerings runs through many of the approximately 8 million members’ profiles, which use fake names and hides photos behind a password protected firewall. However, some are brazen, including photos on their pages and are largely unafraid of discovery. They feel justified and few users don’t report any feelings of guilt about their participation. The affair seekers aren’t leaving their partners, who become entities, mostly reduced to pronouns in the course of their business on the site. Many members refer to themselves as honest, except for what they are engaging in at this moment.
“This is just a fact of life. Monogamy is not in our DNA,” says founder Neil Biederman. Although he is married himself and says he would be devastated if he found his wife was employing his service, she has no qualms about the moral ramifications of her husband’s occupation. For her, “It is just a business…” Biederman believes that the popularity of his site, and by and large the nature and driving force behind affairs, is sex; more specifically about not getting the sex that they want from their partners.
Yet, a recent undercover Redbook report discovered a much deeper, and in some ways ironic, truth about much of what is being sought on Ashley Madison. The site, which is to ostensibly facilitate no-strings-attached affairs, contains many men who are trying to forge real emotional bonds. One might even say they were all looking to fall in love. While there are the classic men looking just for physical hook ups, more men are looking for a way to rekindle their best selves; usually the memories of their pasts- winning games and having a future that was open and unburdened. They long to have the flame of curiosity that comes with new affections interrupt their long-term relationships that have traded a spark for complacent predictability.
The joke in the success of Ashley Madison is that whether the cheating partner is discovered or not, they bear the same consequences. When we choose to save our best selves for interests outside of our primary relationship commitments, the places that need the same nurturing in the relationship wither and die. Without intending to, we starve our relationship of the heart that it needs to find in order to grow and develop.
The thrill that comes from new-biology-driven-falling-for-someone is equally matched by the loneliness and alienation that is left to the primary relationship. Just as you don’t have to enumerate your bad thoughts for others to know you are having them, indiscretions create ripples and chasms in relationships that might never be recognized by its proper name. In hindsight most people who are betrayed in their long-term relationship always own up to having known, had they allowed themselves to see it.
The most sure way to Ashley-Madison-proof your relationship is to be dedicated to learning to love. Deciding to invest the time, energy and passion that you would bring to a new relationship into your own may be just the spark it was missing all along.