More and more women are choosing to have affairs. The day after Mother’s Day, for instance, 32,000 new people—mostly women—signed up with Ashley Madison. About the spike in female infidelity, the site’s Toronto-based founder and CEO, Noel Biderman, says, “It’s not just Canadian women. It’s American women. It’s Australian women. [Infidelity] is on the rise everywhere the web is becoming ubiquitous and there’s connectivity. Infidelity is always about opportunity, don’t kid yourself.”
Taking a lover can now be as timely and convenient as, say, ordering pizza. This opportunity-equals-infidelity formula, Biderman argues, explains the Tiger Woods and Eliot Spitzer serial-cheating phenomenon. “The reasons so many politicians and celebrities have affairs is that they have way more opportunities than other people,” says Biderman. Similarly, he claims, this increase in opportunity also accounts for the relatively recent rise in female philandering: “The biggest jump in female-reported infidelity rates happened when women entered the workforce—there, they had more opportunities to have affairs. And even today, the more successful and independent the woman is, the more likely she is to have an affair. In this digital era, where a future lover on Ashley Madison or a past lover on Facebook is just one click away, that incredibly unique opportunity allows more and more women to be unfaithful.”
Cashing in on widespread matrimonial misery, Biderman founded Ashley Madison on February 13, 2002—a day Biderman proudly dubs “Mistress Day.” His vision for A.M., he explains, was to capitalize on something already going on: betrayal. Unlike other pretense-driven dating sites, which inspire members to claim they’re something they’re not (i.e. single), A.M. caters to those honest about their dishonesty. “It used to be that people took off their rings to go to singles bars, or acted like they weren’t in relationships when they went on business trips…. Isn’t it better, from a societal perspective, that these people [cheat] in a community of like-minded adults?” Biderman argues. Evidently, his business plan has proven commercially shrewd (if ethically unsavoury or, at least, objectionable to some). Today, A.M. boasts more than six million members in North America, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. And in Canada, 31 percent of members are women. “We’re seeing more and more young women joining the service, women who have been married three years or less,” says Biderman with almost paternal pride.
If men generally cheat for physical reasons, women tend, more often, to cheat to satisfy an emotional void. Moffit, who counsels many couples dealing with infidelity, says, “Men tend to cheat because they’re not sexually intimate enough with their partner, whereas women tend to cheat because of emotional deficits in their relationship—if women aren’t feeling emotionally connected to their partner or if their partner isn’t giving them enough attention. For a lot of the women I see, if they’re in intimate relationships and they feel loved and needed, they can even go without intimacy at all and still be happy.”
It is intriguing to note that in countries where adultery is not only more rampant but more accepted—France, Brazil, Japan—the divorce rate is proportionately lower. “In those countries,” says Biderman, “monogamy has become de-emphasized the same way religion has. They may have a more enlightened approach to marriage.”
Infidelity, like marriage, and how it’s perceived or judged, may vary radically in different cultures. But its general rise among women is less about cultural evolution than it is about generational shifts in romantic expectations. “Couples who were married 20, 30 years ago, their view of marriage was different. It was: you have one wife or one husband and that’s it,” says Moffit. “Today, the idea is that the marriage has to stay perfect in order for people to remain interested in it. As soon as something goes awry, men and women will say, ‘I’m not sure that this is working for me.’ When really, maybe toughing it out for a few years is worthwhile,” explains Moffit.
Women—and men—have less of an interest in the moral righteousness and delayed gratification of enduring. Today, there’s an unreasonable and implausible premium on perfection and permanent happiness. The expectation is that anything short of permanent conjugal happiness is romantic failure and a cue to push on to more passionate pastures. A compulsive, Me-Generation focus on personal happiness may prevent us from viewing relationships as we-territory. “Once you’re married, all of your decisions have to involve we,” says Moffit. “But today, people think more in terms of ‘I’m not happy. What can I do to make myself feel better.’ That’s not always healthy. Once you’re married, it should be ‘We’re going through a tough time. What can we do to make things better?’ ”
Expecting eternal happiness and fulfillment from a partner may be as unrealistic, and potentially dangerous, as taking a lover to fill a void—or gambling on an affair to save your marriage.
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“Why Men And Women Cheat” has been edited for FLARE.com; the complete story appears in the August issue of FLARE magazine.