Torstar News Service
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Susan first dipped her toe into the murky cyberpool of infidelity two years ago, when she was bored at home on a day off from her part-time fitness job. Her husband, a business executive seven years her senior, was working, as usual.
Sexually frustrated and a little lonely, the 25-year-old started Googling “sex club” and “swingers club” before stumbling upon AshleyMadison.com, advertised as a “discreet dating service” for people in relationships. Like most Torontonians, Susan, who did not want her real name used, heard about it before.
Three months and more than a 1,000 profiles later, she sat at the bar at a Hooters restaurant with Michael, a 23-year-old with a 31-year-old wife. “He understood where I was coming from and we had the same expectations,” she says. After about two hours, they got a hotel room.
That was what she was really looking for.
According to Ashley Madison statistics, the number of Toronto-area female newlyweds on their site has skyrocketed in the past year. In March 2009, there were 3,184 women who had been married for three years or less actively using the service. A year later, there were 12,442.
Since he founded the service in 2001, it was clear to CEO Noel Biderman that attracting men would be easy. But he and his team thought their female clients would be desperate housewives or dedicated mistresses looking for “lifestyles and fun and sex and gifts.” They deliberately targeted women with everything from the name of the brand to the colour scheme of its advertising was designed to attract aspiring female cheaters.
They soon realized they had overlooked a robust and active demographic: “These were young women who, from their self-description … were only married a year or two and seemed to really be questioning the institution, their next step, entering into parenthood, staying with that partner,” Biderman says.
They called it their “newlywed marketplace.”
So much for those happy early years — the seven-year itch has shrunk to three or four and wives, not just husbands, are increasingly stepping up and sneaking out.
Infidelity is tricky for researchers to quantify because surveys largely rely on self-reporting, and people are inclined to lie according to the medium (online, on the phone or in person). And there is no one definition for infidelity — sometimes emotional and online affairs, and committed couples who are not married are included, other times not.
“There’s an overall increase in female infidelity in general,” says Ruth Houston, a New York-based infidelity expert. Houston’s research began more than 16 years ago, after she unintentionally recorded her husband’s phone conversations with three other women while working as a journalist from their home.
Houston is convinced we’re “in the midst of an infidelity epidemic” and goes by the often-cited stat that infidelity by women has increased by 50 per cent in the last 10 years. But the U.S. National Opinion Research Center report on American Sexual Behaviour offers much smaller figures: In 2004, 20.5 per cent of men and 11.7 per cent of women admitted to cheating on their spouses, a change from 21.3 and 10 per cent in 1991.
Houston believes these numbers are deceptively low and that women are definitely catching up to men. She says today’s women are much more exposed to possible partners than their mothers and grandmothers. They’re out working and on the Internet, the top two places to cook up an affair.
“I just think that women are stronger and coming into themselves and following their own path,” says Toronto relationship therapist Nancy Ross. She says infidelity is often what brings couples to seek therapy and that, increasingly, men are initiating therapy.
Biderman thinks female newlyweds are looking for more than a fling — that many of them are sizing up their husbands and questioning whether they really want to start a family with him. And, in a pragmatic move not unlike job hunting, they might even want to line up a new partner before leaving their current one.
“As more and more people get married later and later in life, does it really surprise you that a 30-year-old woman who just got married a year or two ago, but has a very robust career and is very independent, is really going to tolerate the same kind of failed expectations that someone two generations removed from her (did)?” he asks.
Or maybe it’s the digital era that is making young people so eager to move on, Biderman says. After all, past and future lovers are all just a mouse click away.
Susan, now 27, says she loves her husband and does not plan to leave him. More than that, she’s convinced Ashley Madison has helped her marriage: she’s made many friends who understand her, both male and female, and she’s now had four very satisfying affairs.
“I come home smiling after and I’m just fulfilled, which kind of cuts up my resentment toward my husband, because I just feel better — physically, emotionally, everything.”