The Pittsburgh Channel recently ran an article asking whether cheating is now becoming the new norm. This article was mentioned in an industry blog I read, because the original article mentions Ashley Madison, the world’s most (in)famous extra-marital affair online dating site.
I’m in two minds about sites like Ashley Madison that make a killing out of other people’s heartbreak and even encourage people to cheat on their spouses in their ads. Why two minds? Because people have always cheated and will keep on cheating and many of the people who cheat turn to online dating sites to find people to have affairs with. Personally, I’d rather such people go somewhere like Ashley Madison and find someone who’s willing to put up with that sort of second-best relationship. The alternative is the same people going to a normal dating site and lying about their relationship status. If someone’s going to lie anyway, it’s better that they only lie and hurt one person rather than two.
On the other hand, I do believe that encouraging people to cheat and presenting the act of cheating in a positive light is more than a little bit evil. The owner of the site, Joel Biderman, has apparently been quotes somewhere as saying he’d be “devastated” if he ever found out his wife was using his site. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who wish him just that.
Cheating is sad. Not the act of “belonging” to one person and sleeping with another, but all the lies and pretense that go with it. The fears and insecurities that would make people who are supposed to be partners treat each other as strangers.
But there is one potentially good thing about having sites like AM out in the open and using their well-oiled PR machine to plant controversial articles like this one in the media on an almost daily basis.
I think maybe it’s time for society as a whole to take a good, strong look at its relationship and family values and start debating whether these hold true for everyone. There are many reasons why people cheat and I don’t pretend to know and understand them all, but let’s make a gross generalisation for the sake of argument and say people generally cheat for one of several reasons:
- They are unhappy in their relationship but are unable to end it for whatever reason
- They find it difficult to be with just one partner for long periods of time and feel that they need some variety
- They’re unaware of being unhappy in their relationship and need something to make them realise that, so they fall for someone else
- They get off on the whole “having an illicit, secret affair” thing
How many of those reasons would become obsolete if people just chilled out about the whole concept of marriage and never ending monogamy being the end all and be all of everything to do with life?
People who have accidental affairs will, of course, not hang out on Ashley Madison and sites of its ilk, but the other reasons I listed would never need to happen if people were allowed to end relationships or have them open. Even p eople who get off on the fear and excitement of possibly getting caught cheating would find the whole thing pretty dull if their husband or wife turned around and accepted their partner’s need to be with someone else, don’t you think? Like any other drug, it soon loses its appeal to most people if it’s not seen as an act of rebellion.
In a sense, I think society on the whole and, in particular, the religious mainstream are far more responsible for people cheating than a site like Ashley Madison could ever be. Force people to marry for life, make them ignore their urges and their needs and, dare I say it, give them something to rebel against, thus making the act of cheating a sexy, exciting, illicit thing and you’re practically doing the so called “devil’s work” yourself.
I’m not saying we should all head back in time to the 60s and operate in a free love, free for all world, but I don’t think we should ignore the fact that some people are routinely unhappy in traditional relationships. I have zero problem with open relationships where both partners are honest with each other about their need to occasionally sleep with other people. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, sure, but then neither is monogamy and what it represents. People have cheated throughout history and they will keep on cheating until the reasons behind such actions are dealt with.
Saying that extra-marital affair websites and a public debate is encouraging cheating is hypocritical as well as naive. Cheating has always been the norm. It just wasn’t the norm to speak about it in public.
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