When I interviewed the founder of Ashley Madison to find out what would make someone create a site to help people cheat in the first place, nothing he said shocked us quite as much as who he told us we would find on there.
The fastest-growing segment on the Web site, which now boasts over 5 million members, said Noel Biderman, is newlywed women. Specifically, those who had been married for less than three years. And he's not the only one these days to claim that we're equally likely to stray: Recent surveys by Loveawake dating site show that if you're under 40, adultery rates are the same for men and women.
But what would possess a newlywed, in particular, to cheat? Rather than speculate, we decided to ask one: Melanie*, 31, signed up on Ashley Madison before she and her husband had even celebrated their second wedding anniversary. After the jump, read her brutally honest explanation of what possessed her -- and still does.
I'm 31 years old and a journalist living in Los Angeles. I met my husband five years ago at a party -- we were introduced by mutual friends. The chemistry between us was instantaneous: He was different from anyone I'd ever dated, physically and personality-wise. Jason* is very strong, charismatic and business-minded. Before, I'd always gravitated to guys who were more like me: cerebral and creative.
But I was approaching my 30th birthday, and I really wanted to get married, have kids ... all of those things. When I met him, something stirred in me. We just clicked, and all of my friends said, "You're perfect for each other." Because he was absolutely different from anyone I'd dated before, I thought, Maybe this will work. Maybe this is the secret.
Jason and I dated for about two years, then moved in together six months before we got married. When it was time to tie the knot, we decided to elope, rather than have a big wedding. We were both in agreement on that.
Then, pretty soon afterward, he started traveling for work more often. He works in the tech industry, so he's in the Bay Area a lot. Jason is a very take-charge person in general. Ivy League. He and his life are on track. I started to realize that marrying a highly motivated person means you also marry someone who's ... busy. If I confronted him, he'd say, "You knew who you married. You knew my job was like this."
Things started to feel a bit stale and stagnant. I was home alone all the time. I'm 31, married, and bored already, I thought. And it could be another 70 years that we're together! Then I started reading all these articles about whether we're even meant to be monogamous and whether that's healthy. I devoured women's magazine articles about swingers and flirting with other people and how it can be good for you as a couple. I wasn't sure what I thought anymore.
I actually don't know if I would care that much if my husband cheated on me. He travels so much for work anyway, I don't think I would care if he had sex. I would care if he cuddled in bed with someone afterward, but this is my thing: I think it's not natural to be attracted to someone for such a long time. I think you can be with someone emotionally for your whole life, but I'm not so sure about sexually.
I first heard about Ashley Madison on the radio, and I thought it was the kind of thing where people aren't really happy in their relationships but don't have the guts to break up without outside interference.
I've had boyfriends before, and if it wasn't working, I would just end it. But I also have plenty of girlfriends who would never break up with somebody unless they had someone else waiting in the wings. So, at first, that's what I thought this site was.
Then, one night, about six months after our wedding -- while spending another night home alone -- I got bored. So I took a look and realized it wasn't that at all: It was people who were in the same situation I was. I'll just create a profile, I told myself, and I won't put any money into this.
The next morning I opened my inbox, and I had over 500 emails.
My heart started beating really fast, but I went ahead and waded through them ... and started responding. A lot of them were people I'd never be interested in, but in the beginning, just getting all that attention felt good.
Don't get me wrong: The 500 messages had nothing to do with me being me. There are just that many people on the site, and when a girl comes on, they're like, "Ooh, fresh meat!" You see a lot of people with families and children, and it makes you kind of feel guilty. What am I doing? I asked myself, more than once. But then I started to see guys I could actually be interested in. And then it became a whole different experience.
I officially signed on. To be frank, the first half of the emails was not fascinating at all. But after each one, I felt a little less guilty, and a lot less gross. Then I started corresponding with a couple of people. Most of the men were between 31 and 40 and in a very similar situation: marriages in which they just felt really unhappy and unfulfilled. A lot of them seemed like guys who were pressured into getting married, where the girls were like, "If you don't marry me, we're breaking up," and they didn't want to lose the girl. Now here they were.
I didn't want to be with anyone with children, where I might be part of tearing up a family. That was a personal choice for me, and where I drew the line.
At first I was corresponding with a handful of guys, and we were writing all the time. Then it narrowed down from five to three to two -- and then I was just writing one guy regularly. It's funny: I could never date more than one person at a time, so just bonding with more than one felt hard, but there was definitely one person I felt a really strong connection with.
I only told a couple of people about him, or the fact that I was active on Ashley Madison at all. My mom knows. I tell her everything. She's not totally thrilled, but she's very non-judgmental. More than anything, she doesn't like the idea that my husband could get hurt, or that anyone's cheating on anyone. She considers it an affair even if it's just an emotional one. And I have told one of my friends, but she's not married -- most of my close friends aren't yet -- so she can't really relate.
"Be careful," she told me. "I don't know if that's a good idea." But she's done plenty of stupid things, and I've stood by her through them all. Her only advice: Maybe you should talk to your husband.
And I have tried. But he's not the kind of guy who would go to couples counseling and decide to try to work things out. He'd probably tell me he wanted a divorce. I know he would consider it cheating, even though I haven't done anything yet.
As for the other guy, just when we were about to meet up for the first time, he wrote me and said, "I've decided to go make it work with my wife." We had been talking every day, so it was almost like a breakup.
But it didn't deter me. I'm still open to meeting someone else, and I'm still on Ashley Madison waiting to see what happens. I mean, I'm young, but I can't exactly go out with my friends and pick up guys at the bar, so I'm kind of stuck. It's hard.
If I met someone I really liked, I would have to take it step-by-step. I've thought through every single scenario and tried to figure out, Would I leave my husband? I have no idea. I love him, and I want to work it out, but I'm not sure it can work, physically, with just one person.
I think that right now is a rough patch, and maybe this is just a Band-Aid.
* Names have been changed.