Ashley Madison: Why Cheating Is Not The Solution

Have you guys heard of Ashley Madison before? It’s an online dating service targeted at married people or people in relationships.

Meaning, it’s like, but instead of being for singles, Ashley Madison is for people already married or seeing someone. It is essentially a service that facilitates cheating and extra-marital affairs. (It even has a slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair.”)

Ashley Madison website

Ashley Madison’s website, with a model wearing a ring on her ring finger

While I disagree with Ashley Madison (hereby referred to as “AM”) and what it stands for, I decided to park aside my feelings to take a deeper look at AM and the bigger issue that is extra-martial affairs.

Looking Up Ashley Madison

I first knew about AM in 2013, as it was planning to launch in Singapore in 2014 but promptly got blocked by the local authorities as it was deemed as a flagrant disregard of family values. This ban was made public in the local news.[1][2]

I was immediately confused and bewildered by the idea of a business promoting extra-marital affairs — it just seemed really irresponsible to endorse and facilitate cheating — and thought that it was probably used by very few people. Upon some research, I quickly realized I was wrong and the Ashley Madison site actually enjoys high traffic around the world!

Some facts and figures (updated in April 2021):

  1. According to Alexa (a third-party tool to check a website’s popularity), AM is the 10,214th most visited site globally. Looking up SimilarWeb (another tool to check traffic stats), AM shows an estimate of 10 million visitors a month, which is huge.
  2. They claim to have reached 70 million users as of 2020.[3]
  3. It has members in 53 countries including the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Germany, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, and India.[4]
  4. What’s even more astonishing is its quick growth in places like Hong Kong and Japan. It was the #104 most visited site in Hong Kong and #1,288 most visited site in Japan in Oct 2013, even though it was launched there four and two months prior respectively.

    Ashley Madison local country ranking

    Ashley Madison’s ranking in each country in Oct 2013, in terms of its website’s popularity, according to Alexa. (Note in 2021: I don’t have the updated data as Alexa no longer provides this data publicly.)

So who’s using it?

After seeing these stats, I thought, If their site is so highly visited, that has to mean that many people are using it. But who?

I found this in-depth coverage of Ashley Madison by a GQ journalist, who signed up for AM as part of his assignment to write about AM’s female users.

Here are the profiles of some women he met:

  1. One is almost 40 and a high-power career female. She has been married to her husband for almost two decades with several children. She describes her household as “really happy and functional,” but has been cheating since two years into her marriage with both men and women. She has been corporeally disloyal in relationships since she was 16. She considers her affairs a favor to her husband because [her] marriage would be in shambles if [she] wasn’t playing [doing so].”
  2. One is in her early 30s and has a forensic-science degree. She married young to appease her religious parents, has been married for 10 years, and finds her life and sexually unadventurous husband “suffocating.” The first man she met via AM — a Muslim — had sex with her at her house while her husband was away on a trip. She says, “It’s so hypocritical—all this holier-than-thou stuff.”
  3. One is in her early 30s as well. She has been with her unambitious husband for around a decade, and is sexually uninspired and no longer in love. She lives by a conservative and professional demeanor that she seems confined by and speaks about liking being a “deviant” and being “bad.” A week after her interview with the journalist, she left her husband; a few weeks after that, she quit her corporate day job to be a writer.
  4. Another is in her late 40s, had two long-term affairs with male colleagues, and has been with “publishers of magazines, CEOs, politicians, managing partners at law or investment firms” through AM. She wants to fall in love again but doesn’t see the need to leave her husband — yet, as there’s still love that holds them together. She finds lifelong passion extremely rare and doesn’t believe any one person ever fulfills a person’s needs, though she acknowledges feeling guilt about making outright lies (to her husband) whenever she sees someone.

Except for the first one who claims to be open with her husband, the rest are either, by their own admission, deeply unhappy or deeply dishonest with their spouses. Even with the first lady, I’m doubtful about some of her claims as they are contradictory (she claims to be in a really happy household, yet she actively seeks out affairs; she does not take responsibility for her affairs but instead says she’s doing them as “a favor” to her husband.)

General Stats on AM users

Here are some facts from GQ:

  • Percentage of Americans who believe that an affair is always wrong: 81.7%
  • Percentage of people who have had an affair and believe it is always wrong: 62.7%
  • Most common career field of male cheaters on Ashley Madison: Finance
  • Most common career field of female cheaters on Ashley Madison: Education
  • Percentage of people who classify their marriage as “very happy”: 62.5%
  • Percentage of those people who have cheated: 10%
  • Most popular day (in 2012) to create an AM account: June 18, the day after Father’s Day
  • Second-most popular day (in 2012) to create an AM account: May 14, the day after Mother’s Day

Noel Biderman, the CEO of Ashley Madison, said, “The women’s movement into the workplace was the first massive jump into unfaithfulness. The more financial independence women have, the more it correlates to how unfaithful they’ll be.”[5] (Biderman has since stepped down as CEO in 2015.)

While I can understand the correlation, I don’t think it’s a causal relationship — as women (or men) earn more money, it addresses their basic needs of money and security, where they are no longer dependent on their spouse for security. They are now in a position to explore higher-order needs as a human — like figuring out their self-identity, and pursuing personal fulfillment and happiness. For some, this leads them down the path of cheating. But clearly, financial independence doesn’t turn people into cheaters — something else does.

What Drives Infidelity/Adultery

What is this something else? Well, it depends on the individual. But some reasons could be

  • Unhappiness in the marriage
  • Feeling neglected, abandoned in the marriage
  • Feeling unloved by the partner
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Sexual emptiness, frustration, incompatibility
  • Mismatch in personality, values, or life goals with the partner
  • Falling out of love with each other (if there was even love in the first place)
  • Deep feelings of emptiness that are to do with the individual, not the partner
  • Deep feelings of self-hate
  • Sex addiction — a compulsive desire to have sex
  • Inherent mismatch with the nature of monogamy. A constant desire for excitement, change, adventure that a single partner cannot fulfill (that or that they’ve just not met the right person).

For the first lady mentioned above, she may be inherently incompatible with monogamy, given that she has been a serial cheater since she was 16. This may be true for the fourth lady as well. For the second and third ladies, it seems like a combination of being unhappy with themselves/their lives, and falling out of love with their partners (if they were even in love in the first place).

Ashley Madison's Netherlands website

Ashley Madison’s Netherlands website

For the adulterer, there are basically voids he/she is trying to fill, and an affair is being sought out to fill these voids.

Whatever these reasons are, they would be there whether the woman (or man) is financially able or not. In that sense, money is simply an enabler, not the cause.

Cheating = Not the Solution

Yet, whatever these issues or voids are, affairs will never solve them. Sure these affairs may fill whatever gaps are present right now.

  • If you are unsatisfied with your martial sex life, seeking playmates outside of marriage may satisfy your sexual appetite — for now.
  • If you feel unloved, having a third party shower you with attention, sweet-nothings, and gifts may make you feel valued. As one of the interviewees from the GQ article said, she felt “like an expensive toy.”
  • If you are unhappy with life, such as feeling bored or stifled or empty, cheating may give you an adrenaline rush, a feeling of newness.
  • If you feel a sense of emptiness, having an affair may fill you up — for that moment.

But these effects are temporary. No sooner do these affairs end, would you be back facing your original voids. Some may look for new affairs to get into. Some may return to feeling empty/frustrated. Some may bury themselves in other things — food, drinks, work, retail therapy — to avoid facing the problem. But these do not change the fact that the voids are there and have to be tackled — not filled with a patch like an affair — for permanent closure.

The Solution

How do they get tackled?

If the issues are inherent to the marriage: Trashing things out with your spouse. Deciding if the issues are salvageable — if yes, working together to fix the issues; if not, divorce. If divorce is not an option due to the marital laws in the country, deciding whether to live as a separated couple, or have an open relationship (where both parties agree to see other people).

If the issues are with you and not your partner or marriage: Doing internal work to address the issues. Taking steps and making the necessary changes, be it a career shift or making a life change. Hiring a coach/counselor/therapist to help you out. Talking to your partner, and working together on the problems. Deciding if your partner and marriage fit who you are today, and who you wish to be, or if being alone or being with a different partner is the answer. Deciding if the nature of a marriage — a monogamy, being with someone for life — is compatible with you and your values.

I have written many articles on addressing inner voids, some of which can be found here:

Whatever it is, an affair isn’t the answer. When someone has an affair, they’re basically committing an act of dishonesty, and lying to the one person they should be the most truthful to — their spouse. This is the one person whom they’ve made a personal promise to — to be faithful, to be with them through thick and thin, and to be with them forever.

Whatever professional or social exterior they may live by, it doesn’t change the fact that they (the adulterer) is lying every single day by having the affair. The lying that comes with an affair isn’t just during the times when the adulterer makes up an excuse to see their lover (unlike what the fourth lady in the GQ interview says) — it’s all the time, from the moment the decision to have an affair was made.

To quote the GQ article,

“Monogamy may defy certain biological imperatives and may not make as much sense for modern eighty-year life spans, but that’s the contract you sign up for; if it isn’t for you, then opt out or marry someone new.”

As for those who are just inherently not compatible with monogamy, then don’t get into a relationship or a marriage to begin with. If that’s too late and you’re already in one, then the next best thing is to break up / divorce and seek a better solution, such as being in an open relationship or to stick to non-committal encounters.

As for Ashley Madison

As a business owner myself, I found it strange and disappointing that there are businesses like AM that are built on cheating and dishonesty. I just don’t find running a business like AM meaningful or something to be proud of even if it is raking in large profits.

In an Australian TV interview, Biderman defended his company by saying, “I would rather see people pursue [an affair] and stay true to their families,” which probably explains his underlying philosophy behind starting Ashley Madison.[6]

But I think this argument is missing the point altogether, which is that (a) having an affair isn’t “staying true” to your family. “Staying true” means to be completely honest and faithful to. Cheating is as far from “staying true” as it can be.

And (b) if someone has to seek out an affair to stay in the marriage, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with the relationship to begin with. Maybe the couple is fundamentally incompatible with each other. Maybe the relationship is not meant to be. Maybe the person is not meant for monogamy.

Whatever it is, it’s more damaging to both parties to stay together in a loveless and unhappy marriage, than to actually divorce and pursue their own happiness. It’s even worse if there are children involved.

Shame and despair

As business owners, the answer is to help the person address their internal struggles and achieve a resolution, whether it’s by divorcing or by working things out with their spouse or changing things about their life, NOT create a portal for affairs.

Update: Ashley Madison Hack (Aug 2015)

In August 2015, AM was revealed to have been hacked, with personal data of its 33 million accounts dumped online. Amongst the data are 10,000 email addresses belonging to government officials or workers with .gov addresses.[7]

Sadly, according to the hacker collective that hacked the site, this hack revealed that the site had thousands of fake female profiles, and that 90-95% of actual users are male. Meaning, these are men who signed up to cheat, but never got to. There have also been a separate lawsuit of an ex-employee of AM who revealed that she was hired to type up many fake female profiles.[8] For a business that bases itself on dishonesty, it may not be all too surprising at the end of the day.

It was also revealed that Biderman himself had several extramarital affairs over the course of his marriage[9], despite publicly claiming in interviews that he does not cheat.[10] His wife had previously stated that she would be devastated if she ever found out her husband was cheating.[11] I guess for a person who built a business based on cheating and disloyalty, it is not too surprising that he turned out to have been lying about his loyalty to his spouse.

Perhaps now Biderman finally understands the repercussions of having an affair, and that as much as one may try to morally justify to themselves that having an affair is okay, at the end of the day it hurts the one person whom you’ve pledged to be with, who loves you the most.

Beautiful Advice From a Divorced Man After 16 Years of Marriage

Divorce contract

Recently I came across this post by a divorced man (Gerald Rogers) sharing his advice on making marriages work, after his own 16-year marriage failed.

Given that I’m getting married soon, and while I know my marriage with my husband will be forever, it’s still useful to learn from someone who was in a 16-year marriage, was unable to make things work out, and has the benefit of hindsight. It helps to know what to watch out for and whether I’m on the right track in building my best relationship, and same for those of you in relationships or are finding love.

While some of Gerald’s advice are a little over the top (his advice as a whole seems to suggest that you live your life for no one else but your partner, and your partner/marriage (and no one/nothing else) should be the center of your universe — both of which are dangerous hallmarks of a co-dependent relationship) — he shares certain relationship truths which I want to highlight in today’s post.

Advice from a Divorced Man after a 16-Year Marriage

/ Start of selected snippets of Gerald’s advice. My add-ons in blue.

1. Never stop courting.

Never stop dating. NEVER EVER take that woman/man for granted. When you asked her to marry you (or for females, when you agreed to marry him), you promised to be that man (woman) who would OWN HER (HIS) HEART and to fiercely protect it. NEVER GET LAZY in your love.

My Notes: I agree. It’s the same for females. Never get lazy in your relationship. When your man proposed to and married you, he chose you, above all other women. Perhaps you did not play an active role in the courtship or you were not the proactive lover (e.g. maybe your partner was the one who remembered the anniversaries and planned the surprises), but that doesn’t mean you should continue behaving this way.

Your man chose you just as you chose him. So don’t take him for granted. If you have been doing that, then stop. Ask yourself, “How can I be the active lover in our relationship?” Don’t get complacent in your relationship because you are now together. Rather, treasure him more than ever precisely because you are now with each other.

3. Fall in love over and over again.

You will constantly change. You’re not the same people you were when you got married, and in five years you will not be the same people you are today. Change will come, and in that you have to re-choose each other every day. SHE (HE) DOESN’T HAVE TO STAY WITH YOU. Always fight to win her (his) love just as you did when you were courting her (when you guys were dating).

My Notes: I fully agree with this tip. We are evolving, every moment of the day. We are not the same people right now compared to yesterday or last week.

Biologically, this is true too: with the exception of some cells, most of our cells today are new. Our stomach lining cells die and are replaced every two days; our colon cells every four days; our skin cells every few days to weeks; our red blood cells every four months; and so on.

Given that you and your partner are constantly growing into different people, your relationship has to evolve to match both of you: otherwise it will cease to be relevant. In growing, don’t forget to always be the best partner for your significant other (S.O.) and always care for your relationship. Be together because you choose to be together every day, not because you are legally bound to do so by marriage.

4. Always see the best in her (him).

Focus only on what you love. What you focus on will expand. If you focus on what bugs you, all you see will be reasons to be bugged.

My Notes: I wouldn’t say to focus only on what you love because part of your role as a partner is to help your S.O. be a better him/her by bringing (red flag) issues to light as they arise.

However, definitely focus on the things — qualities, practices, and/or beliefs — you love about him/her over what you don’t (if there are any), because the former is why you chose him/her to begin with. These are the factors  to build your relationship upon, not the negative things you don’t like. Celebrate his/her goodness: don’t dwell on the undesirables. The nurturing approach is what’s going to soar your relationship to the next height as I wrote in step #10 of my authentic love guide.)

5. It’s not your job to change or fix her (him)

…your job is to love her (him) as she (he) is with no expectation of her (him) ever changing.

My Notes: I agree with the message, which is your “role” as a partner should be to love your S.O. with no expectations. This has been my stance from the day I got together with my husband, which is also why I never asked him to stop clubbing nor quit smoking. He sort of just decided to do that on his own.

6. Take full accountability for your own emotions.

It’s not your wife’s (husband’s) job to make you happy, and she (he) CAN’T make you sad. You are responsible for finding your own happiness.

My Notes: Absolutely. You are responsible for your happiness (or any emotion like anger, sadness, and fear for that matter); don’t make your partner/spouse responsible for that. Own your emotions and learn to find your happiness. (Clue: it’s inside you.) Read: 10 Timeless Principles To Be Happy.

8. Allow your woman (man) to just be.

When she (he) is sad or upset, it’s not your job to fix it, it’s your job to HOLD HER (him) and let her (him) know it’s okay. DON’T RUN AWAY WHEN SHE (HE) IS UPSET. Stand present and strong and let her (him) know you aren’t going anywhere.

My Notes: Giving solutions when the other party is seeking empathy is a common mistake many men/women make. When your S.O. is expressing frustration or having a bad day, be his/her pillar of support by providing a listening ear, being there for him/her, and if needed: asking the right questions. There’s no need to take the role of a problem solver and dispense solutions because this may not be what your S.O. needs. He/she may just be looking for your support and to know that, hey, my baby is there for me.

The importance of just being there doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships too: it applies to all relationships. So take note of this for your friendships and parental relationships as well.

14. Give her (him) space…

The woman is so good at giving and giving, and sometimes she will need to be reminded to take time to nurture herself. Sometimes she will need to go and find what feeds her soul. Tell her to take time for herself, ESPECIALLY after you have kids.

My Notes: This is exactly my view on how we should treat our husband / guy partner too. I was asked by Her World magazine last week to give my advice on the topic “How to get your men to open up.” My number one tip is to give your man time and space. You don’t want to hard press your man to do anything because he may shut off. Or he may heed your wishes, but begrudgingly. Either way, that’s not what you want.

Always give your man the time and space to process his emotions and come to his self-realizations. The self-realized man is the better man for both himself and you: not one who is pushed into decisions because he can’t take ownership for them.

15. Be vulnerable…

…you don’t have to have it all together. Be willing to share your fears and feelings, and quick to acknowledge your mistakes.

My Notes: Openness (and trust that your S.O. will handle your vulnerability with care) is vital for any relationship to blossom. Allow your weak side to emerge in front of your S.O.; you don’t have to appear as the iron man/lady all the time.

Within the second day I got together with my husband, I allowed myself to cry during one of our phone conversations and did not hide it from him (same for him); in a matter of two-and-a-half weeks I allowed myself to cry in person before him (he did it earlier). Throughout the relationship I allowed myself to open up more and more, and to share more and more of my vulnerabilities (not just in terms of emotions but also personal fears and problems).

Such openness didn’t come without resistance initially, as I wondered if allowing myself to be so open (particularly with my sadness and tears) would cause him to think I was crazy. But then I decided to give it the benefit of doubt and let my true emotions flow anyway. This has undoubtedly helped us grow closer together.

16. Be fully transparent.

If you want to have trust you must be willing to share EVERYTHING… Especially those things you don’t want to share. Part of that courage is allowing her to love you completely, your darkness as well as your light. DROP THE MASK… If you feel like you need to wear a mask around her, and show up perfect all the time, you will never experience the full dimension of what love can be.

My Notes: I wouldn’t say that sharing everything is a prerequisite to having trust, for you can give trust fully without the person being open. Meaning you can trust a person even if he/she is not fully open for whatever reason. (Trust is more a function of your personal attitudes. The oneness mindset is the key.)

However, sharing is a prerequisite to a closer relationship. In our relationship, my husband and I share everything with each other. You can’t grow closer without being open, and being open includes being vulnerable (see previous tip) and transparent. And you can never experience your highest relationship with your S.O. if you put stoppers between both of you, such as withholding emotions, hiding thoughts, and self-monitoring your behavior.

17. Never stop growing together…

Find common goals, dreams and visions to work towards.

My Notes: I agree. This is important for both of you to individually grow and evolve your relationship to a new level.

My husband knows my personal goals extensively and I share my progress with him nearly daily. We also chat about his top goals and progress towards those goals too.

As a couple, we discuss and set common visions (e.g. housing, finances, life goals, and our family relationships), which we work towards in tandem with our individual goals. We review said goals weekly/monthly. We work together even on day-to-day lifestyle goals: We shop for groceries and pick healthy food together. We exercise together every other day to keep fit. We make healthy meals together so we can nourish our body with the best nutrition.

This constant emphasis on growth renews our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls. Not only does it help us to grow into our highest selves, it helps our relationship to evolve to its highest level.

19. Forgive immediately…

…and focus on the future rather than carry weight from the past. Don’t let your history hold you hostage. Holding onto past mistakes that either you or she (he) makes, is like a heavy anchor to your marriage and will hold you back. FORGIVENESS IS FREEDOM.

/ End of Gerald’s advice. For his complete post, visit this link.

My Thoughts

While Gerald’s advice was targeted at males/husbands, I feel it applies to females too, and hence my message towards ladies throughout the article.

Marriage Failures Rates and Examples

No one marries expecting divorce. (If you do, then you want to rethink marriage first before walking down the aisle.)

However, many marriages fail anyway. (For the ones that don’t, many spouses either live/sleep separately or commit adultery behind their partners’ backs, sad to say.) In a 2012 study conducted in England and Wales, 42% of marriages (in England and Wales) are estimated to end in divorce. In U.S., it is said that half the marriages end in divorce (or separation), which is an exceedingly high statistic. And in Singapore, over 7,000 divorces were filed last year (2012), which is slightly over a quarter of the marriages registered that same year.

While hardly the benchmark for lasting marriages, there have been some Hollywood marriages which I thought would last (longer than they did anyway), but didn’t. For example:

  • Kris and Bruce Jenner (from the Kardashian Klan) after 22 years of marriage. Seeing how they overcame obstacles and grew closer together on hit reality TV show Keeping Up with the Kardashians was sweet to say the least, so it was a little sad when they announced their separation in 2013. (As it turns out, Bruce is transgender and has since come out as Caitlyn Jenner in 2015.)
  • Heidi Klum and Seal. Given that Heidi and Seal were very in love and even made a point to renew their marriage vows every year since they got married, it was surprising to all when they announced their divorce in 2012 after seven years of marriage, citing “irreconcilable differences”.
  • Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I probably wouldn’t have thought much about their relationship if not for what-many-thought-would-have-been-a-career-limiting move in 2005, where Cruise repeatedly jumped on Oprah (Winfrey)’s couch during his appearance on her internationally-syndicated show, went down onto his knee, and daringly professed his love for then-girlfriend Katie Holmes: in front of millions around the world. And throughout the years of their courtship leading up to their divorce, Tom has been very vocal about his love for Katie, which makes you think, Hey, maybe this marriage is going to last. So it was disappointing to see it fail ultimately.

(And that’s not including other popular failed celebrity marriages like Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s (five years long), Tom Cruise (again) and Nicole Kidman’s (almost ten years), Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s (seven years), and Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s (eight years).)

Don’t Take Your Relationship/Marriage for Granted

While your relationship/marriage will naturally soar with the right person, don’t take it for granted. Like with other things in life, put your best foot forward: be the best person you can be, be the best partner/lover for your S.O., and nurture your relationship/marriage to its highest level. I’m going to do the same too.

How About You?

What do you feel about the advice shared by Gerald (the divorced man)?

How can you apply the above advice to your relationship/marriage?

(Image: Divorce contract)