Have you guys heard of Ashley Madison before? Founded in 2001, it’s an online dating service and social networking service marketed to people in relationships.
Meaning, it’s like Match.com (a popular dating site)… but with one exception: instead of being for singles, Ashley Madison is for people already in relationships.
That’s right: Ashley Madison (hereby referred to as “AM”) is a service that endorses and facilitates adultery, cheating, and dishonesty. (It even has a slogan of: “Life is short. Have an affair.” Go figure.)
While I can’t begin to tell you my disdain for their business — everything that it stands for, really — I’m parking this aside to take a deeper look at AM and the bigger issue that is extra-martial dating.
Ashley Madison: Banned Before Singapore Launch
I only knew about AM last month (Oct 2013) when surfing a local news site. Apparently, AM is based in Canada and has plans to launch in Singapore next year with a localized version of its site.
Thankfully, MDA (the Media Development Authority in Singapore) swiftly stepped in to block access to their site. The reason? Because MDA deems AM as a “flagrant disregard of family values and public morality,” which are important values the Singapore government upholds in the society.
So as long as you try to surf AM using local ISPs, you won’t be able to access it. Which is a good thing IMO.
While I’m usually indifferent about the various tight regulations and censorship in Singapore, I am fully behind this move. Even if there are other similar sites which locals can access or people use proxies to bypass the ban, not everyone is going to do that. Majority won’t be able to access AM’s site. The authorities have made their stance against extra-martial dating loud and clear to the public at large, which will undoubtedly serve as a statement on what people should or shouldn’t do (in this case, shouldn’t do).
Looking Up on Ashley Madison
With the ban in place, I was glad. However, I couldn’t help but be bemused by the notion of a business promoting and trying to profit from extra-martial dating.
I mean, really? Everyone knows cheating is wrong. You don’t have to look up the Bible or Quran to know where it lies in the morality spectrum. Cheating is at odds with truth, honesty, and integrity: everything that I live by and build PE upon, and everything which I’m sure every human being out there strives to live by as well.
So to have a service set up specifically for extra-martial affairs seems insane. Not only does it reflect very poorly on the values of the company and its owners, I can’t see how the public at large would want to use such a service. To do so will mean you are overtly looking for an affair and blatantly trying to cheat on your spouse. Who would even do that? (Here, I was assuming that most affairs start spontaneously without either party orchestrating it.)
So I thought AM probably has a minuscule pool of users, given the deliberate and morally questionable nature of its service. But boy was I wrong. For when I researched on AM, I realized it is actually very highly used—around the world!
Some facts and figures:
- AM has an Alexa ranking of 3,112 globally (as of Oct 2013). Alexa is a third-party tool to check a website’s ranking.
This means that the Ashley Madison site is the 3,112 most visited website in the world. And the last I checked (15 Nov), its ranking has improved to 3,028.
For perspective, PE, with over a million pageviews every month, ranks 52,000 globally. Facebook is second. And Google is first with billions of visitors every month. This mean that AM has to receive several million visitors a month, at least.
- They have (or at least they claim to have) 21 million users from over 30 countries today, with 6 million active users. Judging from its high Alexa ranking, the numbers should still be pretty high IRL, even if artificially inflated.
- Since AM’s launch in 2001, it has expanded to 30 countries including U.S., U.K., Ireland, Germany, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, and even South Africa! Its expansion this year seems Asia-focused, having launched in Japan in June and Hong Kong in August. Singapore was supposed to be the next target, until MDA banned them.
- High global ranking aside, it has even higher national-level rankings. Check this out:
This shows AM’s Alexa rankings by country as of Oct 2013. Look at its high country-level ranking! In United States it is the 2,035th most visited site; in Japan, Brazil, Canada, and Spain, it ranks among the top 1,000–2,000 sites; in Hong Kong it is the 104th most visited site locally out of all the websites in the world.
104th most visited site among all the news sites, informational/educational sites, entertainment portals, weblogs, and millions of websites which people can be visiting!!!
Perhaps what’s most shocking (to me) is their high ranking in Japan and Hong Kong when AM only launched there four and two months ago respectively.
Ashley Madison… Who’s Using It?
Seeing these stats, I couldn’t help but wonder: If their site is so highly visited, that has got to mean that… people are actually using it? But who?
It didn’t take long before I stumbled upon this in-depth coverage on Ashley Madison by a GQ journalist, who was sent into AM on an assignment to write a story on AM’s female users. GQ is a popular men’s magazine in the U.S.
Females Using Ashley Madison
Apparently, the women using AM are far from the kind of people whom you think would cheat: at first sight, at least. For example:
- One is a high-power career female who almost ended up in Obama’s administration. She has been married to her husband (whom she describes as “nerd”) for almost two decades with several children. She describes her household as “really happy and functional”.
- One has a highly religious upbringing, graduated with a college degree, and married young to appease her religious parents. She has been married for a decade. Interesting tidbit: a guy whom she had a sexual rendezvous with (at her own house no less, while her husband was away on a trip) is a Muslim (which breaks another stereotype about the profile of people who may cheat).
- Another has been married for 10 years. She lives by a conservative and professional demeanor which she seems unhappy about, because she speaks of liking the idea of being a “wh*re”—to the point of sexting her boyfriends over dinner with her husband. She has slept a spiritual leader in his house of worship, flirted with her husband’s friend to get back at his wife, and had sex with a Harvard professor in a classroom (who turned out to be just an undergraduate).
Except for the first one who claims to be happy about her marriage and is in an open relationship with her husband, the rest are either deeply unhappy or dishonest with their spouses. Even for the former, I hardly think her situation is any better than the others. If you want to be in an open relationship, then why stay married? Even if it’s supposedly for the kids, that’s hardly the way to go, unless you believe cheating is right and that’s what you want to teach your kids and the next generation of leaders.
Not Just Ashley Madison
Some don’t stop at AM in their search for affairs. They use other sites such as Craigslist and CougarLife to expand their pool of candidates.
And according to 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%.
So even though most people know having an affair is wrong, they do it anyway?
- Most common career field of male cheaters on Ashley Madison: Finance.
- Most common career field of female cheaters on Ashley Madison: Education.
Noel Biderman, CEO of Ashley Madison, claims, “The more financial independence women have, the more it correlates to how unfaithful they’ll be.”
I’d like to think he is wrong, but I can see how this can be true: as women (and men) become more accomplished and “self-realized”, some — with their unresolved personal issues and all — may feel entitled to commit all kinds of things and get away with it: including adultery.
This is probably the same reason why some celebrities who explode into fame end up with drug and/or legal issues, such as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and now supposedly, Justin Bieber.
- The most popular day in 2012 to create a new account on Ashley Madison: June 18, the day after Father’s Day.
- The second most popular day in 2012 to create a new account on Ashley Madison: May 14, the day after Mother’s Day.
I wonder why?
- Percentage of people who classify their marriage as “very happy”: 62.5%.
- Percentage of those people who have cheated: 10%.
Uh, okay. If they have to cheat, perhaps they aren’t as happy about their marriages as they’d like to think.
My Issue with Infidelity/Adultery
Granted, the GQ coverage was based on anecdotal users. However, I don’t think they’re too far from the user profile on AM or people who cheat altogether.
Cheating Can Be By Everyday People
Before reading up on AM, I would have thought that people who cheat — particularly adultery, because you’ve sworn by martial vows — are misguided individuals who lack morality and values (of which the latter still applies actually). This includes people I know personally in real life who have hit on me—despite being married.
However, reading this coverage and looking at the stats, it dawned on me that… hey, infidelity/adultery can be committed by people like you and me. That if you look through your list of contacts right now, chances are there are people cheating on their partners on your list, just that you don’t know about it. That if you are to hit the streets now, you will probably walk past people who are currently unfaithful to their spouses or girl/boyfriends.
I’m not saying that cheating is okay. It isn’t. I’ve never cheated before and will never do so. If I were to be with someone I wasn’t happy with (not that it’ll ever happen because I’m in a perfectly happy relationship today), I would no sooner break up than cheat.
(This is why I was never in a serious relationship until Ken, because I don’t see the point in being with someone I’m not 100% sure nor in love with.)
However, the people cheating… it seems like they are just everyday people facing issues of their own — voids really — in their relationships or lives.
Some may be high-powered career individuals seemingly in charge of everything, who claim to have no problems at all and justify their cheating as something that “salvages their marriages/relationships”. However, this doesn’t change the glaring fact that there has to be an underlying void driving their cheating behavior, because… why else would they live a life laced with lies, incongruency between different areas of their lives (e.g., cheating while teaching their children to be honest), and behavior that contradicts their core values?
Voids Triggering Infidelity/Adultery
So what may these voids be? Anything, really.
They can be unfulfilled needs in their relationship (e.g., their husband/wife not spending enough time with them). They can be unaddressed voids in other life areas (one of the GQ interviewees claims to cheat because she thought about her life in third person and decided she wants it to be “dramatic”, suggesting a lack of excitement/fulfillment in her current life). They can be gaps between their persona and their ideal self (one interviewee expressed weariness in keeping up with her conservative, religious demeanor, suggesting incongruency with who she wants to be).
Cheating = Not the Solution
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, then seeking playmates outside of your marriage may satisfy your sexual appetite. If you feel bored with life in general, cheating may give you your adrenaline rush. If you feel emotionally empty, having a third party shower you continuously with attention, sweet-nothings and gifts may make you feel valued. Like “an expensive toy” (to quote an interviewee).
However, these effects are temporal. No sooner when these affairs end or when your playmates lose interest, will you be back to 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 to avoid facing the problem. But none of these change the fact that the voids are there, have always been there, and have to be tackled — not filled with a patch like having an affair — for permanent closure.
And having an affair is probably one of the worst things you can ever do because it involves dishonesty to someone who has placed full faith and trust in you; someone whom you’ve pledged your life to care for and be faithful to.
So what’s the solution then?
- Identify the voids that are in your life. What are you unhappy about? What do you feel can be better in your life? What is it you are really seeking?
- Understand why they are there. Why are these voids present? When did they surface?
- Stop seeking external things to fill these voids. Affairs, flings, one-night-stands, retail therapy, material objects, food, etc.: these are all external things that may give you a temporal relief, but will never fill these voids permanently. The only way to address these voids is if you look within. Which brings to the fourth step…
- Address your voids from within. Your voids, while seemingly about the external world, really represent voids in your relationship with yourself. They reflect things you are lacking on the inside. How can you work on filling these voids from within?
I cover these steps in part in various articles:
- ‘How Can I Stop Feeling Lonely?’
- Are You Looking For A Relationship To Complete Yourself?
- How a Relapse Begins: The Key To Removing Bad Habits From Your Life
- How to Create Real Change In Life: Address Root Cause vs. Effects
… and just about all other articles on PE since uncovering and tackling voids at their roots is my one personal-growth philosophy which I’m always writing about on PE.
As for Ashley Madison…
As for Ashley Madison… I’ve to say that as someone who celebrates entrepreneurship, it’s disappointing to see people build businesses centered on disloyalty. One thing I stress on when coaching entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs is the importance of building a business that adds value to the world out there. I hardly find running a business like AM meaningful or something to be proud of even if it is thriving and raking large profits.
In an Australian TV interview, CEO 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.
However, I think he is totally missing the point altogether, which is that if one has to pursue an affair in order to stay true to his/her family, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with the relationship to begin with.
The answer then is to (help this person to) uncover that fundamental issue and address it directly, NOT create a portal to facilitate the process of initiating affairs.
His point about how “if MDA wants to blame inanimate objects for causing moral corruption, then there is a long list of products that will need to be banned as well, including the iPhone, condoms, hotels and Facebook … Each one of these items may play a role in an adulterous affair” is so entirely moot that I don’t even know where to start.
Dude, there’s a world of difference between gadgets/tools created to improve people’s lives and increase connectivity that happen to be exploited by a small group of individuals for their selfish affairs, and a portal created specifically for extra-martial dating. Condoms? It’s meant as a family planning tool, not to facilitate extra-martial sex either. Same goes for hotels: it’s meant to provide lodging for travelers, business people, and/or people who want getaways. The fact that a choice number of people use it for sexual rendezvous hardly debunks its place in the society. Your logic is entirely flawed.
One is better off creating businesses like marital counseling, relationship building, family building, or even on personal development as a response to extra-martial affairs, which will be way more constructive solutions on any day than creating a portal to facilitate — and as a result perpetuate AND propagate — cheating.
Update: Ashley Madison Hack (Aug 2015)
In what is probably a karma hit from the universe, Ashley Madison recently got hacked, with data of its 33 million accounts, including user names, first and last names, the last four digits of credit cards, personal IP addresses, street addresses, and phone numbers for many of them, dumped online. Amongst the data are 10,000 email addresses belonging to government officials or workers with .gov addresses.
Sadly, according to the hacker collective (Impact Team) that hacked the site, this hack revealed that the site was largely a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. 90-95% of actual users are male. Meaning, these are men who signed up to try to cheat or to contemplate cheating, but never got to. There has also been a separate law suit, if I recall correctly, of an ex-employee of AM who revealed that she was hired to type up many fake female profiles. I guess for a business that bases itself on dishonesty, all this isn’t too surprising at the end of the day.