Milan-Madison

Yes, indeed! The woman advertising this dating website has a wedding ring on her finger. Ashley Madison is one of Europe’s booming websites which allow married people to regain that lost passion of fresh love…

Noel Biderman says that when a journalist crowned him “king of infidelity,” his heart sank a bit. The title would make everyone think he had been with hundreds of women, but that was not the case. The title referred to his business; a dating website for married people called “Ashley Madison.”

“At first, I was concerned about how my wife and friends would feel about it, but then I went with the flow,” Biderman says. Today, the site is present in 23 countries and has over 14,425,000 users. In view of such numbers, many accuse Biderman of profiting while causing suffering to third parties, but his answer is always don’t shoot the messenger. “No one would blame a hotel for the affairs that take place in their rooms,” he explains, “why blame me? It was probably going to happen anyway.” He insists that he doesn’t encourage people to cheat; he just tells those who are already considering it to use Ashley Madison.

The_King_of_Infidelity
Photo: Ashley MadisonNoel Biderman confidently assumes the title.

Initially, and thinking that cheating was traditionally easier for men, Biderman targeted females. “There was no such service tailored for women, who like to converse and go through a selection process when they seek an affair.” But today, 70% of Ashley Madison’s clients are men, while only 30% are women. Evidently men were attracted by the idea that this was a service for women.

Users are traditionally described as people who feel stuck in sexless marriages and have lost passion. “They want the sparkle back,” Biderman says. They don’t split up or divorce because they have children and other responsibilities, and they cheat secretly because, in Biderman’s words, “not everybody has the courage to tell their partner they want a mistress.”

Biderman claims never to have cheated. He has been happily married for 8 years and has two kids. But he understands that not everyone is so lucky. “I empathise with these people and try to help them. I know I took an unpopular cause to defend,” he states.

Indeed, many find him hypocritical for this and criticise how well he manages the field of moral relativism. Does he believe cheating is acceptable or is he just trying to justify an idea that would give him money? Opponents are varied.

You have the devastated wives and husbands that find out about the affairs and send hate emails. Or the community that accuses the site of being a scam, on AshleyMadisonSucks.com, where former users bash the number of fake profiles, prostitutes trying to earn money and women who just wouldn’t reply. But once in a while, Biderman also hears about users who remind him of the good side of his job. His favourite story is that of a man whose wife had Alzheimers and found another woman on the website who could satisfy him sexually while he kept taking care of the wife he loved.

Originally from Canada, Biderman’s website has around 2,100,000 users in Europe, the majority of whom come from Spain. He explains this with the idea of Mediterranean passion, but Alicia Gallotti, spokesperson for the Spanish branch of a Norwegian married dating website called Victoria Milan, says the crisis helped. “A crisis generally promotes the search of new emotions and feelings that help people evade reality.”

Both websites have a female name, they both have a surprisingly similar image on the homepage and while the Canadian slogan is “Life is short, have an affair,” Victoria Milan states: “Revive the passion, find your affair.” This slogan caused a lot of criticism when it was posted on billboards across Sweden. But it is hard to tell if the problem was the advertising campaign or the advertised product itself. The Ombudsman of the Scandinavian country received a record number of complaints “for the suffering they could inflict to couples and their kids.” In their defence, representatives of Victoria Milan answered that “no one who is happy with their relationship will use our services only because we advertise it.”

Billboard
Photo: Ashley MadisonControversial publicity in Madrid.

In Spain, Ashley Madison set up a billboard in the center of Madrid with three faces and one slogan. The faces were those of Prince Charles of England, Spanish King Juan Carlos I, and Bill Clinton. The slogan read: “They should have used Ashley Madison.” It was controversial only for a morning, because the billboard was taken down in 5 hours after the owners of the hotel that it was hanging from complained.

Monogamy is dead, long live monogamy?

Biderman argues that the concept of romantic love is very modern, and not absolute. “Until a few years ago, arranged marriages still existed, and only a few experienced the concept of marrying for love,” he says, which holds true for probably 99% of privileged monarchs throughout history as well as common people today living in conservative cultures. Considering all the different ways to deal with relationships that have existed, how can we assume that one single model is the best?

“Monogamy is not natural, but a product of social evolution,” explains Boris Trucco, a user of traditional dating websites. Anthropologically, you can hear arguments both for and against that idea. According to Professor Bobbie S. Low, who specialises in the use of evolutionary theory to understand human activities, monogamy was initially a matter of survival of the species, based on the human need for long-term, bi-parental care. On the other hand, Low argues that humans evolved, both materially and intellectually, to cover those needs without the need for monogamy. In other words, she is inclined to believe that monogamy is a thing of the past.

What makes it survive, then? Perhaps the reason is just cultural lethargy? The classical model for monogamy is promoted by Christianism, but the idea already came up before in Mesopotamic, Egyptian and Ancient Israeli societies and has prevailed in European society since. Today, in the era of moral relativism, religious values have lost popularity. The ultimate scale for or against monogamy seems to be whether it makes us happy. Consequently, a rise in alternative forms of relationships can be observed and the number of users of dating and cheating websites is constantly increasing. Ander Iribarren, a young sexologist, attributes the rise to our consumer society. “We are being pushed to seek happiness through the renovation of the things we own, and the same concept is transferred to the world of dating.”

Teaser photo: Ashley Madison

  • retro

    Leire Ariz a journalist by training, is currently working in communications and PR. When she is not binge reading, she has her head buried in a Lonely Planet to plan a trip. Or she is getting high on peach candies.

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