Curious to know what kind of men use the Internet to find extramarital lovers, journalist Melanie Berliet posed as a wayward wife on the social-networking site Ashley Madison (tagline: “Life is short. Her encounters with three suitors suggest that marriage and monogamy needn’t always go hand in hand. Instead, I focused on him, and on our instant connection.From the moment that Spencer, in a white blazer and designer jeans, sauntered through the door of the swanky downtown Manhattan restaurant, I wanted to speak to him. There it was on his left hand, which was cupping my lower waist. That moment several years ago marked the beginning of a two-year affair, and of my interest in what social scientists call extra-pair copulation—and the rest of us call cheating.
Long before we climbed into the backseat of his chauffeured car, I wanted to sleep with him. I lay naked next to Spencer (as with others in this story, that’s not his real name), a devilishly handsome thirtysomething entrepreneur, on a couch in what felt like someone’s apartment but was an office that had been abandoned for the weekend. At the same time, according to a 2001 Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans consider it “always wrong” for a person to engage in sexual relations with someone other than his or her spouse.To investigate this disconnect, I set out to infiltrate ashleymadison.com, a Web site devoted to facilitating adultery.The Ashley Madison Agency is an online social network whose slogan is “Life is short.Have an affair.” (They have it trademarked.) Apparently plenty of people are heeding that suggestion, because the site has nearly four million members worldwide.Posing as a 27-year-old newlywed named Collette Cantrell, I decided to join them.By getting to know a variety of people who use Ashley Madison, I hoped to explore a few thorny questions: What kind of men seek out illicit relationships online?
Can adultery be a healthy way to fulfill one’s needs without alienating one’s partner?Is cheating really as bad as society makes it out to be?Using my coquettish pseudonym, I purchased a basic Ashley Madison membership for .(The most expensive membership, the Affair Guarantee Package, costs 9 and offers a refund if you don’t find someone within three months.) After settling on the personal tagline “Seeking an adventure,” I completed my profile by writing a few sentences about myself and checking boxes in three categories: (1) Preferences and Encounters I Am Open to (spanking, erotic tickling, sensual massage); (2) What Really Turns Me On (stylish/classy, sense of humor, disease-free); (3) What I Am Looking for (shopping for sexy clothes/lingerie, daring rendezvous).I uploaded a photograph of myself and created a “private showcase” with additional shots.Within a few days, I was sitting on 100 or so e-mails (as of this writing, that number is well over 1,000).