"The Ashley Madison Agency is an online social network whose slogan is 'Life is short. Have an affair.'" So this writer decided to "investigate," hangs out with some of the dudes and, well: let's just say it gets weird.
Okay, first odd thing about Melanie Berliet's "experiment." She claims her journalistic - sociological? - anthropological? goal is "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?" But the thing is, she opens the piece with an account of her two-year affair with a married man. So, um, hasn't she already done the leg-work?
Then there's her actual process, which feels...well, like nothing you'd learn in J-School. She devises the profile of a young, restless matron and engages with three guys. She's into two of them, who seem unconflicted about their cheating and have "arrangements" - tacit or otherwise - with their wives. And they seem on the level. "I, too, was everything I'd claimed-a Georgetown graduate and bond trader turned writer who likes to read and ride her bike-save for one crucial detail: I was actually unmarried and unattached." And, you know, a reporter.
Third odd thing: the writing.
"Why me?," I asked. "What are the other women on Ashley Madison like?"
"Well, for one thing, your skin is the color of purity," he said, as if admitting his darkest secret. "It gets me thinking about the irony of finding you on some filthy cheater's Web site. It doesn't match."
"So I embody a contradiction," I said, aware of my starring role in some hard-core porno playing in the back of his mind.
"Yes. I love it."
She doesn't think this particular guy is really unconflicted about the cheating.
For the sake of my experiment, though, I obliged Jackson by conjuring up several explicit "visuals" via e-mail while he was away. I also participated in a few rounds of real-time cyber-sex, despite confusion over the whole typing-while-touching thing. The transcripts of those e-mails and conversations make me laugh, cringe, blush, and feel aroused all at once, but they're way too graphic to print.
Moving on! So. What does she conclude from her "research?" Well, that different people cheat for different reasons. And, oh yeah:
If and when I find a life companion, I can't say with certainty that I'll be 100 percent faithful-not because I don't want to be, but because it seems presumptuous to assume that strict monogamy is my fate when the majority of people who attempt it fail...Maybe I'm jaded. Maybe, as some social scientists would say, I'm a sex addict incapable of achieving healthy intimacy. Or maybe, as Dr. David Barash suggests in his provocative book The Myth of Monogamy, when it comes to marriage we ought to apply Churchill's maxim about democracy: among lifestyle choices, it's the worst possible option except when you consider the alternatives.
Or...maybe you're doing your "research" amidst a self-selecting population of creepy assholes who've paid money to be on a site whose motto is 'Life is short. Have an affair' and sounds like Nora Roberts named it. Just a thought. But despite the, ahem, depth of this writer's journalistic commitment to the truth, I think I'll happily draw uninformed, judgmental conclusions about most of these dudes - and not feel I'm missing much.
The Cheaters' Club [Vanity Fair]