Thanks to its morally reprehensible concept and sleazy ad campaigns, Ashley Madison — the website for married people looking to cheat — brings to mind gross, gleefully unfaithful married dudes trolling for hot extramarital vaginas. But it takes, as they say, two to tango. What about the women who use the site?
In a piece for GQ, writer Teddy Wayne set out to get to know some "lady Don Drapers," as the magazine calls them. Wayne meets with several women, attempting to find out what makes them intent on cheating on their husbands. While you might have some idea in your mind about who might be open to affairs — passive, sad, lonely attention-starved housewives? — the truth is that many of the women Wayne meets with are aggressive go-getters, so-called Alpha Females. The theory is that it has something to do with the power balance in the marriage:
There's […] a keeping-up-with-the-Mrs.-Robinsons pressure, especially among wives who have at least as much power as their spouses, says Kate Bolick, author of The Atlantic's much discussed "All the Single Ladies" cover article. "When I've watched women cheat in their thirties, they're not necessarily unhappy with their husbands, but they're all alpha women, and they feel entitled to what they want," she says.
Wayne meets with Megan (none of the names are real) who says:
"I'm a dirty old man trapped in a woman's body. I lust after younger men the way dirty old men lust after younger girls. I get dirty old men. I'm looking for eye candy. I'm very shallow."
Megan describes herself as well over 200 lbs., which is ironic, considering the fact that Ashley Madison had an ad campaign that hinged on finding fat women "scary" and undesirable. Her sex drive is, and always has been, very very high.
She tells me that she's been corporeally disloyal in relationships since she started having sex at 16 and has don't-ask, don't-tell permission to frolic with other lovers from her "nerd" husband of nearly two decades, with whom she has several children.
"He can barely handle me, and he's super-vanilla," Megan says. "But he's also a fantastic guy and father. We have a really happy and functional house."
She's definitely not a bored housewife. Wayne points out: "She's worked for one of the most prominent political figures in the country and nearly ended up in Obama's administration."
Then there's Sarah, who married young but finds her sexually unadventurous husband "suffocating."
As with most of the women I've interviewed, she labels herself "more of the controller" in the relationship: "I earn more. I repair everything. I fixed up the house."
Another "Alpha." Next is Laura, a corporate type who seems like she's an "Alpha," even if she doesn't want to be:
"In the workplace, it should be equal," she says. "But in the house, the only way it works is if there's a strong masculine and feminine component. You need to give your husband a blow job every day. He should feel like a king. Seeking it out in my sexual life is to make up for it in my real life. I want my husband to be dominant and more successful. I don't want to be the man in the relationship."
Although Laura uses Ashley Madison to hook up with what she calls "very rich and older and dominant" men, it could be argued that she, too is a take-charge type of woman — after all, she's taken the initiative to seek out men behind her husband's back.
But the truth is, labeling a woman an Alpha is ignoring how truly complex personalities can be. Not all "Alpha females" are cheaters, and what these women really have in common is the desire to seek sex outside of marriage. As Wayne writes,
Other than Megan, the only one who is open with her husband, the women I have met are all, by their own admission, either deeply unhappy or deeply dishonest with their spouses. 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.
Since all of these women feel the need to sneak around instead of ending their marriages (although, by the end of the piece, Laura claims she's left her husband), could it be that the traits being labeled as "Alpha" — dominant, aggressive — are also tied to a deep cowardice?