Recently, online dating websites like Ashley Madison (AM), Established Men and Cougar Life were hacked by “The Impact Team”, who threaten to release the details of all 30 million+ people currently listed in AM’s database.
While this was generally not good for any website, it becomes particularly harmful for a site whose motto is “Life is Short, Have an Affair”. Yes, Ashley Madison is a dating sites for married people.
While hacking to steal anyone’s personal details is both wrong and reprehensible, AM hasn’t been in the running for much sympathy. Nonetheless, this got me thinking about the whole concept of affairs and marriage. Ashely Madison is a hugely successful site, reiterating the truth that many people cheat on their spouses. However, the nature, and pathology of cheating are far from what we expect.
Unlike popular media may promote, studies show that men and women cheat about the same amount. Even the most pro-women study has to admit that the percentage of women who cheat is growing, faster even, than the percentage of male cheaters. Analysts often put this down to chance— women, with increasing financial and social independence, now have as many opportunities to cheat as men, and they take those opportunities just as often. The real gender difference in cheating is that female cheaters are more skilled, and less likely to get. Some studies even goes so far as to claim that 8-15% of children have paternities that differ from what they believe. And isn’t that a scary thought.
With cheating becoming increasingly popular among both sexes, it is no wonder that many consider the very fabric of marriage to be under siege. This makes adultery a rather fascinating legal concept. While South Korea recently repealed a law criminalizing adultery with up to two years (TWO YEARS!) in jail, several countries still criminalize adultery, including the Philippines, several Muslim countries and 21 States in the US. India has particularly interesting criminal law that punishes a male “mistress” with up to 5 years in jail plus bail, but recuses any married, female counterpart of all charges. The male’s charges, interestingly enough, are also dropped if the woman’s husband consented to their dalliance.
The United Nations understandably calls for the end of such laws; after all, it’s none of the governments business, and criminalization doesn’t deter cheating anyway. Moreover, many of these laws date back to old-testament thinking wherein women are property and adultery was basically theft. Besides, even in places where cheating isn’t a criminal offense, the cheater often literally pays for their actions in divorce proceedings.
Rather than attempting to use jail to curb adultery, an admittedly dishonorable and hurtful act, perhaps governments should look elsewhere. Cheating is a problem of temptation and the result of underlying problems in marriages. Change needs to take place surrounding how people think of and operate in a marriage.
Taking down the temptation, or the Ashley Madison’s of this world is also not the answer. With divorce rates sky-high and with more and more people having “overlapping relationships”, the fact is marriage isn’t the scared citadel it once was. Society is currently in the process of redefining what marriage is. Already people are increasingly bending the rules with unconventional marriages— open marriages, married couples living apart, group marriages and amalgamations thereof— targeted at making two people in love capable of bearing a lifetime together. Perhaps the key to a happy marriage in modern life is to take advantage of the flexibility modern life allows. Throwing out the marital rule book, and (I hate to say it) truly following your heart.