We wish we could ignore ashleymadison.com, the online playing field for married people looking to cheat. But over 8 million men and women have signed up, heeding its slogan, "Life is short. Have an affair." Eight. Million. REDBOOK couldn't ignore that number, so we sent writer Lisa Taddeo online to meet up with straying husbands and get them to answer: Why?
Related: Women cheat online, too. Our male reporter met up with one of them.
By definition, Ashley Madison, a dating site for cheaters, is a disreputable place. Seedy, sad. Your first impulse may be to throw your arms up in rage and condemn its members, the ones trawling for an affair or the chance to talk dirty in an instant message. But don't you also have questions? I set out to ask married men on the site not only why they cheat, but why they do it so boldly, admitting their recklessness and confessing their betrayals on the Internet as though their morality and fidelity were items up for auction on eBay.
To get started, I create a profile with a fake name and a dark picture of myself and chart a plan. I'll respond only to men who approach me. Then I'll meet a few of them for a drink, but there will be no drunkenness. For my own safety, I won't reveal what I'm really doing. And if they try anything, I'm gone.
In my profile, I say that I'm married, because in addition to avoiding escorts, many of the men on the site don't want the complications of seeing a single woman. They want an even trade. Your fidelity for mine. The rest of what I say is mostly true, and to weed out the more aggressive guys, my tone comes off as exploratory, not sexual. I write about being curious. I say I miss autonomy. I say I'm scared to live the rest of my life with unexplored desire.
Overnight I receive 164 messages.
Several of them contain below-the-waist images. One of the men has a tagline on his profile that reads, "At your cervix, madam." Within moments of signing in, instant messages flush my screen, emails and winks from muscular men and men much older than me and young ones and proud fathers and one gray grandfather, worming out like monsters from the baseboards. Do you want to chat? Hey beautiful. Hey sexy. Alone in my house, and naked for you. And then, a familiar face. A man I know. He wants to meet; he doesn't know I ran into him just last week. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised: 68 percent of the site's members are men, and their average age is 44 — right in his demographic. But my jaw hits the ground anyway when I realize whom I'm looking at. He's married with children. A family man. Or so I thought.
The more careful among them don't post pictures directly to the site, but they send a key that grants me access to a "private showcase" of images. Some wax their chests and others are darkly forested. One man takes a picture in front of his 1987 Camaro, parked outside of a diner. One man has his arm across the shoulders of a young Jon Bon Jovi. But most have taken their pictures recently and surreptitiously. In their bathrooms with their iPhones held up to the mirror, their faces partially obscured, their wives' J'adore behind them, on top of the toilet.
There are the ones who just want to meet to have sex; you can tell because their handles are direct and uncomplicated: Yours4Lust and DeepPassionMan. They list measurements and ask for yours, as though it's merely a matter of fitting one puzzle piece into another. I ignore these. Instead, I respond to the thoughtful ones, whose tales might help answer my questions.
Read more: Married Men Cheating on Ashley Madison - Why Married Men Have Affairs - Redbook