Cheating up a storm

Extramarital website's popularity rises with the winds

August 31, 2011|Susan Reimer

What did you do during Hurricane Irene?

Play board games by candlelight with the kids?

Send the husband on a wild goose chase to find a generator?

Use your cellphone to sign up on a website for cheating spouses?

On a typical day, 255 people in Maryland sign up on, an extramarital dating service, a third of them via cellphone. During the weekend of Irene, the number of cellphone sign-ups increased by more than 77 percent, said website founder Noel Biderman.

Apparently, high winds and heavy rains took a toll on more than trees. Some marriages lost their footing, too.

"It seems there is a silver lining in this cloud for some of our newest members," said Biderman. "In times of crisis, couples either move closer together or further apart.

"For those who have been considering an affair, spending hours with their partners without electricity could have been the final push they needed to begin their search for someone else."

Like a plumber or an electrician?

Biderman founded the website the day before Valentine's Day in 2002, a day he calls "Mistress Day." In order to attract women, who he thinks have more difficulty than men making sexual connections outside a relationship, he named it after the two most popular names for little girls that year — Ashley and Madison.

"Men have outlets. Women don't have these outlets. I wanted to build a brand that women would be comfortable with," he said from his office in Toronto.

Biderman is married with two children — neither one of whom is named Ashley or Madison — and has said that since 30 percent of the people who sign up for dating websites are married, it made sense to give those cheatin' hearts a place of their own to meet.

He describes his enterprise as a way to release the pressures in a sexually unsatisfying but otherwise amenable marriage.

Some of his subscribers are, in fact, single and are looking for the kind of uncomplicated relationship you can have with a person who is desperate not to get caught in bed with you.

The goal, he says, is not divorce.

"Rather than leave the family," he has said, "why not seek a cathartic outlet?"

Cathartic outlet? Well, that's one way to describe another unhappy human being.

"Life is short. Have an affair" is the motto. "People are cheaters. Make a buck on them" might be another.

Men must pay to sign up on the website. And both sexes purchase "credits" that allow them to contact other cheaters.

Biderman says that typically, the busiest day on the site is Monday — the day after what was apparently a disappointing weekend.

"The weekend is full of expectations and anticipation," he said. "Those go unfulfilled, and that's the last straw for some people."

Certainly life can seem short when hurricane-force winds are bearing down on you, and Biderman believes that many were using his site to check on the safety of a lover. But I want to meet the spouse who felt the best way to relieve the anxieties of the storm of the century was to add the anxiety of an extramarital affair.

What did they say to their other half? "Heading out for batteries, honey. Be back soon?"

Biderman said the website has almost 4 million members, and he is expecting a hurricane season membership bounce. Maybe a baby bounce, too.

"Historically, power outages lead to a spike in birth rates nine months later. However, now we may have to question how many 'children of blackouts' don't know who their biological father truly is," Biderman said.

Call me old-fashioned, but a spouse who starts thinking about finding someone new as soon as the windows start rattling is welcome to find other shelter from the storm.

And don't let the screen door hit you on the way out, no matter how hard the wind is blowing.

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