“Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.” -Sophocles
Yesterday, I interviewed Neil Biderman, the founder and CEO of Ashley Madison, the online affair portal that boasts 19 million profiles in 26 countries. Every day, the business of cheating generates 26,000 new users and over $91,000. His empire, built on what isn’t working in human intimacy, is booming.
Our conversation was lively; he was accustomed to the push back and articulate about the challenges of making a fortune on the devastating betrayals that his website generates. Initially, he argued that it wasn’t the desire for sex as much as a longing for passion and attention that motivated so many of his female customers to initiating affairs. Only moments later he claimed that his website was actually helpful to marriage longevity because it allowed people to stay together and have their sexual needs taken care of elsewhere.
He was versed in the mountains of literature that supports how quickly sexual desire wanes in monogamous relationships. This is the researched based justification that is commonly dispensed about why relationships fail. However when pushed on a personal level about the prospect of his own 10 year marriage reaching its expiration date and his wife using his website to have an affair, he didn’t hesitate to admit that it would be devastating. Without missing a beat, he also said that he wouldn’t blame the website anymore than he would blame an iPhone that she used to call her lover.
I agreed with him that while no one can make anyone else have an affair, and probably by the same token, stop anyone from doing it either. The reason that his business earns so much public disdain and is frequently refused in advertising and investment is because the Ashley Madison service takes even a passing notion of infidelity and turns it into a reality with the simple click of a mouse. Before the Ashley Madison virtual meeting ground, getting into an affair and keeping it going took a lot more time, effort and determination. Now getting involved in extramarital wandering is as easy as shopping online.
One renowned television show “Cheaters,” does accept their advertising slogan: “Life is short, have an affair,” which seems like an oxymoron. The commercial break to the violent reality show betrayals advertises the fun of affairs. To this he said, “Most people don’t get caught cheating.” This is where the interview got lively, because as far as I am concerned, lies are always discovered on some level.
Recent biochemical research documents how human dishonesty is registered on a cellular level, maintaining a low grade tension throughout the body. Besides that, the people closest to us read our emotions and sense truth in ways that make our language thin and transparent. There is no compartmentalizing lies and intimate betrayal most of all.
What was most surprising and maybe even endearing in the conversation was when he told me I was marketing my authentic drive towards sustaining loving relationships all wrong. According to Neil, “The love thing is too general and misunderstood. You should be marketing your package as an infidelity preventative.”
It gave me pause. Would this marketing angle bring me a notch closer to the millions he brings in promoting infidelity? Maybe, but no matter what you call it, preventing infidelity and removing the possibility of the devastation of betrayal from your future takes the hard work of loving.
It means that you continue to find ways to listen and focus your attention on the ways that you are heard and seen. It means that you don’t turn away from time in your bedroom whether you are in the mood or not. It means that you agree to walk the sometimes narrow path that brings you back into physical contact with someone who might well have hurt your feelings. It means that you grow up and stop expecting the early drug-like euphoria of falling in love to characterize love over time.
Neil called my remarkably changing and passionate sex life of thirty years with the same man an anomaly. I don’t agree. I call it the hard work of Good Clean Love and I know that anyone that brings courage, patience and the willingness to not quit on their love can find the same.