Is today the day you'll put the spark back into your marriage . . . by cheating?
Published 04/01/2012 | 05:00
What's your New Year's resolution? Is it to lose a bit of weight? Learn Spanish? Or is it to start an affair?
According to extra-marital dating sites, the start of the year is the time most married men and women will sign up to commit adultery.
One site, IllicitEncounters .com, is expecting a 300pc rise in new members this week having previously discovered January 4 to be "the most adulterous day of the year".
"Christmas and New Year are times when couples spend an intensive period of time with each other and their families," explains extra-marital expert and spokeswoman for Illicit Encounters, Rosie Freeman-Jones.
"This can be quite claustrophobic and sometimes leads to a 'cabin fever' situation where both parties feel irritated with each other and cracks in the relationship start to surface.
"January 4 is typically the first day back to work where spouses can take the opportunity to log on to the computer and do all the things they couldn't do under the watchful eye of their partner."
Maria, from Co Derry, signed up to the cheating website four years ago because she felt that after 13 years and a child together, her relationship had "lost its spark". Since April she's been having an affair with Frank, who she meets for drinks (and more) under the guise of attending work meetings.
"Frank was the third guy I'd met from the site face-to-face," she says. "Before that it was just a lot of flirtatious texts and emails. I met two other guys face-to-face, but we just had coffee; this time it turned into a full-blown affair. We just knew after we met up that we were going to end up sleeping together."
According to Maria (36), Frank's appeal is that he's "the polar opposite of my partner". "He intrigued me," she explains. "My partner is very mild and sensitive, I feel like we're companions. Frank is professional, driven and not that sensitive. There's a power thing there that works for me."
But despite the attraction, Maria has no intention of leaving her life-partner. "I've no doubt he loves me and I love him dearly. I don't want to break up our family and I couldn't break his heart by walking away. Now that I have this escape I feel like everything is better."
It's this aspect of cheating that many people will find bewildering, but the fact is most of the men and women on sites such as Illicit Encounters maintain that their affairs are helping their relationships and they've no intention of leaving their partner -- and no desire to.
Maria says: "If I was to describe it as a jigsaw, my relationship already gives me eight out of 10 pieces, but this gives me the other two. I don't feel guilty because I can compartmentalise the two things. Being discovered scares me, but I believe that what the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over."
The lure of excitement is enticing an increasing number of people to sign up to sites like Illicit Encounters, Lovinglinks.com and MaritalAffair.com. Illicit Encounters alone has 43,000 Irish members.
However, all is not equal in the world of online adultery: on Illicit Encounters women join for free while men must pay membership over €100 per month for the privilege.
Some women say this helps weed out unsavoury characters and helps them find an extra-marital lover that they can trust.
Alex from Galway has been married to her husband for 30 years and is seeing two men -- both almost a decade younger than her -- that she met through Illicit Encounters.
She hasn't gone to bed with either of them yet, but reckons 2012 might be the year she takes it further. She says: "I think knowing that the guys have paid to go online helps because you know they have as much to lose as you. It also helps to get rid of most of the ones who are only online for one thing."
Like Maria, working mum-of-two Alex believes the affairs have made her a better wife. She says: "I love my husband and would never leave him. This (cheating) makes me happy and in turn that makes him happy. I was getting to the point of walking away from my marriage but now my husband has got me back.
"I'm far more loving in the relationship and he gets far more benefit from me because I'm happy."
Alex (49) has no fears about being uncovered because she knows her husband "would never believe I could do this". But she has a separate phone that never leaves her car for arranging extra-marital activity.
Alex got married at 19 and feels she lost her sense of self in the marriage. Her affairs, she says, give her an exciting double life that makes her feel younger. "My husband is happy to go on holiday to the same places, to eat out once a week and be home and in bed by 11pm. He's happy with his lot but I'm not quite prepared to accept that this is as good as it gets. When I get an email or a text from one of the guys it gives me such an ego boost, my whole face lights up. I know it's selfish but I need something that is just for me."
Robert from Northern Ireland, who signed up three months ago, just "wanted to see what else is out there".
After living with his partner for seven years, the 42-year-old marketing executive has already slept with one woman he met online. He says: "I just wanted to keep an open mind. I have a suspicion that my partner has cheated on me, so there's probably also a bit of 'two can play that game' going on."
Men and women tend to join extra-marital affair sites for different reasons. Women tend to do it to feel desirable, while men are more likely to sign up looking for a physical connection if their sex life has waned at home. Of course there are often unusual circumstances.
"There's one guy on the site whose wife has MS and she told him to meet someone else -- just don't tell her about it," says Rosie.
"It's not always black-and- white. Sites like ours come in for a lot of criticism because we're seen as legitimising adultery, but affairs have always happened and I strongly believe the more disastrous ones happen outside websites.
"Conventional affairs are more likely to involve drunken decisions and happen with friends or colleagues, leaving a massive trail of destruction.
"With websites the fate element is removed: people have to fill in a lengthy profile and face a lot of barriers. We're forcing people to question what they're doing in a way they wouldn't do in real life."