Chrissie Russell meets some of the 30,000 Irish spouses who use extra-marital dating sites
Eimear (name has been changed)* has it all, a loving husband, two happy and healthy children, a well paid job in office administration and a sizzling sex life — thanks to a stream of illicit affairs.
“Having an affair wasn't a decision I made straight away,” she says. “It was born out of curiosity. After more than a decade of marriage, the passion felt non-existent between my husband and me. Our relationship started out very exciting in the bedroom but soon started fizzling out.
“We have two lovely kids but being parents had taken its toll on our relationship and we both work long, hard hours. We're constantly knackered and had stopped making any real effort with each other. I've only ever had two serious partners and I just started to wonder what else was out there.”
Rather than opt for couples counselling, Eimear went online looking for answers.
“I'd read about other people's ‘no strings' arrangements in magazines and in articles on the web which is how I discovered MaritalAffair.com. I signed up and just read other people's profiles at first, which made me realise I wasn't alone with my feelings.”
Soon Eimear started messaging a man from a nearby town who was also on the site. They met up for a drink and went on to a hotel where they slept together.
“I felt exhilarated as well as guilty and scared that I was going to bump into someone I knew. He was much more confident than my husband and in turn that made me more confident. We had an amazing time but it was only a shortterm thing. I wasn't interested in a relationship, just the sexual part. Although we still send dirty messages to each other on the site about the first night we met.”
She adds: “It's a set-up that works for me. I just feel bored and miss feeling special. The excitement of having sex with someone for the first time and the way it makes you feel is so good that I think it’s worth doing and it's probably made the relationship with my husband better as I don't feel so down about our sex life — the pressure is off.”
Before judging Eimear consider this — in the four months since it set up in Ireland last year, 15,000 people have become members of MaritalAffair.ie. Rival site Ashley Madison had 18,000 people sign on in a similar time period in Ireland. Both sites specialise in facilitating affairs for married people and their bustling trade shows there's plenty of infidelity going on in Ireland.
Sites such as AshleyMadison and MaritalAffair come in for criticism because they're seen as assisting in the moral decline. But both men at the helm of the organisations are adamant that they are merely responding to a supply-and-demand situation.
“We launched AshleyMadison because research we uncovered suggested that 30% of people going to ‘singles’ dating sites were actually attached,” explains Noel Biderman, president of AshleyMadison.
“There is a declining faith that marriages can survive for a lifetime so when an intimacy void creeps in, people are more likely to pursue an action that can fill that void than they were say 50 years ago.”
He adds: “Office affairs come with the risk of losing your job or having to face a rejection in person on a daily basis but a digital affair removes many of those secondary issues and provides for a much larger pool of potential connections. Personally I would rather see affairs take place in a community of like-minded adults than on a singles dating site or in the workplace.”
Paul Graham, founder of MaritalAffair, agrees: “Modern technology has made the process easier but affairs have been going on forever and will continue to do so. I'd prefer it if everyone was happy in their relationship but the reality is that not everyone is and websites like MaritalAffair are a response to the changing demands of people and the types of relationships being requested.”
Last year there was barely a week that went by without another cheating celebrity being exposed. From Tiger Woods to Ashley Cole, Ronan Keating and Mark Owen — no marriage was safe. Interestingly we never hear as much about straying wives, and yet according to the affair websites the number of married men and women signing up for extra-marital fun is about even.
On AshleyMadison men outnumber the women in the 40-50 demographic but in the 30s it’s 1:1 and the reasons for wanting an affair aren't often different. According to Paul from Marital- Affair: “Sexual fulfilment, the excitement and buzz that a new relationship gives you and companionship are the three things that cover a lot of wish lists for both sexes.”
Mum-of-two Kerris* was looking for sexual excitement when she started having an affair after six years of marriage.
“There's nothing worse than routine, routine, routine,” she says. “I didn't plan to have an affair but I went on AshleyMadison met a guy and that was that.” Kerris now meets her, also married, lover every one or two months for sex. She says: “It has made me feel that I'm not missing out on anything ChrissieRussellmeets some of the 30,000 Irish spouses who use extra-marital dating sites and that I am still young and energetic after having two kids. There is nothing worse than feeling like a write-off when you're in your 30s and now I know I'm not.”
Neither Kerris or Eimear has any intention of giving up their affairs. “My husband is a nice guy and a good father but just lacking in the bedroom,” says Eimear. “It would feel stupid to break it all up over one element of our relationship.”
Kerris agrees: “My marriage is good and I don't want to hurt my husband. I actually find I'm a lot happier in myself with this outlet. My husband will never know and doesn't need to know because I will of course stay with him — it’s such a little adventure for me.”
But according to Dublinbased relationship expert Mary Kenny, there's no such thing as a guilt-free affair that helps a marriage function better. “It sounds plausible in theory by in my experience it rarely works out so neatly,” she says. “In affairs you can often get one person who is more into the other or one who falls in love. When you see someone and have sex with someone continually emotions always come into play, it is rarely just about sex — people who have affairs are searching for something.”
In essence the affair is just a quick fix or a distraction from what the real problem is.
Mary says: “If the primary relationship is not fulfilling he or she should try to resolve the issues in that or in themselves because affairs rarely give someone what they are looking for long term. I know people who are serial cheaters and they usually become disillusioned and cynical rather than happy.”
AN AFFAIR TO FORGET
Sarah Symonds (40) earned herself the title ‘professional mistress’ after it was revealed she’d had a year-long affair with former British Tory MP Jeffrey Archer and an alleged seven-year affair with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
Despite writing a book titled Having An Affair? A Handbook for the Other Woman, Symonds says she would never urge any woman, married or single, to get involved in an affair.
She says: “The thrills and spills that attract you to an affair don’t last. I think affairs have become more common now and the fact that so many people in the public eye have them almost glamorises it but I certainly would never have one again.”
She explains: “As the other woman I was in such an unhappy place, I felt alone and like I’d put my life on hold, always watching this man get on with his other life without me. I only date single guys now and I would never cheat if I was married. I wouldn’t want to put that on someone else.”
Symonds now runs a support group on her website for women in affairs seeking her advice. She says: “I think there are so many types of affairs that it’s difficult to make a blanket condemnation. I had a message from a woman whose husband is in a wheelchair and she’s cheating on him. She feels bad but she spends most of her time caring for him and just wants a bit of happiness — it’s hard to say that’s wrong.
“But by and large the only women I hear from are in pain or trauma. There’s no such thing as a ‘guilt-free’ affair — guilt always seeps in somewhere. All affairs end in tears, humiliation and heartbreak