by Angelique Metroyer
“Life is short. Have an affair.” Six years ago, I would have had the same outrage many have now at the very idea of Ashley Madison, the extramarital-hookup site. But one day, in a doctor’s office, I saw a blurb in Chicago magazine about the top online dating services. Number 1, of course, is fond and familiar, Match.com. But the second turned my head: Ashley Madison.
Instinctively, I knew my husband must be a member. Early in our marriage, I caught him cheating with a co-worker. I never felt confident that he quit the habit. Reading about Ashley Madison opened a door for me that I’d tried to keep closed for a long time. Many men, not just my husband, were using internet dating sites as an easy way to cheat. Now it was plain to see: My husband had been unfaithful for years.
The idea of Ashley Madison was tantalizing, took hold in me. On the eve of my 48th birthday, I uploaded my profile. At first, I registered to dig into what my husband was up to. Then curiosity became something more, part Dangerous Liaisons, part Belle de Jour, and, finally, a bit of an anthropological expedition.
My inbox exploded. Overwhelmed by the response, I needed to troubleshoot this boon. I felt that if I could understand the mind of the married man, I would better know my husband’s motivations. I created a spreadsheet to keep a record of the attributes of each individual in my social experiment.
Eight weeks later with my data collection complete, the final tally was over 900 men. I had struck gold. Just two months in, I had a book taking form.
I stayed on the site over the course of a year. I met many men, both online and in person, becoming the ever-elusive unicorn—it’s said that robots were utilized for the majority of female profiles.
And the respones in my inbox felt like Christmas. Some men were amazing writers (one professionally), and I became proficient at erotica. Most had no writing skills whatsoever. I was becoming sapiosexual: sexually attracted to intelligence. Bypassing the less writerly inclined beaus, I went for the men with meat to their writing, almost taunting them: “Catch me if you can!”
I was delirious with the deliciousness of words. These words enthralled me. I couldn’t resist replying. The correspondence was delicious, dirty, and damn good when I had an imaginative partner.
My social experiment turned into a full-time endeavor. My husband was the breadwinner; I worked as an actress/model. I had time to delve into my investigation.
I always had one question on my mind that I wanted these men to answer: “What brings you here?” The answers they gave were myriad.
dealing with it—or not
At first, I told the AM men that I was on the site in an undercover operation to expose my husband. I asked, “What if your wife were doing what I’m doing?” Most thought they would never get caught. Several were confident that their wives were so technologically unsophisticated that they couldn’t conceive of tracking someone’s online life. They thought they would never have to deal with it, or they’d deal with it when forced to.
One told me, “If I am caught, I’m ready to deal. I’ll get a divorce.” Whether that’s true remains to be seen. Dealing with it would have put him a few million lighter in the bank account. His wife was savvy. She installed a keylogger and discovered his AM activity. (Keylogger software surreptitiously tracks each keystroke a user types, revealing visited websites, passwords, etc.). But when the shit hit the fan, this man capitulated to his wife’s demands. He was gone in a New York minute. Seven months later I received a text from him, saying, “The coast is clear.” I didn’t respond.
a sense of entitlement
Many men questioned why they should divorce: “It’s cheaper to keep her.” They felt that because they were the primary breadwinners, they were entitled to keep all assets: house, cars, money, kids, wife.
One man caught his wife cheating with his brother-in-law. After thinking through the scenarios, he decided he didn’t want to finance his wife’s maintenance or pay for a house he could no longer live in. He decided instead to have his own affair.
Other alpha males (I called them the James Bonds) wanted it all, leading double lives. In one life, they had their tidy little American dream—wife, kids, and white picket fence. In the other, they lived out their every sexual fantasy. I often heard the rationale that they might as well, while they still were young enough to have the stamina, not to mention the good looks.
“Don’t get me wrong; my wife is a very beautiful woman,” one man told me. “We have an amazing active sex life, and we even swing. But I want my own fantasies fulfilled. Feeling complete in my own rocking chair years from now sounds good.”
a cry for help
Many men on AM were unfulfilled in their marriages but unable to label it as such. They had solid marriages, yet missed the connection that sparks in the beginning of a relationship. I get it. After the kids come, there’s little time left for hubs at the end of the day.
And yeah, I’ve been there. Motherhood is exhausting; it’s easy for something to get lost in the shuffle of day-to-day. At least, that’s how these men felt. But what energy were they expending to engage their wives to the full extent of their desires? Clearly these men loved their wives and children. Yet, they craved outside validation.
“If you put this much effort into your marriage,” I often would point out, “you wouldn’t be here.”
One man used a full-face picture on his profile—unusual for AM. I warned him for his sake to keep these pictures private. If his wife wanted to research his activities—it was right there. He was an affluent banker with an estate in the millions, and no doubt the sweetest man I met on AM. It was clear he was drowning, and his presence on AM was a cry for help.
Whether he got that help, I can’t say. His wife discovered his extramarital contacts with women, though not to my knowledge on AM. I hope he worked it out. He wasn’t there to cheat, but he was intrigued by the idea.
None of these stories sound particularly dangerous. Sure, some men were caught. Some families were torn by divorce. But there were serious repercussions to registering on Ashley Madison.
On August 18, 2015, hackers released 9.7 gigabytes of account and credit card information from 37 million users on the site, owned by Avid Life Media. The consequences were tragic. A married pastor in New Orleans committed suicide. Days after the data breach, Canadian police reported two more suicides.
The week of the hack, my phone blew up with texts from concerned friends. Thousands of people were shamed as their names and contact information were published.
You can call my time on AM “Confessions of an Errant Wife” or investigative reporting, but my journey into the extramarital-affair site taught me a lot about the way men—and women—think. What started in my mind as an undercover operation delivered me down a dark path. For a long time, my husband didn’t desire me. I had been discarded.
On AM, a Pandora’s box of desire opened up to me: What it looked like, felt like, tasted like; an inbox full of people wanting me; becoming the object of desire of another man. I had felt dead inside but then experienced a craving, a hunger long unsatiated. What I didn’t know then was that I had accessed the darker reaches of my desire. I fell into the rabbit hole.
What I observed and concluded comes closest the theories of Esther Perel, a Belgian sex therapist. Humans tread a fine line between yearning for security and adventure, which drives our sexual landscape of desire. We strive to feel “alive,” to pursue our personal adventures and freedoms.
We can examine our views through our own personal lens of discovery and inescapably we grow as human beings, discovering our new sexual selves. We then create love stories out of our affair. Perhaps we’ll never have answers. Science will continue to seek, and so will men and women who yearn to find the delicate balance between desire and fulfillment, security and risk.
Angelique Metroyer is a pseudonym for the author. She hails from Chicago and is currently divorced. Her passions include yoga, horseback riding, and photography. Angelique is currently writing The Ashley Chronicles: My Year of Living Dangerously, a memoir of her experiences on Ashley Madison.