A commercial on Comedy Central, featuring a curvaceous thirty something blond in the sack with a stunningly studly black guy catches my attention, being one of the steamiest spots I’ve ever seen. Cut to, act complete, the parties smug and satisfied and the roll down “They’re Married.” Followed by, in smaller type, “But not to each other,” and finally full screen, ASHLEYMADISON.COM. I am unable to find the spot on the web but this is what I remember after having seen it only once. I did find another AshleyMadison commercial on YouTube which takes a different approach. A man lies awake in bed. Next to him an adipose woman in a hairnet snores, mouth agape. The man rises to the voiceover, “Everyone can forgive himself a bad one night stand.” The man passes a wedding photo of himself and his snoring helpmate and the v/o continues, “But not one that lasts for the rest of your life,” fade to ASHLEYMADISON.COM.
The hot commercial piques my curiosity again and I return to the site to see what’s new since the inception of a national advertising campaign. There is now, I am delighted to find, a free trial membership. This requires the creation of a handle and a slogan. I have no intention of communicating with any other user of the site but nevertheless, being a perfectionist, this slows me down. My first choice “Scribbler” is already taken. I am finally bequeathed Scribbles2010. I wonder if the other ascribers to Scribbling and its variations are also subliminally messaging, “I am a writer and I am here for professional research purposes only, not hanky-panky.” I dash off the catchphrase “The way to my heart is through my mind,” which I am mortified to have actually written but mostly I am embarrassed and annoyed with myself for having wasted so much time coming up with Scribbles2010.
I am granted admission and log into the site. A “panic button” features prominently. An exclamation mark icon switches the screen to a dummy home renovation site. I don’t know if it’s a personal bandwidth issue but I was not able to exit AshleyMadison and switch to the fake home rennovatoin site as swiftly as my employees seem to be able to escape Solitaire when they hear my footsteps approach.
After signing up for my complimentary 30 day membership I am instructed to complete my profile. The first section contains a checklist of “intimate desires” and selections include experimenting with tantric sex, erotic tickling and blindfolding. The second section allows me to check off the qualities of my “perfect match” and include attributes like body piercing, having a secret lovenest and good personal hygiene. Finally, I am able to select what I’m looking for from a long list of activities like candlelight dinners, cottage country (huh?), skinny dipping and even board games although Monopoly seems an odd precursor to sex, but, to each his own.
I browse for local guys between the ages of 45-60 and there are many pages of eager adulterers. I quickly scan the photos and lose interest when I don’t spot anyone I know. Having only seen the hot commercial and not the snoring loser wife one at the time, I expect an element of European sophistication but after my first cursory perusal this remains elusive.
Some of my would-be playmates have innocuous handles like LatinLover or Discreetfun4u although there are a lot worked around the number 69. It is a big coincidence that such a disproportion of members is born under the Cancer sign of the zodiac. And who can compete with panache like Luvsuckingpussy or Passion4DDtits? Most of the men indicate that they are attached, although some state that they are single. Many of the married men use a recognizable photo to accompany their profiles. Others are shown in masks, underwater, from the waist down in underpants with bulge that’s surprisingly minuscule given the proliferation of Photoshop and my favorite, a face merely obliterated by a few strokes of a Sharpie.
I scan a few profiles to ascertain personal likes and dislikes and sexual preferences. Giving and receiving oral gratification and sex toys are popular, as is strip poker which actually sounds sort of quaint. The only effort at rationalization I see comes from a 54 year old Glendale resident who adds to his profile that he has a good marriage but his wife is older and has lost interest in sex.
I am burning to see what the chickside of Ashleymadison looks like so I insist that Himself take advantage of the free trial offer. We stretch out on the bed hip to hip with our laptops. I troll for men. We are Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne exploring a topic of mutual interest that will inspire for us both pages of gorgeous prose. I suggest the handle PhilAnder for Himself but it has been taken already. He tries Paddywhack but some other Irish PhilAnderer has scooped that one up too. He ends up with Paddywhack369, per the recommendation of the Ashleymadison bot. He doesn’t even snicker at the 69 and I don’t know if it’s not fun for him because I’m sitting next to him or for the same reason it’s not fun for me.
I show him some of the guys I’m checking out and half heartedly, he starts looking for chicks. I notice that the weight and age parameters he sets would exclude me by both ten pounds and years. He seems bored and eager to abandon AshleyMadison after about thirty seconds. He gives me his password and license to cruise for chicks myself to my heart’s content. I log on as Paddywhack369 and look for women between 45 and 60 within 20 miles of home. I assume there will be more men listed then women. There are, but only by maybe 20%. There are however about twice as many single women listed as single men.
There are a selection of Internet dating sites and some of them have great reputations. I know a number of couples who met by dint of J-Date, eHarmony and Match.com and I presume most everyone has come across or heard of a couple who connected initially via Internet. Given that there are sites that cater specifically to single people, it is curious that such a large number of single women frequent a site that explicitly courts married men. Maybe some of these women are beaten down and desperately lonely, having had lousy luck with single men and perhaps there are actually single women who prefer a more casual, no strings relationship.
There are a number of women listed who indicate that they are married, but while the married men are more inclined to express that “anything goes” married women often indicate that a cyber relationship would be their limit of involvement. While a number of the men’s pictures are chest close-ups and the baby carrot bulge in the BVDs, most of the women’s photos, except for a couple bustline and one jeanned derriere, are prim and chaste. Sometimes there’s an icon in place of a photograph that indicates a discretion issue and these icons appear much more frequently in the women’s section than in the men’s. There are many more recognizable (although disappointingly not by me) photographs of married men than of married women however it appears that women have little compunction about stating their sexual proclivities, “spanking” “role playing” “lightly kinky” and yes, even “strip poker” which I guess, like Twister or Slip ‘n Slide, evokes nostalgia.
I suspect that female members of Ashley Madison who do have more sexually suggestive photos posted might have signed on to the site for professional purposes and that cash on the barrelhead will be a prerequisite for an encounter. Perhaps some of the guys I check out are actually gigolos but based on the accompanying photos I presume they subsist mainly on day jobs.
My free membership on AshleyMadison limits my communications with eligible non-bachelors although it is possible to initiate contact on a collect basis. Available services are priced on a point basis. It costs five points to send an initial mail message. Real time chatroom sessions are 30 minutes for 30 points or 60 minutes for the bargain rate of 50 points. AshleyMadison members may also bestow virtual gifts on their admirers. A cherry with the stem tied in a knot and a martini with two olives may be sent free of charge. For five points one can purchase the gift of a key which allows the recipient access photos that are not posted publicly.
There are three levels of membership at AshleyMadison. The Money Back Affair Guarantee package is $249.00 and includes 1000 points. Also if you follow the terms and initiate a certain number of contacts, if you don’t get laid within 3 months, you get a refund. Other packages, the $149.00 Elite with 500 credits or the $49.00 Introductory with 100 points, offer no guarantees.
I email my beloved asking if he would be more amused by Ashleymadison if we hadn’t been side by side on our conjugal bed during his perusal and get no response. Later at home I ask him directly if he wants to check out the site more. He tries to sound indifferent and mutters but I notice he is blushing so I ask him again, “Do you want to?” and he waffles and says it’s sort of like visiting a car showroom when you know you’re not in a position to buy.
Ashleymadison is not European or sophisticated but it is not even fun and when I finish writing about it I really will feel like I’ve taken one for the team and will be relieved not to sign on ever again. I don’t know if that’s a chick thing or a me thing, as there are apparently a lot of women on AshleyMadison who seek just sex, some actually eschewing intimacy. If I’d happened on a photo of a handsome stranger with an eloquently written profile it would have caught my eye but I wouldn’t pursue contact. The tacky ass site itself affects me like saltpeter but even if it were classy and erudite, for moi no casual encounter bodes as satisfying as what’s been built over twenty years of growing intimacy.
I do think that Americans are particularly uptight about this fidelity thing. Each marriage is different and some are not bound by vows of monogamy. There used to be a lot of discussion about open marriage but I think a lot of the backlash of the 1960’s make love freely not war thing is an extra uptight Puritanism. Maybe the posture of “spouse betrayed and humiliated” is a learned one and if the media didn’t have such a voracious appetite for dredging up the extramarital goings-on of the rich and famous, it would be less of a big deal for mere mortals. There are many couples who’ve discovered that after years of marriage that one partner’s level of desire is out of sync with the other’s and while a discreet website acknowledging this can’t exactly be considered a bulwark of humanitarianism, perhaps it lands in neutral territory.
I think about whether my beloved would buy the new car if he could, although based on the available ladies at AshleyMadison he’d be shopping on the Kia lot. He showers me with love and I think I have exceeded his expectations of a romantic partner, as he has mine but I wonder if he might find some satisfaction in what Erica Jong, who he has never to my knowledge read, called the “zipless fuck.” According to the popular media, married men seem to get caught in flagrante far more frequently than married women do. Maybe women are smarter about not getting caught but I think in general casual sex is more satisfying to men than it is to women. This is not to say that men are not moved by deep, intimate, romantic relationships but maybe it’s apples and oranges. Knowing this, I still strong arm my husband to log on to AshleyMadison and troll for chicks. Maybe it’s hubris but I just can’t imagine there’s anyone he’d like as much as he likes me.