Image shows man's hands, fingering his wedding ring

Married but Dating

An excerpt from When You’re the One Who Cheats

© RL Publishing 2019

By Dr Tammy Nelson


As an exploratory exercise, and to do research for this book, I logged onto one of the more popular “married but dating” websites, Ashley Madison, a website where married people meet other married people to have an affair. There are 54 million people worldwide on the website, and I wanted to know what was drawing so many people to the cheating site.

I created a couple of profiles for myself. I wanted to know and understand what the experience was like to cheat online. I was also curious about how it might be different for men and for women, and for gay and for straight people.

First, I created a profile as a man looking to date a married woman and loaded it with as little information as possible. I didn’t say anything about what kind of woman I was looking for, and I did not post a photo. I did the same thing posting a profile as a woman looking for a man.

As a man—let’s call my male profile persona “Tom” —I was six foot two inches and two hundred pounds. As a woman, I was “Tina,” at five foot eight and one hundred and forty pounds.  All within normal range, if a little on the tall side.

I also set up a profile as a woman, “Tara,” seeking a woman.

I wanted to see what the overall experience looked like and felt like for both genders. I didn’t purchase credits to speak with any other members and I didn’t respond to anyone who messaged or winked at me. The experience was purely for observation, like peering into a fish bowl without being able to swim with the fish. I didn’t want to misrepresent myself to anyone on the site as being available to date, since I was purely interested in responses to my profile. I purposely never winked, sent messages or expressed interest in any of the men or women on the site.

But I have to say I was interested.

Woman Seeking Man

The first few days my profile was up as a woman seeking a man, I received over 130 messages and 190 winks, right away. I got lots of photos. And they kept coming, even if I didn’t respond to them. The men sent me private messages and keys to unlock more intimate information about themselves. They pursued me, even though I didn’t have a photo or a description of myself. I was a fantasy, I thought… a blank canvas onto which to project their extramarital dreams.

These men seeking women for an affair sent me interesting messages. The majority of them surprised me with their content. They were looking for relationships outside of their marriage, they were clear about that. They didn’t want to break up their marriages. But they wanted a connected relationship, they didn’t just want sex. As one guy put it, “I want more than just a f**k buddy.

Most of the men were looking for companions, for someone to spend time with, “inside and outside the bedroom.” They claimed they lacked “intimacy” and “attention” at home and they wanted to find someone “passionate about [spending] time together.” They were “looking for a companion to enjoy the best of what life and a new relationship has to offer.”

What are these men looking for in an extramarital relationship? They seem to be turned on by the idea of a getaway, and are eager to shake things up. “We could escape our boring lives together!” and “I am looking to add some excitement to a stale routine.” But more often they want someone to “talk to,” and,” text…every day.” They’re looking for something consistent, a partnership that is a parallel to their companionship at home. “Maybe we can be friends,” one stranger insisted.

A few seemed to be looking for revenge because someone had cheated on them. They seemed wounded; they wanted someone “honest,” that they could “trust,” that would be “open” with them.

But what was most surprising is that all of the men seemed to have this same craving—someone to connect with, “both mentally and physically.” They were “not into one-night stands or quickies.

They wanted “intelligent conversation,” and “long dinners out,” and, in general, a “long-term side relationship.” One guy described it well when he said he was “looking for one woman to have an ongoing love affair, in and out of the bedroom.” Another wrote: “I am not looking for a hookup, but a lasting relationship.” And another said, “I am not really into a one-time thing.

This seems to go against the popular idea that men cheat for sex and women cheat for emotional connection and relationship. The men that contacted me were clear that they were seeking what they no longer had at home: “passion, desire, lust, kink, romance.” But they wanted it to build up over time. Some of the men were clear that they didn’t want to rush into sex. “I want to get to know you before we just jump into bed,” said one middle-aged guy, clearly looking for love.

Given that this is a small, self-selected sample of men between 40 and 65, it could be a reflection of age, and mechanics. Middle-aged sex works better when there is a gradual buildup of arousal. The men said things like “Sex works best when I am emotionally and intellectually connected,” and, “I am happy to let things move slowly,” and “I would prefer to let a relationship develop over time.

And the men seemed nice. They went out of their way to assure me they were not into “anything painful or weird,” and they were not a “weirdo” or a “stalker type” and they weren’t into anything “scary.”

I was most struck by the longing in their messages. The lack of penis photos. The craving for passion and connection. I wouldn’t have guessed that men seeking an affair would be so blatantly clear that they wanted a relationship, not just sex. And, if you think about it, that makes sense. They could go to a sex worker if all they wanted was a quickie. But where else would they go for a relationship when they didn’t want to leave their wife? A married but dating website.

Man Seeking Woman

And then there was my Tom persona profile. I didn’t get as many responses to this account and the messages dropped off quickly when I didn’t respond to them. What struck me immediately about the females was the photos. While the male photos were all men with boats, men with motorcycles, men with fish, and men with dogs, the women’s photos were blurred headless shots of naked legs and boobs. The women were much more forward, and at times a tad poetic, “I would like a man to ease my loneliness with his muscular thighs,” and their posts contained brazen messages of desire; “[let’s] indulge in wanton debauchery.”

The women wanted sex. They wanted oral sex and threesomes and sex toys, and they wanted it steamy and quick and they wanted it when the kids were off at school and they did not want a relationship. They wanted a one-time thing. They wanted a stranger. They wanted parking lots and hotel rooms and anonymity. The women who responded were clear that they were not looking for a committed partner.

One woman said, “I don’t want to hear about the problems in your marriage. Don’t tell me about your terrible job. You have a wife for that. I want hot sex and then…well, get out.”

The women were very direct about the kind of sex they were interested in. Maybe it’s the influence of the bestselling book, Fifty Shades of Grey, but the women who responded to my profile defined themselves as “a tad deviant,” and they wanted a man who was interested in “blindfolds and paddles and…pinwheels and crops and handcuffs.”

Most had no interest in lovemaking. They wanted communication, yes, but communication about “…what [you’re] going to do to me tonight.” Some women wanted a man who was “adventurous” or “kinky.” Or “daring…in public.” They were looking for “…a man who isn’t afraid to be a little rough with me in bed,” and “a man who follows his instinct and his desire”—a man who is “spontaneous.”

Some sent lingerie poses and pursued me, sending photos and messages until it was clear I wasn’t going to respond. Then they ghosted. I got no winks. I read a message from one woman who liked “being fingered while…” but the rest of her desires were deleted, perhaps by a website monitor. Although she later disguised her particular wants as liking: “Prince Albert.”

What surprised me about the response to the man seeking a woman was how many of the women were clearly looking for sex, and for sex only. They didn’t want a relationship, they weren’t looking for love, they had no interest in a long-term parallel partnership. They wanted something naughty, something illicit, something hot. This goes against many of the standard ideas about why women cheat.

Woman Seeking Woman

In my profile as a woman seeking a woman, I received very few responses. Of the messages I did receive, only about 30 percent were from women looking for a lesbian relationship. The other 70 percent were from bisexual or bi-curious women seeking another woman for a threesome. Some were clear that the partner was involved in creating the online profile: “sexy couple looking for adventuresome female to join for fun & play,” and “really looking to explore fantasies with another couple,” “want to try being with another woman,” and “you can bring your husband to watch or to join us.”

Most of the female seeking female profiles had clear photos of the woman in lingerie, many of them in a bra and panties. There were several profiles of women that simply said: “…searching for a woman to play alone or as two couples.”

I wondered, where do the lesbians go to meet other women to have an affair? Maybe lesbians don’t cheat as often? The research is inconclusive.

My takeaway from my experiment as a cheater online is that we are wrong about why men and women cheat. Married men want passion and relationships. And women want sex; hot and sometimes kinky sex. This says that we cannot explain affairs by antiquated ideas, or biased beliefs about gender. Our stereotyped narratives of female and male cheating don’t explain individualized experiences, wants, and desires.

In other words, the reason you cheated can’t be explained by your gender or your sexual orientation. It’s more complicated than that. And in the end, it may not matter if you fit into a category at all. What matters is what you can do about it.

What Do We Know About Being Married But Dating?

Online cheating leads to real-time relationships about 30 percent of the time. By the time you’ve gone online to find a partner to have an affair, you have made up your mind that you are looking for infidelity.

Websites for married people to date other married people, sites like “Ashley Madison” and the website “Marital Affairs”—social media websites that clearly state members are there to meet other married members—provide the opportunity for both men and women to seek out exactly what they are looking for: a dalliance, extramarital sex and/or a long-term affair.

These online cheating websites provide an equalizing choice experience. Sites like these level the playing field for women. Online married dating is a way for women to have as much power as men, to choose—to pick a partner based on looks and sexual attraction. Women don’t have to wait to be asked out on a date. They choose a partner on the site based solely on a profile and decide if they want to take the relationship off the website and meet in person. If they are attracted, they get to decide if that means having sex. For women, the power of married dating can bring back a waning self-esteem and restore a sense of free will.

Wednesday Martin, author of UNTRUE: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free1 says that, “What we’ve been taught about female sexuality is untrue…the female libido, when measured correctly, is every bit as strong as the male.”

Whether you are a man or a woman, gay or straight or bisexual, don’t assume that you or your partner(s) will behave in a way that is traditionally ascribed to a certain role. Cheating has no boundaries.

1Martin, Wednesday, 2018, Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free, Little, Brown Spark, NY, NY

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