With two million would-be Japanese adulterers signed up for the cheaters dating website ashleymadison.com, we can only wonder how its Hong Kong launch will go down this week. The outraged moral majority have had their say, lambasting the site for all the predictable reasons. So let's take a calm look at whether this is the end of civilised society as we know it, or formalising what already goes on.
Founder Noel Biderman arrives here tomorrow, so I asked him a few question, to see how it really works.
First off, how much does it cost and do women and men pay the same?
Joining AshleyMadison.com, creating a profile, searching for other members, uploading photos and sending winks is completely free, says Biderman. Once you start personal communication you buy a package of Credits. "Our starter package with 100 credits costs 360 HKD and allows a man to initiate contact with about 20 different women. The credits never expire and once you are in touch with a member all ongoing communication thereafter is free. For women, the entire service is 100% free."
Wow, it's like girls-drink-free night in a bar. I don't know about you guys, but to me that sound rather unequal and odd.
Do people use aliases and fake or no photos?
Yes, says Biderman. "AshleyMAdison.com is 100% anonymous, so our users can pick an attractive username (alias)."
They can be super-sneaky. Apart from uploading a public photo, users can put their photos under lock and key and only share them with another user, once they are comfortable with each other. "This private show case is extremely popular as it allows them to show their true self in a 100 % discreet environment."
So how old are these energetic cheaters? And how long have they usually been married before they decide to forget their marriage vows?
The answer is, sooner than you'd think. Women users start signing up in their twenties, he says, with the average age being around 32 (depending on the country), while men tend to start signing up in their thirties with the average age around 44. That's surprising - somehow you would imagine the guys would start cheating sooner. And the reason these ladies jump into other beds so quick is quite surprising too.
People come to AshleyMadison.com from so many different situations that just looking at the average age may be not enough, explains Biderman. "For women, for example, we have a large amount of newlyweds in their twenties, who are unsure about their relationship and want to explore other options before adding children to the mix."
You would think courtship is the time to sort that out, but seemingly not.
"Then there are a lot of young wives and mothers who feel under-appreciated and neglected by their husbands. These women know that on AshleyMadison they can meet many men who romance them and tell them how beautiful they are."
Well if that's the case, why don't these men romance their own young wives, instead of other guys'?
"For men, we see a lot of young fathers in their early thirties who struggle with suddenly having to share their wife’s affection or husbands in their fifties, whose kids have already moved out of the house, who feel that they worked their entire lives for their family and now feel it is time to take care of themselves, says Biderman. So the conclusion here seems to be that everyone's feeling neglected and hard done by and believes that the same people who are neglecting their partners are magically the ones offering the romance solution? Very strange logic at work here.
Cheating advice from the non-cheater
So, what advice does Biderman give members in a small place like Hong Kong, to avoid getting caught?
"For us, the perfect affair has two components. First, finding a special person that excites you and second, not getting caught," he says.
The main reason why people get caught is because they start an affair with someone in their social circle, on Facebook or at work, or that they have an affair with an unsuspecting single who is looking for a long-term relationship, he says. "Once they find out that you are already married they will get angry and are quick to make an angry call to your partner," he adds. Oh dear, oh dear. Not good.
"On AshleyMadison, you can meet likeminded adults outside of your social circle who have just as much on the line as you and who have an equally high interest in keeping the affair a secret" he adds. Now that makes sense - I won't drop you in it if you don't do it to me. That's a warped version of a basis for trust if ever I heard one.
One thing to be assumed is that these married cheaters have time, opportunity and money for playing away.
What is the typical income bracket? The average income of the men using his services varies by country. That being said, 72% of men using Ashleymadison.com make above average income, with 26% in the top 5%income bracket in their country, he claims. Meanwhile, 18% of the women users are housewives or stay at home mums. "Of those that work, 67% make near the average salary and 64% have a University or College Degree."
When it comes to occupations the top three for men are:1- finance, 2-Government (Public service and 3: IT), which just goes to show that bankers and civil servants definitely don't have enough to do.
Housewives top female cheaters
For women first place goes to housewives, followed by receptionists and secretaries, with nurses and medical folks third. No surprises there.
So is Mr Buderman married himself? Yes, happily married for over 10 years, he claims.
Does he cheat and does he allow his wife to cheat?
"No I do not cheat. I think if anyone has a chance of success at staying faithful it is me, because all day long I deal with the reasons and causes for infidelity. However, if one day I woke up and found my self in a marriage that is completely void of physical intimacy, I would consider an affair, long before I would consider a divorce."
And if he caught his wife cheating on him? "This would probably crush me, I would be devastated. But rather than her or even her lover, I would take a long look in the mirror and ask myself: Where did I wrong my partner, when did I not provide her/him with enough love and intimacy so that they felt that they needed to look somewhere outside of our relationship?"
Well there you have it, girls and boys. Marriage takes working at!
But when all's said and done, Biderman doesn't think he's responsible for those using his cheating site.
And when partners find out their other half is using his site to commit adultery?
"We can only offer a perfectly discreet service with discreet billing, a panic button, a private photo gallery with masking function and other innovative feature geared towards protecting our users' anonymity. If you decide to leave your laptop open, logged onto our website and have your partner look at it, this is outside of our control." In the end, he adds, he offers a communication platform. "Would you blame Apple because most cheaters use an iPhone to call their lover? Would you blame the hotels in which infidelity happens?"
Fair point, but they don't deliberately set out to attract adulterers. Does he feel no responsibility for marriage breakups?
No. "Personally, I believe that we are saving more marriages than we are destroying," he maintains.
"Many people want to keep their relationship intact and just fill the intimacy void they’re not getting at home. Why ruin a marriage with a long history, possibly family ties, because needs aren’t being met in one area? Many people actually cheat to stay married."
Ashley Madison offers a path between obligations to a spouse or family and pursuit of personal happiness, he concludes. Perhaps he's right: long live hypocrisy.
The site is aiming at both expatriates and local Chinese he says, adding that one of the main reasons for AshleyMadison.com's success is that you can meet people from around the world anywhere you like.
So how, in a tiny place like Hong Kong, where many people have a small apartment and a live-in- maid, will they conduct their affairs? Where will they go, hotels? Yes, at lunchtime. "You’d be surprised how many fancy hotels secretly offer hourly rates that are quite affordable. And in the end, an affair is much cheaper than a divorce…"