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Noel Biderman knows how to sell his brand: his AshleyMadison website currently boasts more than 4.5 million aspiring cheaters. He’s not one of them, of course. (Photographer: paulbuceta.com)
Noel Biderman knows how to sell his brand: his AshleyMadison website currently boasts more than 4.5 million aspiring cheaters. He’s not one of them, of course. (Photographer: paulbuceta.com)

Q&A: Cheaters Prosper

Meet the man behind AshleyMadison.com Add to ...

"I sleep well at night," Noel Biderman assures.

His website, AshleyMadison.com, currently boasts more than 4.5 million aspiring cheaters and philanderers. Launched in 2002, the Toronto-based venture is growing for myriad reasons Mr. Biderman attempts to distill in his book, Cheaters Prosper: How Infidelity Will Save the Modern Marriage , recently published by Personal Lifestyle Printing Press.

The "social experiment" of monogamous matrimony is a failed one, Mr. Biderman writes.

Infidelity and divorce rates are climbing, and "leaps in life expectancy will make it nearly impossible to live our entire existence with just one person."

The seven-year itch is now the four-year itch - that's when the novelty of marriage starts to wear off, he writes, citing studies from evolutionary psychologists, who say infidelity is an instinct we're as hardwired for today as we were in the cave.

The good news? The "broken-hearted can survive" to enjoy stronger marriages with their philandering spouses, Mr. Biderman writes. The first-time author spoke with The Globe and Mail.



Live at Friday at noon ET: Noel Biderman on his website, his new book and why monogamous matrimony doesn't work. Come back during the live hour to join the conversation. (The rest of this Q&A appears below the box.)



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You write: 'To date, monogamy has been little more than a social convention and a misused tool of the morally maligned.' What do you mean?

What I'm trying to say is that the institution of marriage has not always been monogamous. At one time or another it embraced polygamy as a standard, and it still does - the president of South Africa has multiple wives. Many cultures are still happy to condone that kind of approach. It's a very modern phenomenon to marry for love [and that]you have to be monogamous. Who made that determination? I don't know that any research was put into it.

You believe that monogamy will soon vanish 'like so many antiquated social ideas before it,' but that it might not vanish for 'maybe several centuries.' So this might happen after we're dead?

When you're looking to evolve institutions of any kind, it takes a generation or two before notions change. The new American census I think will be very defining. I think when people stand back and see the American family, the majority isn't June and Ward Cleaver married with two kids. It's single-parent households and 40 per cent of kids being born to unwed mothers.

You declare in your book title that infidelity will save the modern marriage. You devote one page to the claim. You cite two studies and note that only a few of the cheaters you interviewed thought their marriages would be reinforced by their affairs.

We're not a full research firm; we're not constantly conducting surveys. We tend to get things anecdotally. I'm talking to people who are at the genesis of an affair, really before it's happened. I know about their motivation and what drives them. They're not coming because they're trying to fix their marriage, they're coming because they're not having sex.

So you leave the claim in your title, that infidelity saves marriages, unsupported then.

What I'm trying to say is that if you canvass what happens postinfidelity, you find that it's a real opportunity for you to take a reflection. Once you come to the logical conclusion that you were contributing to this affair, that's when you have the opportunity to repair.

You mention 'Timothy,' whose affairs strengthened his marriage. Now he's having more sex with his wife. How did that happen?

I don't know him enough to know how that happens. What I get is a lot of people who come back to me and say, 'Listen, this has made me a better partner.' They were angry and taking things out on their family. The sexual frustration they were feeling, they start having the affair and all of a sudden, that stress is removed. It's very cathartic for those people. If you come home and you've had an affair earlier in the day, it might be easier not to be frustrated with your partner. The conversation could take a different directional tone and that can lead to intimacy.

That's a one-sided dynamic.

I disagree. That's making the assumption again that someone who's cheating is in the wrong.

Why not just divorce, which people do anyway?

That's again saying that sex is more important than everything else. That's saying, 'My sex life doesn't work, so let's get a divorce, I'm putting that ahead of my kids and raising them in the best possible way,' which we all know is a dual-parent household. That's a supremely selfish act. I think that's the destruction of society going on. If you look over at countries like France and Japan, it doesn't happen that way. They have really high infidelity rates and much lower divorce rates because for the most part, affairs are understood - tolerated. People don't walk away from their families on the same level we do here.

Do your members end up staying with their spouses?

The vast majority of our members stay with their wives. Their infidelity never gets discovered. People use a service like mine or have an office romance or go to a singles' site or visit a prostitute or a massage parlour, and it tends to keep them in their relationship longer. If they couldn't do those things, they would surely leave their marriages.

Does that not create huge issues around trust?

I think people lie for real reasons: They were lying because they were trying not to hurt their partner. People are unhappy. They're trying to make themselves happy and in so doing they sometimes complicate their lives and they sometimes alleviate problems.

Does your site give people opportunities they otherwise might not have had?

I'm not going to be naive enough to say that I haven't created this service. I still maintain I'm not going to convince anyone to have an affair with my commercials. They're going to have an affair because their life isn't working for them. It's not so much about me.

What's the gender split between your members?

It's about 70 per cent men, 30 per cent women. The men are almost all attached, but there are some single men on the service. On the female side, probably about 30 per cent are single women, that quintessential mistress.

Who is Ashley Madison?

I was confident that this service would attract men. I was less sure that women were going to behave in that fashion. From day one, I wanted to design a service that had a look and feel that made women feel comfortable. In 2000, the most popular girls' names were Ashley and Madison. I thought if women were naming their children that, they'd have some affinity for that branding. It's a fictitious individual. I suppose I could have called the site "Cheat on Your Partner." That didn't feel right to me.

You'd think you wouldn't put children and cheating together.

No, it's not about children - it's a subconscious thing. Ashley Madison is just a persona that women feel comfortable with: 'Oh that's a pretty name, that's a nice name.' That's what I was attempting to accomplish. It had nothing to do with children.

Are you married?

I am happily married, yes, for seven years.

Do you cheat?

I do not cheat, no. I've been faithful to date. I don't know what I would do if I was in a sexless relationship. I'm in a very good marriage, but if I wasn't? I don't know what I would do.

What does your wife think of Ashley Madison?

I think the important thing for her is that there's a big distinction between this public persona that I've now become and me being a really dedicated partner and parent. I'm home every day for dinner and I'm really devoted. I suppose, ironically, she's getting this ancillary benefit. If anyone should be conscious of what it takes to have a healthy marriage and avoid these pitfalls, it should be me since I talk about it 24/7. To be frank, she has definitely said to me, 'You're a bright man, Noel. Is there nothing else you could turn your attention to?' But this is what I've chosen to do at least for now, and so far so good.

How would you feel if your wife cheated on you?

I'd be devastated, I truly would. I don't know what would happen to our relationship, but I do know one thing: I would not blame an inanimate object. I wouldn't blame a website she met them on or a hotel room she had the relationship in. I don't think I would blame the person she had the affair with and I ultimately would probably not even blame her. I would take a long look in the mirror and figure out what I did wrong. It's about accountability. If my wife strayed then clearly I had a role to play in that.

But you write that cheaters are often narcissists, people who feel inexplicably entitled to more.

For sure there's data out there that there are certain personality types that are more likely to stray. Those people are probably going to cheat no matter what, and they could be in the most loving relationship.

Is this book your justification for Ashley Madison?

I don't feel like I need to justify this service. I think the service speaks for itself. It has so many members, there's obviously a lot of demand for it. Do we not benefit from Ashley Madison's existence? A community of like-minded adults where everyone knows what they're getting into? I sleep well at night. I don't have a problem in the end with my neighbour using my service, my friend using my service. That's for them to decide.

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