Friday, January 23, 2009

Ashley Madison

I just came across this relatively new dating website ashleymadison.com that is specifically for people looking to have extramarital affairs. It's a curious concept, and it's definitely received a lot of criticism for this. Most criticism has been fairly hasty, so it makes me wonder whether this site is genuinely immoral.

Infidelity is immoral. What constitutes infidelity obviously is going to vary from couple to couple, since some couples are open, and thus having an extramarital affair would not be infidelity for them. But when the case involves betrayal and deception, the it is infidelity. And I think it is immoral precisely because of the betrayal and deception. The question is whether a site like this is complicit in this immorality.

First we might ask, does it increase the likelihood of infidelity? Daniel Hamermesh thinks no. But it seems surely that giving people a different way of finding an affair, diversifying their options, means it's more likely more people will find someone. For example, in one scenario some guy is thinking of cheating and goes out to a bar to pick up someone, but he is unsuccessful, and gives up and returns to being faithful. If, on the other hand, he discovers Ashley Madison at this point and is able to succeed at infidelity, then whereas, he may not have been unfaithful before, now he is. This infidelity is the result of Ashley Madison. But is this a likely scenario? Are many people who are in an unhappy relationship actually out looking for someone to cheat with? Or is it rather, that they just happen to meet someone who fills in everything that's been missing in their current relationship? On the other hand, that Ashley Madison has been quite successful so far (3.2 million members) suggests that it might be a likely scenario. Ahsley Madison's success suggests that there actually are people who are deliberating about infidelity and who start actively considering having an affair even before they meet someone that they'd like to have an affair with. Thus, it seems plausible that Ashley Madison could increase infidelity rates, if it helps those who might have been unsuccessful in cheating find someone to cheat with.

On the other hand, is it really that much worse that such people have an affair in deed, if they've already started to cheat on their significant other in thought? In other words, if you're considering having an affair, and considering it seriously enough that you sign up for a dating site, haven't you already betrayed and deceived your significant other? Is it any worse for you to take it one step further and now consummating this betrayal and deception by actually having the romantic affair? Additionally, does the act of actually having an affair increase the likelihood that you'll get a divorce? If it does, then that would definitely seem to be something bad about Ashley Madison.

But perhaps there are benefits to the site. The founder, Noel Biderman, actually contends that it can save some marriages. If you're in a sexless marriage and are considering a divorce, then maybe it would be better to have a purely sex-driven affair with someone else to fill in what's missing in your marriage. With this infidelity there's a division of labor going on: your affair provides the sex, while your spouse provides all the other things you want from a relationship. This will allow you to be contented and remain together.. This can avoid all the unfortunate collateral damage from divorce. I admit, I'm not too convinced by this argument, since it still involves deception and betrayal, but I guess it might happen in some cases.

I think a more likely positive benefit is that Ashley Madison will draw would be cheaters away from other dating sites. Other dating sites do have considerable numbers of married men looking for love on the side, and these men are not usually forthcoming about their marital status, since it decreases their chances of success. If a married man who might list on match.com, decides to instead list on Ashley Madison, then some woman who is looking for a single man on match.com might be spared falling into that snake pit of having a relationship with a married man.

Admittedly, the benefits are small, but on the other hand, the negatives that can actually be attributed to the website (and not simply to the people who use it) itself seem small too. So, on balance, I'd say the site itself is fairly morally neutral, even if infidelity is bad.

8 comments:

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