By CHRIS KITCHING
Alone in his computer room on a Saturday night, Tony clicked on sports website after sports website, scrolling through hockey summaries and updating his fantasy football team.
Splattered on every page were colourful ads featuring scantily clad women, sports magazine offers, and various unaffiliated websites. One of them caught his eye.
With his wife watching TV in the den and their two kids snug in bed, Tony nervously created a profile and searched the member database of an international online dating service.
He didn’t really understand why he was doing it, or what he was looking for, but he knew it had something to do with a feeling something in his relationship was absent.
“My wife and I were happy in an emotional sense, and we still are, but for awhile I felt like something was lacking and that I was bored sexually,” said Tony, which is not the 33-year-old man’s real name. “I regret that night. It changed my life.”
Tony deleted his profile within a week and vowed to remain faithful to his wife of several years. They met in university and were crazy about each other.
They got married after a couple of years of dating. Soon, they had two kids, full-time careers, and extra-curricular activities that kept them busy and apart.
Life had basically become a routine and their sex life was on the decline. They barely had time or the energy for each other, Tony said.
“It seems like such a weak reason to seek out someone else but at the time it was a major factor in my life,” he said. “It affected everything I did and everything about me. My attitude, all of that stuff.”
A few months passed. One night, as Tony and his wife watched a syndicated sitcom, he saw an ad for the Ashley Madison Agency.
The Toronto-based Internet dating service caters to those looking to stray from their better halves, or are the least bit curious about what else is out there.
Within a day, Tony had created a public profile and private photo album, and used his credit card to buy more than $100 in credits that would allow him to interact with other members.
Even though he hadn’t made contact yet with anyone, Tony said he was already having an affair because he was doing something “wrong” behind his wife’s back.
At 1.45 million members (85% of them men), Ashley Madison is the largest website of its kind. Of those, 10,700 are in Manitoba. The website’s slogan is “When monogamy becomes monotony.”
Its member count is proof the Internet is now the No. 1 place for cheaters to hook up. Emotional affairs are common. Some people take them out of cyberspace and into the real world.
He met an older woman who shared his feelings. They chatted and flirted over the Net during the day when Tony was at his office and the woman was at home and her husband at work.
“I was looking for attention and sex. The Internet made it seem so easy to get,” he said.
Knowing his wife and kids would be out of town for the weekend, Tony took a major leap — he asked his virtual mistress if she’d meet him at a St. Vital hotel.
She lied to her husband, telling him she was going out for drinks with friends, Tony said.
Tony’s wife doesn’t know he had a one-night stand.
“I couldn’t tell her. Am I a coward? Maybe,” Tony said. “I know what I did was wrong. I’ll never do it again, but I shouldn’t have done it in the first place.”
The Internet is popular grounds for finding a fellow cheating heart because it’s convenient and a person can maintain a level of anonymity, said Darren Morgenstern, operations director and founder of the Ashley Madison Agency.
People who are going to stray are going to find a way to do it, he said.
“To the people who need us, we provide a safe, reliable forum for them to come out and explore the full gamut of their feelings,” Morgenstern said. “They can decide if the grass is truly greener on the other side.”
The website has its critics.
“You’re always going to have a group of people who don’t agree with your business model and we don’t pretend to be for everybody,” Morgenstern said.
Infidelity author Ruth Houston said 30% of online affairs move out of the computer room and become sexual affairs in the bedroom. Or backseat of a car. Or hotel room. You get the idea.
“The Internet makes it infinitely easier to find a person to cheat with,” Houston said.
Traditionally, a person would go to a public place to seek out a willing partner at the risk of being slapped in the face or caught, she said.
That willing partner is sometimes unaware of the person’s attachment.
“Now, all a person has to do is sit in front of a computer to have an endless array of available partners at the click of a mouse,” Houston said. “The (spouse) can be sitting in the same room, totally unaware of what the person is doing.”
A secret emotional relationship that doesn’t leave the confines of cyberspace is emotional infidelity, no matter what the defence, Houston said.
“Emotional infidelity is the precursor to sexual infidelity,” she said.
“If it goes on long enough and it’s feasible for the two people to meet eventually they will.”