The 51-year-old retiree and 43-year-old shop clerk had two spouses, 35 years of marriage, and a home stay when they started an affair in late March.
Feeling sexually unfulfilled in their Vancouver Island marriages, the strangers quickly connected with Ashley Madison, a dating site for people looking for business. They now spend much of their days exchanging passionate sexts, photos and videos through an app called Kik.
“This is definitely a release,” said the man. “It helps pass the time and relieves pent-up frustration.”
The two of them adhere to the rules of physical distancing for the time being, limiting the matter to their phones. The retiree retires to the bathroom, bedroom or office to send photos and videos. His wife notices that he is on the phone all the time. The woman is more courageous: “My husband is lying on the couch with his legs on my lap and I’m texting,” she said. “He’s clueless.”
Home isolation ignites serious problems in people’s intimate relationships. Couples feel cooped up, divorce requests are on the rise, custody battles are on the rise, and domestic violence has increased.
During times of stress, some outside of their marriage turn to a drain valve. Some of these adulterers are waiting to be quarantined and only communicate online for the time being. Others risk more and break the rules of home isolation to deal with extramarital affairs in person. Her cover stories are fading: grocery outings and solo walks are the last remaining excuses to get out of the house.
Always complicated, infidelity is now even more consistent, say experts. Today affairs are fraught with several levels of betrayal: those who not only break the marriage vows, but also deceive the spouses through a great global crisis and possibly endanger the health of a man or woman.
“On the one hand, people who risk it, it speaks for a depth of need. On the other hand, it’s the height of irresponsibility, ”said Alicia Walker, who for her 2017 book The Secret Life of the Cheating Woman, Philandering Spouses Interviewed: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity.
“You betray the sanctity of the relationship, but you also expose your spouse to a potentially life-threatening illness,” said Prof. Walker, who teaches sociology at Missouri State University.
When lockdown orders went into effect across Canada in mid-March, Ashley Madison saw a drop in new user registrations and people felt “shocked,” said Paul Keable, chief strategy officer. As of April 13, employees had registered a 30 percent increase in Canadian registrations from the previous month. According to Mr Keable, the surge reflects the spouses who feel choked from living in quarantine.
“You’re stuck,” he said. “This time together we can uncover breaks that exist in a relationship.”
In two surveys of 3,500 Ashley Madison users, conducted between mid-March and early April, 60 percent said they would be happier with an affair partner than with their husband or wife. 58 percent complained that their spouses had not made sexual contact. 51 percent of female and 39 percent of male users said that isolating them made them feel less attracted to their partner. Other “pet sleeves” included spouses taped to their phones, fighting, acting moody, and hanging around the house.
Mr Keable said the quarantine logins reflect a surge the site usually sees in January when people log in after “spending an inordinate amount of time with their spouse or partner over the Christmas holidays.”
“Sometimes we like our partners better the less time we spend with them,” said Prof. Walker.
Many of the ways people got distracted by a failed relationship – late nights at the office, workout at the gym, drinks with friends – are gone. “You can hide a lot of misfortune in the hustle and bustle of modern life,” she said.
Prof. Walker, citing previous research, said husbands and wives told her their affairs helped them blow off steam, some compared it to a day at the spa. This kind of stress relief feels even more urgent for some, she added.
When the lockdown orders were tightened in Miami on March 18, two affair partners had their last rendezvous in a hotel in a tourist area that resembled a ghost town. The woman and man met online in January and managed to meet three times before the rules for physical distancing were revealed. The two live several hours apart with their children and spouses of 15 years and can now only write a text message, the novelty and excitement of their affair during the break.
“You feel like a kid on Christmas Eve and suddenly you find that Santa is not coming,” said the woman, a 41-year-old special event coordinator. “It’s a total disappointment.”
The two tried another secret meeting in late March. His excuse was a fictional one-day training session in the office. “He wasn’t able to pull this off,” said the woman. “It is impossible to find time alone with everyone at home now.”
As parts of Florida reopen, they plan to check into a hotel for a few hours this week.
Canadian health officials advise caution about sex outside the home front. The Canadian Obstetricians and Gynecologists Society advised against having sex with people who do not live in the same household. “Wait for other partners to see each other for COVID,” says a company document suggesting masturbation and connection using technology.
Ashley Madison recommends members keep their affairs online for the time being and share tips on video chat and phone sex. Still, some users meet in hotels and parking lots: “People are finding ways to do this,” said Keable.
Prof. Walker believes that unfaithful spouses found during the pandemic will face serious consequences. “The anger will be so much worse now. … Nobody will have a lot of sympathy because everyone is making such great sacrifices. “
Even so, she expects some matters will fall out of their own accord as the barriers drag and people’s conversations become strained amid the uncertainty of it all.
“Perhaps many of these pairings will break up. People think, “I’m already dealing with this in my own house. This is supposed to be my escape. ‘”
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