Is it just me or does anyone else think the name ‘Ashley Madison’ has the dull thud of suburban monotone? The Ashley Madison affair is for people who feel safe shopping at Marks and Spencer and nowhere else. It will be organised and all the ingredients will be there, but there will be no fun in obtaining it or using it.
There are two kinds of people who have affairs: those who are meant to have them and those who are not. It really is that simple. People who need to use a site to have an affair are not meant to have an affair. People who find themselves drawn to a site with a name that sounds like a hair replacement clinic, probably deserve everything they get. This is not a moral judgement: I am a woman whose morals loosen occasionally and I don’t do guilt (the mark of a true hedonist surely). I am simply pointing out that if you need to decide to have an affair and then go online to search for it, you are not having an affair in the right spirit. Ergo this is not an affair by my reckoning, it is sex with someone you met online. To call this an affair is just wrong.
An affair works best if it’s unexpected. This is what fuels it in the first place. The fact that you were walking home from work and happened to stop for a glass of wine and a few pages of your book only to find yourself having dinner with a man who decided not to meet the people he is supposed to meet because he’s now talking to you, well that’s already a lot of fun. You did not plan this, you did not contrive to look for someone: in fact on this night of all nights you were in the least glamorous frame of mind. You actually sat down with a big frown on your face. And suddenly, within half an hour of sitting on a stool at a restaurant counter a man has walked in, smiled and it has all changed. So now the night is progressing and he’s asking for your number. There is no ring but you know he’s married because you are the kind of person who is meant to have affairs. He takes your number and he says, enigmatically, “I’ll be back in the country soon.” You don’t kiss: real affairs begin with the fuse gently burning, they rarely explode out of the blocks. You don’t walk home; in fact you don’t remember how you got home but you feel much lighter than you did before you arrived at the restaurant. Because you are the kind of person who is meant to have affairs you don’t ask when he’s coming back; if he turns up then you’ll deal with it. And you do.
It turns into an affair, a very sexy, passionate affair but that is not the only thing that distinguishes it from an online contrivance. Neither of you need to discuss that is what it is. When he flies you to Boston for a few days, he loans you his spare mobile phone which happens to have the numbers of everyone in his family on it. He knows, without saying, you will not use it. That is because you, and he, are meant to have affairs. You have no interest in marrying him or him you: the affair is a pleasure all its own, a relationship that has its own exclusive place. Both of you already have your codes of behaviour and they are compatible which is why you are both people who can have affairs. There is never guilt, nervousness or any hint of sneaking around. It is not cheap or tawdry. It is what adults do (or choose not to) if they have the choice. You do not ask where it leads as that is not the point. It has it’s own pleasure. And pain. But it’s worth it if you understand what it is and just go with it.
It takes a certain brain to understand all of this. I am not sure this mindset is present in the people who sign up for Ashley Madison or similar sites. To be desperate enough to risk your marriage by advertising yourself on a site, well frankly it just cheapens the affair. And if you say that’s what an affair is, then you have never have never had one. You had something, but it wasn’t an affair.