Cyber Sensation: When the Internet Meets Infidelity

It started off with Yahoo! Pool. After a long day of work, my father kicked off his shoes, ate dinner with the family, and checked his email on the computer in his office. Often times, he played Yahoo! Pool, an online game where users can play online pool and chat. Increasingly, my dad spent less time with the family, and more of his hours in isolation in the study, apparently playing this game. Overheard fights behind closed doors informed me that my dad was using other chat rooms for hours on end, to the outrage of my mother. Things escalated quickly, but I was a virtually clueless middle schooler at the time. International “ski trips” (used to rendez-vous with his Swedish mistress), money transfers, expensive gifts lead to pieces of technology being thrown out the window, and my parents marriage bit the dust.

The reality is that my situation isn’t that singular. Apparently, one third of divorce proceedings are due to cyber-affairs. Although the relationships created online aren’t necessarily physical, they still breach the emotional and sexual exclusivity of a marriage in secret, which may have the same impact on a spouse’s trust as a physical affair. Unlike standard cheating, which consists of hurried workplace hookups and seedy motel rooms, a cyber affair can happen right at home. With the advent of the cell phone, virtual infidelity is possible practically anywhere.  Under the anonymity of the Internet, people can indulge in fantasies and escape reality through a glorified identity.

photo courtesy of Ashley Madison

photo courtesy of Ashley Madison

Online dating websites have definitely taken advantage of the thrill of illicit internet affairs. One site, Ashley Madison, markets directly to people in relationships, with the slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair”. Because AM is intended for cheating, the site survey’s one’s sexual preferences in detail and has the ability to send “private photos”. The service even caters to the “Traveling Man” or “Traveling Woman”, for quick on the road hookups. Imagine if Mad Men’s Don Draper had access to a lap top!

Recovery.org, a website dedicated to assisting people to overcome their addictions, conducted a study called “To Catch a Cheater”, where 40 fake internet profiles, half men and half women, were posted on OkCupid, all with varying degrees of commitment; “brazen cheats”, married, in a relationship, and single (the control group). Using data from Ashley Madison, the daters were placed in the most adulterous cities in the United States, including D.C., Miami, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Austin.

image courtesy of recovery.org

image courtesy of recovery.org

After one month into the experiment, it turns out that both male and female “Brazen Cheats” got more messages than any other category. Males received 7.9% of the total messages, and the women received 92.1%. However, most of the messages that the willingly cheating men received were filled with insults and questioning of the integrity of the profile. The study concluded that a woman seeking an adulterous one night stand was much more appealing to men than a man cheating on his wife was appealing to women.

As online dating becomes an increasingly common way for singles to find potential dates and life partners, the finding that people seeking adultery received more attention is alarming. Is online dating becoming a platform for corruption and sin? Although the results are discouraging, hopeful singles shouldn’t be alarmed, because when it comes to finding “the one”, its about quality, not quantity.

Tinder Love

Last week, I explored through an online dating website OkCupid.

Some issues with the site:

  • primarily used by men aged 25-34
  • bad male to female ratio
  • not enough photographs posted by users
  • long, fake sounding self-summaries
  • matches were not geographically close (20 miles+)

Especially from the viewpoint of a busy college student who doesn’t have time to peruse through lengthy profiles of mysterious men with only one too good to be true headshot, the dating app Tinder is a great solution. Appealing to the younger generation, it is used in conjunction with Facebook on your phone. For your profile, Tinder gathers one’s age, location, and sexual preference. Next, one can connect with Facebook and choose up to 5 photos for users to swipe through, which can be “liked”. If two users have mutual “likes”, is created for them to get to know each other and set up a meeting. Justin Mateen, one of Tinder’s founders, reports that 70% of matches have used the app to chat.  It’s quick, fast, and flirty.

In class, we’ve discussed how the technology that we use shapes our communication. People are matched up based solely on location, not some elusive personality algorithm. The easygoing nature of Tinder has fostered a hookup culture. The success of the app is in part due to women’s usage of Tinder. Unlike its competitors, one of Tinder’s founders is a woman, Whitney Wolfe. In dating technology, women want a secure, safe, honest place to organize a public meeting ASAP. Because of its partnership with Facebook, most of the general information on Tinder can’t be faked. Additionally, users can only contact each other if the attraction is mutual (no more creepy 40 year olds begging your phone number). Finally, matches are based on location, so arranging  to hang out is simple. Personally, I know my friends have used Tinder to score invites to parties on campus. In fact, the app was actually piloted on college campuses, which is another reason why the app is so hot with college students.

My recommendation? For lonely hearts with a short attention span who want a quick date, the 70% success rate doesn’t lie. But for anything more than a shallow hook up, you’re gonna need to put in more legwork than a photo swipe.

She answered my message on tinder, So I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.  - She answered my message on tinder, So I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.   Misc

image courtesy of quickmeme

Some background research….

My parents split in 2009. Although at the time, it was absolutely devastating to my brothers and I, but many of my friends’ parents divorced now that their children were older. As the legal battle settled and wounds started to heal, my parents’ weekends boomed with “appointments” and “going out with friends”. Determining who’s had the kids for the weekend became a battle of the social butterflies, because both simply could not cancel their engagement. Eventually, I figured out what was going on. My parents desperately wanted to find new partners, and were fiercely campaigning on sites like Match and eHarmony to search for a companion. Incidentally, they both DID find relatively good partners; though my mother lost her first boyfriend to a heart attack and my father’s girlfriend walked out on him because he wouldn’t propose. But life goes on, and the quest for love continues.

The subject of online dating appeals to me on a personal level, but also as an aspiring economist. The aging baby boomers, a huge portion of the population, experience abnomally high divorce rates. Additionally, the wallets of the baby boomers represent 3 trillion dollars in spending. So, there’s a large population shift and money to blow- an economist’s dream.

If I’m going to be discussing online dating for the next few weeks, I think it would only be fair to set up a profile. My site of choice, OkCupid, is extremely friendly and easy to use (and free). While developing my profile, I found many professional blogs where customers pay for anything from tips on how to develop their username to photo shoots for their profile picture. The site prompted me to answer several ridiculous questions, asking me what I’d do on a regular Friday night and to list six things I couldn’t live without. Also, I had to answer 25 questions about my values. These quizzed me on topics ranging from my political beliefs to what kind of pets I prefer.

Although there’s a considerable social stigma towards those who use online dating sites, it is certainly effective in widening one’s network of available bachelors. By the end of the day, 152 people viewed my profile. I received about 15 messages from different men. As someone who has a relatively routine schedule, I probably introduce myself to a maximum of five new men each week, primarily in a nighttime setting. I can see why people are attracted to the idea of meeting a vast range of people in a small geographic area with similar values. Many of the people who contacted me were either in the military or recent college grads. These groups of people are likely to have recently moved with little time off, therefore their social networks will be relatively limited.

In my opinion, this site’s main weakness is the amount and quality of information that can be presented in one’s profile. When meeting someone in a coffee shop or a sporting event, learning intimate, personal details organic process that requires trust and time. Whereas on OkCupid, one’s preferences, morals, and goals are available for the viewer to see with the click of a mouse. Learning these aspects of a person slowly helps give strength to a relationship. Besides, on online dating sites, users are able to project an identity that is more of an ideal self than reality.  If matches are created on the basis of a masquerade instead of genuine chemistry, there may be disappointment on both parties.

Although there are definite downsides to meeting people behind a screen, one in five relationships start online, and when used as a networking device, online dating sites can be a major advantage to one’s love life.