More than 18 million people in 26 countries frequent AshleyMadison.com, a dating site for married people looking to have affairs.
But while unsatisfied marrieds browse the site looking to hookup, the man behind the site -- creator Noel Biderman -- has been happily married for nearly 10 years. HuffPost Divorce spoke to Noel and his wife, Amanda -- who's featured on the company's new billboard campaign -- in separate phone conversations to discuss the secret to their relationship success, how Amanda reacted when Noel initially told her about his idea for the site, and why Noel believes cheating actually saves marriages.
Amanda, how did you react when Noel first told you about his plan to create an infidelity dating site? Were you supportive? Resistant?
Amanda: Originally, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t an emotional or personal issue...an emotional or physical thing that he was grappling with. Once I understood that it was a sound business [idea], that there was a market he felt was under-serviced, I was totally behind him.
Noel: We weren’t even married at the time, so she easily could have said, “I think there’s something flawed with this human being.” Instead, she saw the passion in which I wanted to pursue this and she wanted to match that passion. I knew I had a true partner.
Noel, you've said that your website saves marriage and that an affair can serve as a "marriage preservation device." Can you talk a little more about that?
Noel: I definitely believe that. For me, I’m a married man now -- 10 years later, two children later, a really good economic success later, and with an extended family I love, I would be a fool if I said sex was the most important thing in my marriage –- it’s not. [But] it's important to me, I’m not a priest and I didn’t sign up for a life of celibacy. If I woke up today in some kind of sexless marriage like so many Americans do, I would be genuinely upset by that. I would try to change it with my partner, but if I couldn’t change it, I don’t know if I would just walk out the door. I believe the social science, I’ve seen it firsthand, how children raised in single-parent households have more trouble with drugs and alcohol, have fewer educational opportunities, and get in trouble with the law. I don’t want to do that to my family and I certainly don’t want to do that because everything else I have going for me is great. I like my lifestyle, so why would I give it all up because the number five or six thing on my list -– my sex life -– is not where it should be?
So yes, if my brother came to me and said I can't take it anymore, I'm either leaving or I'm having an affair, I would encourage him to have an affair first.
Amanda, would you stay in a marriage where you knew your husband was being unfaithful for the sake of keeping your family together?
Amanda: I wouldn’t just walk into divorce. But, I mean, I also wouldn’t deal with a relationship where I knew there were interpersonal relations going on without me. We definitely differ on that point. I get that some people are doing this to fulfill a need and to make themselves more fulfilled and happier. I’m not here to judge those people. Personally, that’s not how I live my life. That’s not how I live my life and how I define my relationship and what I would accept moving forward.
Has running a site like AshleyMadison informed how you behave in your own marriage in any way?
Noel: Ironically, I talk about infidelity more than any man on the planet, so hopefully I can navigate a monogamous relationship more successfully than a lot of people. But even then, I don’t know if I can, but I’m going to try.
Monogamy is a man-made notion –- it’s not in our DNA. It’s not what we’re engineered for. We might think it’s a noble cause and something worth pursuing, but anything against our DNA is something we’re going to struggle with... I’ve seen study after study showing that the longer a couple is together, the more their sex life diminishes. I’ve yet to see any one where it says, “Twenty years later, those two are still hot and heavy” -– it just doesn’t play out that way. We’re working against something... So it's with that knowledge base that I keep coming back to my own marriage in a different way. While we don’t have an open marriage in a sexual sense, we have a very open marriage in the sense that we can challenge and ask a lot of things of one another because we understand how important our marriage is and how often it can become turbulent.
My wife and I have a very honest relationship with each other -- blunt almost. I think getting things off our chests is the approach we took, knowing that it won’t always go our way but at least it’s out there for the other partner to deal with. That’s kind of suited us. We’re very passionate and when things are great, we ride really high. We also have our moments, but we definitely don’t sleep on the issue –- and I think that’s the secret to our success today.
Amanda: I think we’re lucky that his role as CEO of Ashley Madison has helped us understand the pitfalls more than anybody else. I also walked into this marriage open-eyed about the realities of relationships because my parents divorced when I was relatively young. I’ve had to deal with the aftermath of that and it wasn’t a nice divorce... I’m 38 years old and I’m still dealing with aftermath of that. I just always wanted to have a relationship where I never ended it in divorce.
Outside of my own experience with divorce, this business has just made us stronger and more communicative. For a lot of people...you meet your spouse, you fall in love, you have this relationship and then kids come and work and life gets stressful and you move so far away from that person that you forget. I think this business has made us remember to always come back to what initially brought us together, so that we can keep the conversation going and not have things build up where we’re looking to move away from each other.