‘Being with other men is an act of self-care’: The Brits who say affairs are saving their marriages
Missy* is 41, married and regularly sleeps with men she’s met online. “Me and my husband have never been sexually compatible,” she tells me. “I have a much higher sex drive than he does. After we got married, it really dwindled.” Missy loves her husband, but she can’t remember which year they last had sex. They no longer kiss on the lips or tell each other “goodnight”. She says he refused to entertain the idea of an open marriage, but that she has no intention of leaving him, either. In fact, she believes online dating has saved her marriage. She manages the guilt by compartmentalising her affairs.
“My home is one thing, my work is another,” she explains. “And this is something else that I have, because I’m not getting what I need from the marriage.” She has secretly met up with around 13 men since she started looking for new sex partners online a decade ago, and abides by a series of strict rules. “I don’t want men who want relationships. I wouldn’t meet up with someone in the first year of their marriage, or who is engaged. To me, that’s just not OK. And I won’t see anyone who is younger than me.”
Society teaches us from an early age to seek love from just one person, to whom we must be physically devoted until death us do part. But what if it isn’t always as simple as that? What if you’re one of the increasing number of Brits using online dating sites for extramarital flings? According to a 2022 study carried out by Currys, 17 per cent of married people have slept with someone they’ve met on sites such as Tinder or Plenty of Fish. According to research this year from broadband provider Zen Internet, 6 per cent of married people regularly use dating apps and websites, too.
“I tell my husband that I’m going into town to see friends; that I’m going to dinner or to a bar,” Missy continues. “I never do overnights. Men offer to spoil me, to take me away. But that’s not what I’m looking for. I pay for myself. I make my own way there. I don’t need a man to look after me. There’s no way my marriage would have survived without this. If it wasn’t for dating online, I would be having affairs closer to home. For a long time with my husband, I thought the problem was me. But now I have so many men getting in touch that it makes me feel wanted. Why shouldn’t I have something that’s just for me? Being with other men is an act of self-care.”
It can also be a dangerous game, though. Missy, who works in local government, once inadvertently arranged a drink with a professional contact. They laughed it off, went their separate ways and pretended it never happened. Another woman who’d been dating outside marriage was caught when she didn’t realise that her Hinge membership was being charged to her and her husband’s joint account. And Steve*, 47, was once almost found out when his wife came to surprise him at his hotel while he was on a “work trip”. He’d been planning to meet a woman he was sleeping with, and rushed to the toilet to cancel their rendezvous by phone.
Steve says he’s had four short-term flings with women he met online, and only allows them to contact him via his work phone or Kik, a mobile messaging app. He works in the financial sector and is away from home often, so it’s easy for him to stay in hotels and hide his expenses. “In the past, I would nip out for a walk to call a lover but it isn’t something I do every day,” he says. “I don’t want to develop feelings for anyone and this is how I can control things.”
Like Missy, Steve doesn’t want to separate from his wife, but he believes he got married too soon and missed out on dating. He also says he “wouldn’t dare” discuss with his wife whether they could have an open marriage, claiming that his wife is “very reserved” and would frown upon “anything ‘different’ in a relationship”.
“I do feel guilty,” he says. “I still love my wife dearly. But the physical side of our relationship ended after our last child was born. I feel that dating is better than breaking up my home life. This has given me the release I truly needed. The stress of keeping secrets is quite easy to manage now, and the lady I’m currently seeing knows the limitations; we only contact each other during work hours and I can delete Kik from my phone whenever I need to. We never expect instant replies and we plan meetings around my work diary. It makes me feel alive again. I’m happier, more confident and bearable to live with.”
This is a common theme. According to Illicit Encounters, a dating site designed to facilitate extramarital affairs, 70 per cent of people say their relationship is happier as a result of infidelity. The website sees “several thousands” of new signups every month according to a spokesperson – it’s free to use for women, and men pay a £139 membership fee. But could it ultimately cost a lot more once their other halves find out?
Alison Blackler is a relationship coach and author of A Path Travelled – How to Make Sense of Relationships, and warns couples against cheating. “There seems to be an increase in the number of dating apps for married people,” she says. “But infidelity is usually a sign that a relationship is not right. In my experience, extramarital sex is not a good thing for relationships. It is damaging and creates insecurities, anger, jealousy, and mistrust. Usually people seeking extramarital sex are looking for some sort of reassurance or validation, and this need is only fixed in the short term. In my experience, the person having the extramarital affair is not thinking about the impact on the other people involved – and some would say is [being] selfish.”
Divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag, founder and president of law firm Vardags, has worked on hundreds of adultery cases, and says she sees a “huge amount” of divorce enquiries related to dating app infidelity. “Time and again the same patterns pop up,” she explains. “Many become so focused on being parents that they forget to be a couple. All too many fall into this trap when they have a family. When the sex life dies, the relationship follows. Sex releases love hormones that bond you to your partner and make you feel close to each other. Prioritising work or children over sex leads to breakdowns that can damage both.”
Marie*, a stay-at-home mum from Norwich, says that despite the threat of divorce lurking over affairs, she’s found that married people seeking sex online is more common than she imagined. Like Missy, Marie has her own moral compass that she uses to navigate the choppy waters of married dating. She refuses advances from married men who have never cheated before, and men who have children under the age of two. “I am extremely loyal and family-orientated,” she explains. “I’ve always been against cheating. My dad cheated on my mum three times. It destroyed me. It’s just not in my character. But I do have a second life. When I told my best friend what I was doing, she cried. In my circle of friends, I would be the last one they would choose as a cheater.”
Marie has been married for 20 years, and sought someone to fulfil her sexual appetite after her husband refused an open marriage. In one week she slept with three different men. “I make it very clear,” she says. “I have no intention of leaving my husband and children, and I’ve got less intention of encouraging [my lovers] to leave theirs. That is just not happening. If my husband gave me what I needed, then no way would I do this.”
“I love my husband, but I’m not in love with him,” she adds. “He has no physical interest in me. Meeting people online has brought me real joy. I’ve had a fantastic life with my husband. We’ve travelled around the world, he’s enabled me not to work. I’ve got no regrets. In an ideal world I wouldn’t be doing this. But…” she sighs. “It’s not an ideal world.”
*Names have been changed