“Are you going to have to start having sex with your wife?” is a question I asked a friend about a month ago, after he mentioned that the many lockdowns then just going into effect around the country had put a damper on his regularly scheduled extramarital dalliances.
A serial cheater of at least a decade whose work typically provides a handy excuse for frequent travel and nights away from home, John, a 50-year-old from Boston, had suddenly found himself quarantined with the wife he hadn’t slept with in years, unable to even meet up with a local stripper he’d met online.
“Coronavirus is cock blocking me on multiple fronts,” he told me over text.
But not even a cock block of COVID proportions could necessitate a return to the marriage bed. Instead, John had already resigned himself to a sexless quarantine. “RIP to the next girl I have sex with,” he texted, kindly adding droplets and a crashing wave emoji in case I really wanted to visualize what he was getting at.
While it may be nice to imagine quarantine conditions pushing cheating or distant spouses back together again, Parent Trap-style, the reality may be the exact opposite. As predictions of a looming post-COVID divorce spike suggest, quarantine is likely to challenge many marriages, so it’s hard to believe those already dealing with infidelity will fare much better.
“This is not going to suddenly create better wives and husbands simply because they’re on forced lockdown,” says Paul Keable, Chief Strategy Officer at extramarital dating platform Ashley Madison. In fact, as cheating spouses lose access to the sexual and emotional outlet of an extramarital affair, already strained marriages may only be more likely to see increased tension.
“The reality is, if you were already looking for or involved in an extramarital affair, suddenly being put on lockdown with the individual you’re looking to escape from on some level is not going to be beneficial,” Keable tells InsideHook. “Those issues were already there, and before, you had a number of distractions to avoid thinking about them. Now you don’t have any of those things. So it’s probably going to be worse for a lot of people.”
While quarantine may make it more difficult to connect with an extramarital partner, a recent spike in new Ashley Madison users suggests plenty of people are up for the challenge. According to Keable, the site is averaging over 16,000 new signups per day, up from 15,000 in 2019, and those numbers appear to be rising as quarantine drags on. When I spoke with Keable last week, he told me the platform had seen 17,900 new signups the previous day alone.
Keable compares the current quarantine spike to an increase in user signups Ashley Madison typically sees in the first few weeks of January, after an extended period of time spent home with family over the holidays may have exposed and deepened the fractures that often cause people to begin dating outside their primary relationships. “What’s happening here is that same sort of phenomena writ large,” says Keable, adding that he expects to see site traffic continue to increase “exponentially” as lockdowns persist.
However, as John realized once canceled flights and work-from-home orders made it nearly impossible to arrange an extramarital tryst, quarantine conditions pose some significant challenges for those looking to begin or maintain an affair.
For one thing, hooking up with a stranger isn’t exactly what we might call social distancing, but even if you’re willing to accept the COVID-related risks, trying to arrange a clandestine hookup amid a lockdown is a logistical nightmare. Many hotels are closed, and with work-from-home orders eliminating any pretense of working late, business dinners, company happy hours or work-related travel, a good excuse for leaving the house is hard to come by. Moreover, while most singles or partners separated by quarantine at least have the option of remote sex, sharing close quarters with a primary spouse makes a secret phone or video sex session tough to pull off.
“The lack of privacy makes video calls impossible, so I stick to sexting and emails,” says Rose, a 43-year-old Ashley Madison user from New York currently quarantined with her husband. “Being quarantined with my spouse has made our relationship more tense. He used to travel extensively for work, but now he’s around all the time,” she tells InsideHook.
Like John, Rose, who began using Ashely Madison within five years of her marriage, finds that quarantine conditions haven’t done much to rekindle the flame with her husband. “My spouse and I haven’t been together sexually in a while and quarantine hasn’t changed that,” she says, adding that the only thing that has changed is her “freedom to date and have sex with others.”
While Keable suggests that many people joining Ashley Madison in lockdown may simply be looking for an outlet in the form of a virtual connection, he admits that it often “becomes challenging to maintain a relationship without the possibility of in-person communication.” As John texted me last month, “It’s so hard to maintain relevance in a FWB [friends with benefits] relationship from a distance. My text charm only goes so far.”
Unsurprisingly, then, some people are still taking their extramarital connections offline, quarantine be damned. Rose tells InsideHook she recently met up with a new partner from Ashley Madison in a park for a clandestine date, though she says they’re “being safe.”
“Virtual relationships are all novelty and fantasy, which is great,” she says. “But at some point you want the real thing with face-to-face interaction.”
Meanwhile, John, now over a month into his coronavirus sex cleanse, has also begun to wade back into the extramarital dating pool, though he insists sex is still off the table. Last week, he told me he had plans to meet up with — and remain six feet apart from — a new woman he’d met online, though he’d traded his usual Fort Lauderdale resorts for a more humble destination.
“Literally a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot,” he told me when I asked where the socially distanced tryst was to go down. “She was so down to meet. She didn’t care where.”
“Former NFL cheerleader,” he added. “How can I pass?”