“Text messages are the new lipstick on the collar, the mislaid credit card bill. Instantaneous and seemingly casual, they can be confirmation of a clandestine affair”, said Laura Holson back in 2009. Little did she know at the time quite how much technology would advance in the next decade. Technology has created choice; people are no longer restricted to communication with those they already know or meet out and about. Technology not only makes it easier to cheat, it has changed the way we think about what constitutes cheating and makes it easier to discover a betrayal. Adultery is no longer limited to a physical or emotional affair; its definition is expanding and is variable from one person to another: a string of messages to a stranger may be acceptable to one person, and a single swipe on a dating app could be a deal breaker to another.
The modern affair
Nowadays there are seemingly infinite number of messaging platforms making it possible to connect with a stranger or old flame in an instant, often anonymously or in secret. Snapchatting, Facebook messaging, Tinder swiping, Instagram direct-messaging, Whatsapping… to name but a few. The stereotype of the sleazy affair between the high powered professional and his secretary has given way to the “Tinder affair”, far easier to hide than an office dalliance.
Technology has given society free access to information and ideas, challenging people to think differently and define their own morals. There is no longer a simple definition of infidelity, at least for some. For most, infidelity is the betrayal of trust. There is increasing disparity in what people believe constitutes cheating, and this can change for every couple and each person in that couple. In a survey conducted by Slater and Gordon, 46% of men and 21% of women admitted to using dating apps while in a relationship, with boredom most commonly being cited as the main reason. It would seem that in general, most of us consider the use of dating apps while in a relationship to be cheating (80% of those surveyed), but 10% went as far as to say that their use is only cheating if it leads to physical contact.
It is safe to say the traditional views of marriage have been eroded for some members of the population. Ashley Madison, a dating service aimed at those in relationships and marriages (and whose slogan was previously “Life is short: Have an affair”), boasts approximately 52 million users since it was founded in 2002. Noel Biderman, its founder, fought back at criticism, stating that Ashley Madison discreetly helps people have affairs in ways that are less harmful to society and out of the workplace. And regardless, he said that “infidelity has been around a lot longer than Ashley Madison”. But in an age where everything is posted online in some form, is it possible to stay anonymous and to keep acts secret? Clearly not. The ‘discreet’ website was hacked in 2015, resulting in the account details of 32 million users being posted on the dark web and exposing the hidden affairs of millions of married people.
Means of discovery
But technology does not just favor those who wish to explore their options; every message, picture, and app leaves a trace, even after being deleted. This can lead to partners making unwelcome discoveries by accident. Or where changes in behavior, from the time-old “working late” to taking a phone to the shower, have alerted suspicious partners, the internet provides many avenues to investigate. There are the extreme situations such as the woman who discovered her husband was cheating when she saw him at his mistress’ home on Google Maps, and the more commonly occurring reveals thanks to a tagged Instagram post or a messaging flashing on a phone. Not only is it easier to uncover the affair, it is child’s play to find the name of the other person and only a click further to find out any other information they present to the world over social media.
We now live in a society which lives and communicates online. How can we expect affairs, photos, or seemingly harmless messages to be kept private when we publically advertise so much of our lives? Adultery is encoded in our phones and cannot simply be eroded or forgotten. The definition of adultery has changed for many, the lines are blurred. There are now more ways in which to cheat and, arguably, more opportunity given the online platforms now available. While it is not possible to tell if there are now more affairs, it is certainly easier to expose a partner’s infidelity. It is perhaps all too easy to explore other options in this technological age.
Kate Williams is a trainee lawyer at top family and matrimonial law firm Vardags who specialize in high net worth, complex and international divorce cases.