Unquenchable Masculinity: Affirmation, Attention, and Pressure to Perform in Men's Infidelity is under contract with Palgrave Macmillan and due out in 2020.
We all think we understand men’s infidelity. From casual exchanges about celebrity cheating scandals in public spaces to private conversations about the state of our friends’ unions to memes on social media, we position ourselves as adultery experts. A popular meme online likens men’s cheating to losing a $100 bill to pick up a $1 bill. The original poster, a man, explains that if you had $100 but saw $1 on the floor, you’d pick it up, and then says, “there ya go, that’s why boys cheat.” A woman comments that in picking up the $1 they lost their $100 and ends with “there ya go, that’s why boys are stupid." This is representative of our cultural understandings of men’s cheating. We believe this is something inherent to most men (if not all); that cheating is simply men being “greedy”; and that men who cheat are stupid. Once we know a man has cheater, we believe we know all that matters to know. He is now branded a “cheater” and villainized.
The reality is that we likely do know many men who participate in infidelity, men we like and admire and believe to be “good people.” We just don’t realize that they are in fact cheating. We may even look at those marriages from the outside with envy and admiration. In actuality, these men are people we know, people we like. They are men who live next door, who work in the office two doors down, who take their kids to piano lessons and coach Little League, and open doors for their wives. The men we see doing all of those things are also the men who are logging on and hunting for a clandestine sexual partner to supplement their marriage. While we imagine affairs as something that happens between two people who played with fire by looking too long into one another’s eyes, these men made a conscious choice to seek out an affair partner online. And they did so after years of muddling through marital dynamics that left them unsatisfied, downtrodden, and feeling like “less of a man.” These men have also shared their unique perspectives and experiences, their feelings, their psyches, and their worlds. As much as you are sure you know why men cheat, you likely don’t have the first clue.
I conducted a yearlong investigation into extramarital experiences using a sample collected from Ashley Madison, a niche online dating site catering to married individuals seeking an affair partner, I collected rich interview data from 46 men between the ages of 27 to 70 located across the United States. Thirty-seven men in the study detailed dissatisfaction with the emotional connection in their primary partnerships. The men described emotionally unsatisfying primary partnerships, which lacked intimacy, acceptance, and attention. Most of the men reported having children, and more than half of the sample reported their marriages as either sexless. All but two men in the sample expressed a clear desire to remain in their primary partnership for the remainder of their lives. All of the men in this inquiry created a profile on Ashley Madison to seek out a sexual affair partner. Only a few men were in the midst of their first affairs. Most were involved in subsequent affairs.