Infidelity dating site Ashley Madison has seen a steady uptick in users during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Surveys by the Toronto-based company show the stress of 2020 — plus the experience of being cooped up with partners — has driven more people to seek connections outside their marriages.
Paul Keable, Ashley Madison’s chief strategy officer, said the service saw a 10 per cent dip in March when lockdowns began, but by late April, its user numbers had begun to bounce back, and more. Pre-pandemic, Ashley Madison saw around 15,000 new users a day, but over the past two months it’s held steady at more than 20,000 per day, Keable said.
“That’s a pretty significant increase,” he said.
Though the United States and Brazil have the most new users per capita, Canada comes in third (Toronto currently has almost 850,000 Ashley Madison users, according to a spokesperson).
Keable expects these numbers to continue going up as COVID-19 cases rise across North America, people keep working from home, and winter approaches. He said in lockdown, many of the things people once used to distract themselves from the problems in their relationships are now unavoidable.
“Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but in isolation, we see that the heart might look afar,” said Keable.
“The increased pressures of this whole world we’re seeing is causing issues. And so that’s what’s causing (an) increase in our business.”
It’s not just Ashley Madison, either — online dating has seen an uptick overall during the pandemic. Match Group, the company that owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid and more, reported a rise in subscribers and revenue in its third-quarter report in early November.
Keable said while the pandemic might make people more cautious about in-person relationships, many members are still seeking a physical connection, but being more careful about it. More than 10 per cent of Ashley Madison users are sticking to outdoor dates only, according to one of several member surveys the company has done during the pandemic.
These surveys also found that despite being cooped up together, many couples are less intimate this year, not more — which Keable says is a primary driver toward infidelity. Fifty-three per cent of Ashley Madison users said this is the most time they’re ever spent with their partners, said Keable, and yet many members complain their partner isn’t initiating physical contact, and they’re not feeling connected to them, he said.
Thirty per cent of users say they feel isolated and lonely, despite being with their partner or family almost 24/7, the surveys found. And 84 per cent of respondents said they see infidelity as a form of self-care during a stressful and unprecedented time, which Keable believes could actually keep more marriages together.
He said he doesn’t think this jump in Ashley Madison users points toward a spike in divorces. In fact, only one per cent of Ashley Madison users surveyed said they intend to leave their spouse.
“What is interesting is the vast majority of members … continue to tell us that they’re actually not looking for divorce, they still very much love the partner, their spouse, it’s just they’re unwilling to compromise and live a life outside of the thing that’s missing within their primary relationship.”