Why you should care
Because it’s nice to think the Internet could help people keep their commitments.
There are lots of ways to cheat online, and maybe the idea of inadvertently hooking up with a smug married on Tinder repulses you. Perhaps you’d be happier on a site that promised you’d meet only fellow commitmentphiles, or at least one that lets you know if that dashing fellow or dimpled blonde is “in a relationship” on Facebook. If you’re already coupled up, maybe you’d be interested in an app that beams your movements and texts straight to your better half’s phone (and vice versa, of course). Turns out you have all these options, and more.
Monogamy may just be having a moment, particularly after the hack of the notorious “Life is short, have an affair” site Ashley Madison, which exposed the names, emails and sexual proclivities of some 30 million members. And why not? Regular dating services have already gained a reputation as cheater minefields. Researchers at GlobalWebIndex just reported that 45 percent of Tinder users worldwide are married or in a relationship, seemingly confirming the long-held suspicions of many users. (Tinder calls that study “totally inaccurate” and says “simple logic” makes its claims impossible, although it didn’t offer data of its own.) Many dating sites, in fact, offer tips about spotting cheaters and forums for discussing them, although most are limited in what they can do about stepper-outers — even if a two-timer gets booted, it’s ridiculously easy to reregister under a new handle and email address.
They cater to the tired, the poor at heart, the huddled masses yearning not to find unexpected sexts on their partner’s phone.
If the Ashley Madison hack “doesn’t fundamentally change the way the serious side of the dating industry conducts business,” says David Evans, a dating service consultant, “then all is for naught.” And there’s a lot of business being conducted — $2.4 billion in 2015, up from $1.6 billion in 2006, according to the market-research firm IBISWorld. It doesn’t take too much poking around to find a surprising number of sites and services catering to the tired, the poor at heart, the huddled masses yearning not to find unexpected sexts on their partner’s phone. Fidelity-first sites claim to offer a safe alternative, especially for folks who found that their partners were seeing other people without letting them know about it. Monogamy sites are a haven for such people; “they’ll reach out for it,” says Danine Manette, author of Ultimate Betrayal, a guide to detecting and surviving infidelity.
There’s certainly an irony here, as a medium infamous for harboring cheaters now also shows an evolving potential to foster more “old-fashioned” relationships. It’s further evidence, in case you needed it, that the digital nature of human relationships continues to shift on what feels like a daily basis. New dating tools could also have bigger real-world ramifications than you’d think. Marital infidelity, some experts say, inflicts serious emotional trauma on the betrayed spouse — in some cases, pain and grief so intense it’s surpassed only by the death of a child, often lingering as a sort of PTSD of the heart.
Fidelity Dating co-founder Gary Spivak is out to prevent that. He was cheated on years ago, after which he dropped serious weight, couldn’t sleep and developed muscle aches so intense they required medication. His seven-month-old service, which claims fewer than 5,000 members, aims to ward off the waywards by asking members to take a fidelity pledge. If you’re looking for an affair, “why would you come to a site for people looking for faithful partners?” Spivak asks.
Invite-only apps like the Dating Lounge, created by a professional matchmaker, also claim they can screen out cheaters (and police them if they slip through). More mainstream apps like Hinge, which connects would-be couples through mutual friends, now explicitly expose people dumb enough to join a dating service while professing to be committed on Facebook. But users can also do some background checking themselves. Women, for instance, can turn to Lulu, an app for dishing about men — their looks, sense of humor and, most important for our purposes, their sense of commitment. Less than a week after the Ashley Madison hack, Lulu saw a 16 percent spike in usage, according to Deborah Singer, Lulu’s vice president of marketing.
And if you’ve already found your lobster and just want to make sure they stay yours, there’s always the option of voluntarily enforcing your monogamy. Some couples already share email and Facebook passwords as a sign of trust, a means of verification or both; soon, there may also be an app for that. It’s still apparently in the concept phase, but a would-be app called Monogamy aims to actually bind your smartphones together, according to its website. (The startup behind it once tweeted that “monogamy is a relationship between” two devices.) That could include beaming your current location and where you’ve been to your partner, as well as informing them if you uninstall the app. No one at Monogamy replied to our request for comment.
Of course, a lot of monogamy marketing may amount to little more than lip service. Many such services use eminently gameable systems — it’s always possible to lie on Fidelity Dating’s pledge or delete your relationship status on Facebook, so branding for commitment doesn’t guarantee a cheater-free zone. Plus, there’s what you might call the empty-of-fish problem: It’s not at all clear how many people will specifically go looking for partners who won’t cheat on them. Apps like Tinder attract everyone, from those looking for their next spouse to those looking for the next hookup. “People often flock to those sites even if they don’t represent what they want, because the pool is so big,” says Logan Levkoff, a relationship expert and author.
But there’s one consolation: Sites like Fidelity Dating will be hacker-proof in a way, Manette suggests. After all, who would care if its members’ information leaked? That wouldn’t be a scandal — the monogamous crowd is “the silenced majority” already, she says.