Swiping right into infidelity

Swiping right into infidelity

‘Tis the season of love... and cheating. Dating apps, WhatsApp chats and late-night sexting have all made it easy to have casual flings without getting caught or find escape routes from committed relationships without trouble.

Representative image.

Radhika and Raksh Kapoor* recently got married. After their honeymoon in Switzerland, they rushed back to their busy schedules. Thanks to crazy work deadlines, they did not feel as emotionally connected as earlier.

This is when Raksh, who spends quite a lot of time on social media, found Sania* among many others to talk to. The friendship progressed at breakneck pace as he started sharing intimate details of his day with her. He started spending more and more time with Sania and Radhika started noticing his distanced self. While he is determined he will never meet Sania in person, he is now worried about how to stop communicating with her.

Christine and Yadunandan S* shared a whirlwind romance before they got married to each other. Soon, the 27-year-old IT professional was depressed after she discovered that her partner was diagnosed with third-stage lung cancer. A moment of loneliness and frustration led her to a Facebook group where she found a college senior who had a crush on her. Before she knew, they were ‘spending time together’ online. The realisation that her husband is now aware of the relationship has left her feeling guilty about her ‘new bond’.

Forty-year-olds, Sreeshant and Padma Kumar* have been together for almost two decades. He was unhappy with their physical bonding and was looking for ‘some fun outside’, even though he loved his wife. A chat with Akrithi* on a dating application led to more intimate chats and video calls. He believes that he is “allowed to be happy with whoever he is compatible with” and now doesn’t want to quit.

Today’s common tales, these stories are evidently different from the age-old concept of adultery — Raksh, Christine and Sreeshant are a part of the new world of digital infidelity.

Extra-marital relationships formed through social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and dating applications are a part and parcel of today’s society.

Popular social media commentator Mahinn Ali Khan notes, “adultery has existed as far back as the institution of marriage has. It’s a ubiquitous part of society. Lust is a central part of what makes us human — whether it is directed at a married person or not. Social media today has provided opportunities for interactions and with the added advantage of anonymity.” She says, “it facilitates possibilities for sexual intimacies privately but in plain sight. Being married is an almost secondary consideration to the availability of a partner to hook up with.”

Dating applications like Tinder and Grindr have made “accessing sex just a click away.” Mahinn adds, “like adultery, infidelity also has a ring of the archaic. Let’s face it. It’s just not such a shocker anymore.”

The science of it

Dr Roshan Jain, senior consultant psychiatrist, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru, says, “social media has affected the quality of our relationships, as we ‘phub’ our partner, for other less important distant people. On an average, netizens now spend more than 50 minutes on Facebook, which is more than the time spent on any other media, except television and movies.” The higher the exposure to social media, the more the chances to compare and contrast with others’ lifestyle and choices, which leads to rising expectations and unreasonable demands in one’s relationship. Invariably, such exposure to social media brings dissatisfaction and seeking out, which could lead to flirting, sexting and adultery.
If ‘desire is the root for all suffering’, add discretion via social media to it and it makes for a dangerous formula that can cause interpersonal troubles.

The reasons most people turn to these platforms is the discretion and accessibility it comes with, he says. Roshan points out that 1 of 3 cases of extramarital affairs or two-timing can be attributed to social media.

Dr Shamili Kowshik, psychologist, BR Life SSNMC Hospital, observes that it’s not just 20 to 30-year-olds, but even individuals in their 40s who can be seen on such platforms. She says, “most women are on such spaces because of loneliness or boredom, and men because they want to try something new.” Some women even feel badly treated in their marriages and “take to social media as a medium for revenge”.

Emotional vs physical

Many in these relationships defend their acts by saying that they never intend to meet their new partners. Whatever the justifications, cheating is cheating, say relationship experts.

Roshan notes, “online and offline cheating are both a breach of trust. They are both equally bad as they generate feelings of undesirability, inadequacy and rejection in the one who is cheated, and feelings of guilt, regret and remorse in the one who is cheating, provided such a person has the capacity to empathise.”

Shamili adds that even though many ‘such friendships’ start off innocently as seeking someone who one can share things with, “things often don’t stop there”.

The worst part is that one cannot be sure about anything, “as who knows who is behind the screen chatting with you?” Shamili quips. “When you are connected to someone, you tend to communicate with them often and unknowingly distance yourself from your loved ones. The constant fear of deleting chats, call logs and changing passwords, can lead to fights and affect one’s marital bond,” she says.

Privacy is the key

Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of Clinical Psychology, SHUT clinic (Service for Healthy Use of Technology), NIMHANS, feels that cyber platforms lure people to them due to privacy and convenience.

“Adultery in real life is governed by certain social norms and other logistics. Cyber platforms are not bound by such limitations,” he says.

The platforms also provide you with the opportunity to step away. When one sees/hears something unexpected they can say “this is not what I meant to say” and back off, unlike a face-to-face interaction. Many individuals don’t accept blame for their behaviour online, which also encourages them to go on.

Different expectations in relationships and marriages as well as lack of intimacy and sexual activity often leads one to commit online adultery. Manoj says, “many people turn to online platforms to fulfil their needs as they feel they are safe from any possible consequences. They send messages, ‘sext’ and share photographs, which some confess gives them a high when they are away from their partners.” He notes that online adultery cases are more common in cities and most of the individuals belong to upper-middle social communities and nuclear families.

An extra-marital dating app (no, really)

There are several mobile applications, location-based or interest-based like Tinder, OkCupid, Bumble, Hinge, TrulyMadly, Happn, which can unknowingly or knowingly lead to bonding with married individuals.

Many Indians are unhappy or looking for relationships beyond their committed partner and the launch and number of downloads of mobile application Gleeden, an extramarital dating platform, has proved this.

Launched in 2017, this application has more than eight lakh active users and has registered over 10 lakh downloads; 155,000 downloads in Bengaluru alone.

Solene Paillet, marketing director, Gleeden says that the ratio of men to women on the application is 70:30. "A higher percentage of male users are common on dating apps since they are more prone to put themselves on the line."

The app has users from cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Pune, among many others. It has users even in Tier-2 cities like Kochi, Jaipur, and Lucknow, and Tier-3 cities like Siliguri and Burdwan.
Most active users are between the ages of 34 to 49. "Since the decriminalisation of adultery in 2019, the number of users has grown extensively and quickly. An affair in Gleeden is 'safer' since it’s virtual, as far as people don’t bring it into the real world," Solene adds.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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