October 22, 2017

Big Profits from Cheap relationships

Big Profits from Cheap relationships

This was written for the Church Times in January 2010.

Some people’s New Year Resolution is to find more exciting relationships. At least that is what we are told by online dating agencies. For them, January is always a busy month, but business this year is currently outstripping others.  Agencies have reported record increases of visitors to their websites over the last fortnight – related, it seems to the number of people snowed in, and so ‘working’ at home. In the middle of last week, with the ice at its most treacherous and the country’s workforce enjoying an extended lie-in, visitors to one website soared by 55% with most logging on early afternoon.

Brisk business for the dating agencies suggests slower business for companies: firms might well be curious to know how much real work was actually done at home. But, even without benefits from the bad weather the online dating services are clearly not suffering from recession.  According to a leading market research group, the number of Britons paying to register for online dating services is set to grow from 2.6 million people in 2006 to six million by 2012, creating revenues of around £368m.

Controversially, those reporting the biggest increase are websites specifically for extra-marital affairs. I turned up one such website and found that people bored with their marriages or current partners can enjoy a ‘discreet romp’ with any number of others for a small registration fee of £15.99. From the shadowy profiles offered it appeared that around 700 of its registered members were at that moment roaming around online looking for a discreet liaison. Another such agency launched in 2001 now boasts ten thousand ‘all married’ members, mostly ‘high-flying professionals’. Men outnumber women three to one. The site owner claims proudly that ‘infidelity has gone from being a niche market’ to ‘verging on mainstream’.

If this is a growing trend, then why? Many commentators focus on the recession. As companies flounder and people are made redundant, inexpensive forms of escapism are in demand. An internet affair is exciting, easily available, temporary, and very cheap. As some site owners point out – this is not dating, there is no need even to buy flowers or dinner; you just head for the bedroom where money worries and nagging spouses can be forgotten in a short, no-strings sexual encounter. The fact that infidelity is smoothly arranged between people who risk the same makes it even safer – and guarantees lucrative profits to service providers.

The assumptions behind this analysis are problematic. They demean the nature of relationships, treating them as another aspect of consumerism. When marriage fails to meet requirements, traders step in and offer infidelity as a more effective commodity. In reality, marriages in a consumerist society are often undermined by the greater demands of work, becoming entangled with money and success. Too often they are required to spice up pressured lives  or to provide a respite from stress, yet without the commitment of time and energy given exclusively to each other which any marriage needs to grow strong.

Studies repeatedly show that most people looking for a relationship still see fidelity  as part of love. That shouldn’t surprise us as it’s woven in to the very meaning of marriage and central to its Christian roots. Faithfulness provides a secure base for the experience of intimacy as well as the freedom to enjoy the ordinariness of relationship together. But  we may need to demonstrate in our own lives that marital commitment breaks the stranglehold of our culture; that ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health’ eliminates the need for trading, and cuts the heart out of consumerism.

January 2010

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