As I sat down to have a conversation with Sybil Shiddell, Country Manager, India, at Gleeden, India’s first extramarital dating app that recently crossed two million sign-ups, I had only one restless question: why?
Building an app to help people cheat feels unsettling, the red flags seem too many and too apparent. Shiddell smiles, an almost knowing smile at the familiar question. “A lot of people stay in marriages even when there are things that are tearing them apart. Infidelity is their way to vent," she says. "We are not encouraging people to do it but are inviting them to explore. Sometimes flirting with someone virtually is all you need, to find out that you don’t want to go further."
"Many feel the need to cheat with their minds and not bodies. “We provide a secure and safe environment to do that, without judgement,” Shiddell adds.
However, those who go to couples therapy to deal with a partner’s cheating feel that emotional as well as physical betrayals are about loss of trust that the relationship is often built on. “The couples have to often rebuild their foundation through communication. Among people who opt for open or polyamorous relationships, there is a sense of transparency that is lacking in extra-marital relationships,” says Jinasree Rajendrakumar, psychologist and couples therapist in Bangalore.
The rise of interest in apps such as Gleeden which revealed that 40% of its users are women, shows a cultural shift and unlearning of the imposed heteropatriarchal idea of marriage and commitment, and a focus on needs. More importantly, it shows that the idea of monogamy is being questioned. In a survey by Gleeden conducted in January last year, 55% of users considered monogamy a social obligation, and the remaining felt it was only possible in certain circumstances.
“Even though people are going to continue to get married, open marriages are the way forward. You find a partner to share your life, affection, goals, and family with, but sexual monogamy is impossible to maintain in the long run. But it should be a mutual agreement,” Shiddell says.
But the question is: shouldn’t there be more awareness about relationships beyond monogamy, open and safe conversations about the shifting attitudes toward marriage, and accessible support systems for those dealing with loneliness within relationships? All or any of this instead of focusing on making it easier and safer to cheat?
Society seems to be more comfortable dealing with the consequences of infidelity than having conversations about non-monogamous marriages that might threaten the hold of patriarchy, which uses systematic coercion and shaming to refuse women’s sexual autonomy. Moreover, the taboo around cheating makes it difficult to explore the layers within it.
As well-known psychotherapist and author Esther Perel once said: “This experience of infidelity is so ubiquitous, and so poorly understood that I don’t think it can be reduced to good and bad, victim and perpetrator. We need a conversation that embraces the complexity and that is more caring and compassionate for everybody involved.”