In an age when an affair is possible at the click of a mouse, how has this affected the frequency that people are choosing to stray?

Those who read the Bible may remember Uriah from the Old Testament. The story of this Israelite military officer serves to show how drastic things may get when passion overrides reason. A passionate relationship evolved between King David of Israel and Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and after she inadvertently got royally pregnant, the desperate King resolved the predicament by dispatching poor Uriah to the war front, not only to do his job but to be posted to the front lines, where he indeed got killed in action.

The events are said to have taken place circa 1000 B.C. Whether or not you believe the story to be true, you can hardly dispute one thing in particular that it highlights: infidelity in relationships is not a contemporary concept, but is something that has always been. It did not evolve with modern communications technology such as the Internet – it would therefore appear pointless to blame online dating channels, for example, for ruining relationships in the current age.

Surely not many people in our culture ever set out to get married or start cohabiting with their partner with the idea of seeing someone on the side at some point.

In a recent documentary about the Finnish ice hockey great Teemu Selänne, the “Finnish Flash” brings forward an astute point about his own, visibly happy and successful marriage by saying that “another person can never come between two people, if there is no space between them for it”.

But such squeezing-in does happen. Everyone is coming from and going to a different direction (for further information you may want to check out the Wikipedia entries on monogamy and polygamy), all relationships are different and only those in them may be able to see the big picture. So, each example is special, and we are all emotional and passionate.

“The fading passion
of a relationship
can be dealt with in
three ways: ‘One is to
keep on living that way,
which really is not a way
out. Second option is a
divorce, which brings a
lot of pain and trouble,
especially when you
have kids and also own
things together. The
third way is trying to fix
it, trying to rediscover
the passion.’”
Sigurd Vegal,
CEO of VictoriaMilan

Backdoor affairs and private member accounts

Because the subject matter is intimate, delicate and very much personal, by far the best way to talk about it is from behind a complete shield of anonymity. SixDegrees spoke recently to a married person who had been looking for something extra online and also found it.

Having been with the same person for more than 12 years, our interviewee had endured the typical variety of good and bad periods that most long-term relationships undergo throughout their duration.

“At one stage I was going through a rough patch in our relationship; some people in their late 30s start feeling like their life no longer is as exciting as it used to be, which is what happened in our marriage. Obviously it doesn’t mean that you don’t love the other person anymore, but as individuals we need our own space, since we all have our own needs. I needed attention and love from my partner at that time, and he clearly didn’t even realise this. Then I started to look for a solution and began to browse the web like we all do nowadays. This is how I found VictoriaMilan.”

Now, this may sound like a woman’s name, but in actuality, it refers to an online service for people who are in a relationship but are also looking for some extra excitement and romance in their lives, just like our interviewee was. So it clearly is a service that meets existing needs, which oftentimes spells success for the provider.

“Browsing the Internet a couple of years ago, I encountered an article describing some Scandinavian dating web site and was amazed by the general idea: to create a friendly environment for people to meet in and maybe extend it further into real life,” Sigurd Vegal, CEO of VictoriaMilan, explains. “I started researching more about the topic and ended up being registered on more than 80 dating sites across different countries. Not long after this VictoriaMilan was built and started in Scandinavia.”

After the service began to attract an increasing number of members, it commenced pushing into different markets – the UK, Germany, France or Italy, to name just a few. Currently present in about 25 countries around the globe, they are looking for more expansion to follow.

First knock on the backdoor

For our anonymous interviewee there wasn’t a big threshold for signing up with VictoriaMilan. Did they find it difficult to become active with the service?

“No, personally I don’t take infidelity as a bad thing – I used to, but it changed when that special thing between us in the relationship faded,” the interviewee states. “But my partner does, and this is why I am using VictoriaMilan. Seeing other people can be positive for me as a person and lead to something positive for my relationship as well. So there was no hesitation because I already decided that something had to change. VictoriaMilan turned out to be a perfect solution. I quickly received loads of messages and started chatting with several men. Finally I chose one of them, because we got along really well from the beginning.”

The interviewee’s situation is not one that is unique. Vegal points out that the fading passion of a relationship can be dealt with in three ways:

“One is to keep on living that way, which really is not a way out. Second option is a divorce, which brings a lot of pain and trouble, especially when you have kids and also own things together. The third way is trying to fix it, trying to rediscover the passion. This can be done through an affair, which gives people all the psychological – and physical as may be required – benefits that you get in the early stages of a relationship.”

Vegal then states that most VictoriaMilan users flirt with each other and go back to their families happier, with a strong will to carry on and lead a fabulous life.

This is a great point. Does the fact that you see your spouse joyously hugging a friend with laughter mean he or she is looking to change address? It’s more about revitalisation, getting a break from the daily grind; just loving life – the fact that he or she does actually share an address with you in the first place is already saying something, is it not?

Paths of secrecy and keeping them a secret

Why then does our anonymous interviewee prefer an online platform over, say, going to the bar to look for company?

“When you are talking to someone at a bar, it may not be so easy to back out, whereas on an online chat, it’s so easy to say bye. This is how come I was able to choose a candidate that really felt exactly right for me. I guess in real life you’d need to go to the bar every night for a month for the same result. Another thing is that while at the bar, you can easily be spotted by a friend, and your partner also knows that you are out and away somewhere.”

Vegal explains about discretion on VictoriaMilan.

“We help our customers keep their affairs discreet with 100 per cent anonymous profiles, the photo blur feature or advice from our online experts on how not to get caught. We have features such as the ‘panic button’ that quickly redirects you to YouTube if someone enters the room.”

In the same vein, has our interviewee managed to keep the extramarital stuff a secret, and what would happen if the other one found out?

“So far I haven’t been caught, because discreet use of VictoriaMilan requires only a little attention. My partner does not know anything, but if he did, I think it might hurt him. Perhaps it would make him think about the reasons for my behaviour. But I’m not sure about it, so I don’t want to find out. Life seems better right now, and I want to keep it that way.”

Invisible lines drawn on the air

In an effort to boost its familiarity in Finland, VictoriaMilan recently contacted Radio Nova, a countrywide commercial radio channel. Under most circumstances, any advertiser would keep one hand on the phone and shift the other one towards the cash register handle – but this is not what happened here.

“When we set the channel up, we built up the brand from a long-term point of view, with the basic idea of making the day better for Finnish people, and have built up our offering in view of our target audience”, says Petri Manninen, Managing Director at Radio Nova.

“For us, our decision to refrain from airing VictoriaMilan commercials is just a single example, not only relating to their service but based on a larger scheme that actually forms the very foundation for the existence of our radio channel.”

Manninen points to another example of a similar phenomenon – one where the radio station’s decision caused amazement among some financially minded external parties. In the late 1990s, when there was a big boom of sex phone lines in Finland, the station stuck to its own ideas and values, and thus turned down the possibility of running these commercials as well.”

“The long haul and continuity are two key points in brand construction,” Manninen explains. “You have to know who you are and what you do, because you cannot be something to everyone.”

The radio man also approaches the matter of context-specific talk from another important angle.

“The fact that you define your message does not mean that you cannot leave from your editorial comfort zone when developing stories, but if you do, you have to make a safe return to the comfort zone while within the story, so that your story has a point in the context.”

The following astute point by Manninen makes for a verbal ear rinse:

“As a communication medium, radio is the most intimate one. You hardly have a telly in your bathroom, do you? Radio can get under your skin. Because of this emotional potential, content providers must know their responsibility for what they offer, and all successful brands have a very clear brand strategy or content strategy and a value set where the moral ideas stem from, and these must genuinely embrace the individual listener. You’re not broadcasting to a mass of 150,000; your audience everywhere consists of an individual person, every time. And this is exactly why these long-term ideologies and core values are key for our successful operation.”

Family counsellors familiar with heartbreak

Infidelity can wreak havoc. The downs and outs can often be seen, for example, at the family counselling centre of the Evangelical-Lutheran Parish of Jyväskylä – not as often as some time before, though.

“We compile annual statistics on the reasons that bring couples here, and infidelity as the primary cause has decreased from the early 2000s, and you can truly notice it,” says manager Sirpa Salo, also quoting Finnish researcher Osmo Kontula, whose research (“Between Sexual Desire and Reality”) indicates that the younger generations relate more strictly to infidelity than their predecessors.

“Currently, interaction problems are the number one reason for couples to come here. There may be infidelity in the background, having occurred a long time ago, but nevertheless causing the interaction to become skewed,” says Merja Kangas from the parish.

What has caused the drop in infidelity frequency?

“Kontula suggests that the increasing load caused to people by society and the related excessive rationalism has been countered by the new rise of romance; people are primarily seeking romantic and emotional satisfaction from their relationships,” says parish member Pekka Puukko. “One could draw a conclusion that the counter-movement against infidelity arises out of the deep experience of insult that the other person feels because of it.”

Salo continues her colleague’s thought: “Life here is so fragmented and hectic, so people are seeking something permanent in their lives by hoping to think they have found just the right person.”

Has the function of intimate relationships changed along with societal development?

“In a family, maintaining the standard of living and similar tasks are in a smaller role than a century ago. Couples today are looking for emotional aspects in their relationships, which also makes relationships more fragile than before,” Puukko says and adds: “Listening to our clients, the idea of playful side-stepping sounds rather strange when you see the long-term devastation that infidelity causes in a relationship.”

Mika Oksanen