August 2015 was a rough month for love. Hackers released data from AshleyMadison.com, a dating site created specifically for married people looking to cheat on their spouses. With more than 32 million users' identities revealed, it’s reasonable to get the icky sense that all men want to cheat. But of course, that would ignore the fact that anyone can stray—regardless of gender or sexual orientation—and that it takes two for a married person to cheat. So is there something about a wedding ring that makes a man seem nicer, smarter, funnier, and just overall more desirable?
A few experts on love and marriage explain why a taken dude can seem so much hotter.
If women’s most cliché complaint about dating men is that they resist settling down, it figures that we’d be attracted to someone who has signed up for a legally binding romance. "He has a demonstrated capacity for commitment," says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.
Of course, there's a big problem here: If he’s willing to cheat with you, there's no guarantee that he won't cheat on you, too.
Statistically speaking, “married men are more likely to be educated, more likely to be working, to have an income, to be responsible,” says Scott Stanley, Ph.D., codirector of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver and coauthor of Fighting for Your Marriage. Anyone can get married, but it still feels like a very adult thing to do; the guy presumably has his sh*t together. “When a single woman is used to seeing guys who play video games and live in their mother’s basement, then the married men look attractive because they’re actually accomplishing things.”
A married guy can’t get too close to you, which may be a good thing if you’re the one who has trouble opening up. “A single woman may be attracted to a married man because she isn’t ready—or wanting—a committed, long-term relationship at the time,” says Orbuch. “She selects a man who isn’t really available to her.” Put another way, “It’s a relationship that’s guaranteed not to work or at least is less likely to work,” says Stanley.
If a married guy flirts with you, texts you, or sleeps with you, he’s taking a major life risk to be able to enjoy your company. “Part of the intoxication is: 'This person’s married, so I must be really special,'” says Rachel A. Sussman, a licensed clinical social worker, a New York-based therapist, and a relationship expert. It's easy to tell yourself, “He’s got a lot to lose, but he’s choosing to be with me.” It’s a huge rush for your self-esteem, which suggests that the single participant may be feeling a bit insecure to begin with.
The stakes of an affair are incredibly high. You could destroy a marriage, maybe even a family, with one phone call to his wife. “It could be someone who’s attracted to drama,” says Stanley. “They like toying with the situation.” Sussman mentions the endless HBO-level drama of will-they-or-won’t-they leave their wife. “People who are prone to drama, they don’t like the mundane relationships,” she says. “They enjoy the clandestine feel of an affair.”
There's nothing like dating a string of losers to make you feel like there are no more decent fish in the sea. “It’s that saying, ‘All the good ones are taken,’” says Stanley. “As a single woman gets older, she may struggle with that.” It can feel unfair that some other woman snapped up your soul mate back in college, never giving him the chance to meet you.
It does sometimes happen that a married person stays with their partner in infidelity. Consider Prince Charles and Camilla, LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian, and of course, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They’re simply compatible. Even if the new couple doesn’t last forever, their pairing may have helped the married person escape a situation that wasn't working. “If you’re in a loveless marriage and there’s no sex, no passion, then you may already be considering leaving,” says Sussman. A mistress cushions the blow of divorce. It’s just one of the many motivations for having an affair—or participating in one.