I was vaguely familiar with the concept of Sugar Daddies (SDs) and Sugar Babies (SBs) – young women, from college age to about mid-twenties, dating older, richer men to fund their way through their studies. They could be doing waitressing, hostessing or lap dancing, but they had chosen sugar dating. When my friend (let’s call her T) suggested that I try sugar dating, my instant reaction was “I’m far too old to be a sugar baby”. Surely I’d be more suitable as a Sugar Mama! The secondary, more nuanced reaction, was that dating someone who would provide money and gifts in exchange for my company, intimacy, sex, was complete anathema to a radical feminist who believes in women being independent and free creatures, answerable to no man. The final reaction was: “Hmm, but should I try it anyway?”
The rationale and traditional justification for sugar-dating is that it is honest about the transactional nature of every relationship. Relationships between men and women are the oldest form of power exchange. In the eyes of some (not me) men should pay for meals and drinks, buy gifts for women, and treat her like a princess. For millennia, men have traded social status for sex, while women have traded youth and beauty in exchange for security and protection. Whilst the 20th century gave women opportunities to create independent lives and rethink their roles in society, can we really pretend that there isn’t always some bartering of roles in every relationship? “You earn the money, deal with lawn care and take out the garbage; I’ll take care of everything else in this family”, or some variant thereof. Isn’t that proof that we are still in the business of trading when it comes to relationships?
I must have gone on over 200 dates in the last few years and my policy has been to always pay my share of dinner/holiday/tickets. I will not accept anything material from a man, especially as most of them have been younger and poorer than me. A few exceptions have been made for special occasions, or when he’s been a rich investment banker or such like. My feminism runs through my veins and I challenge anyone who believes in gender equality to give me a good reason for why a man should buy a woman dinner without her doing the same for him.
Yet, there I was, creating a profile on a specialist website called Seeking Arrangement (SA). As Nora Ephron said, everything is copy. An experience in the sugar bowl, for a jaded volume dater like me, would, if nothing else, be… educational. Assuming SA would even allow a 44 year old woman onto their site as a SB, I was curious to see what kind of people choose to be SD’s and SB’s, and why they did it. As to my query about being too old, T said, “Not necessarily”. Sure, most SB’s are under 26ish, and most SD’s are over 40, but there are plenty of older SB’s and even some very young SD’s. Apparently, it’s not always about age; it’s about cold hard cash. At least that’s something on which most SB’s would seem to agree. Sugar daters sell hard the idea of honesty of one’s needs and desires. An “arrangement”, so called, means an agreement between one party (usually the man) to provide “sugar”, i.e. money or some other cash-based incentive, in exchange for companionship, intimacy and ultimately, sex. I was also advised by T to read a Reddit forum on sugar-dating, which would tell me all I needed to know before entering the sugar bowl about the bewildering protocols and lexicon of this alien form of meat market.
In the four and a half years I’ve been on the dating scene, I think I exhausted the supply of men on the particular dating site that I’d been using. However, if I ever reactivated my profile for just 24 hours, I would be swamped with messages and approaches by men, some articulate and interesting, but mostly tedious in their repetitive chorus of horny desperation and sub-standard grammar. The tactic I deployed would be to gather about 5 decent-looking prospects and then disable my profile to give me the time and space to develop these “leads”.
With sugar-dating, everything is turned on its head. On SA, it’s the men who get inundated with messages. Many of the men don’t even put pictures on their profile, but they still get approached by so many women that they don’t have time to answer all the messages. Apparently it is considered rude to request a private photo until you have introduced yourself, as I learned from T after requesting and getting no response whatsoever. I had been ruined by regular dating! I was expecting to be chased, but on SA, I had to do the chasing! Given that I’m the optimum blend of busy and lazy, I didn’t connect with many prospects, but with the ones that did turn into dates, I was squirming with discomfort at every step of the “transaction”. The rules dictated that I should go on one date. If it went well, I should then tell them that I was interested and suggest entering into an “arrangement”. The options would be to agree a “Pay per meet” (PPM) where he would literally do a bank transfer or hand over a cash sum to me. Alternatively, you could ask for a monthly allowance which would be negotiated in exchange for a certain number of meetings a month. I was warned repeatedly by T and the members of the Reddit forum to never engage in intimacy before agreeing on the “arrangement”. Right from the off, I said to people that I didn’t want money, but I would accept gifts of lingerie. As you may know know, my lingerie habit would probably cost more than the going rate of the PPM or the allowance!
What difference is this to being a sex worker, I hear you ask. Sex work is work. And this is also work. SA makes a big show of saying they don’t want professional escorts or sex workers on their site. But isn’t this an amateur form of sex work? SA’s response would probably be that all women engage in a form of sex work, and at least they are empowering women and men to communicate their needs without shame. Maybe, but not me. If I was going to do sex work in exchange for money or gifts I would be much more likely to be a pro Dominatrix – that’s a type of power exchange which I could get comfortable with. Kick him in the balls and then, KERCHING. To be a sweet, compliant woman to a powerful rich man – a concubine, a geisha – that just turns me inside out and goes against every fibre of my being. Sure, I can play roles – I am a chameleon. Many women are. But this type of role play would feel criminally untrue to myself, let alone to anyone else I encounter. Several dates in, I decided that I couldn’t take any more of this charade, pretending I thought it was okay.
I did meet some very interesting men. Like any dating site, it contains people that are outside of your milieu whom you would never have met. People are usually fascinating if you dig around and under, and many of them are found on SA. These were usually accomplished people who had had interesting careers and lives. The ones I chose to meet had excellent communication skills. In the looks and body department, they were not going to win any pageants. One guy (early 60’s but looked 10 years older) had written books, lectured at Harvard, renovated a Georgian estate in the countryside, and was a raging Brexiteer. I got a good dinner at Sketch out of that one. Another guy was an art dealer with whom I had illuminating discussions about cultural appropriation. Another (only a few years older than me) worked in international finance and wanted a dominant woman to give him the motivation to lose 20 pounds but put me off by eating with his mouth open and mopping up every last bit of food with his finger. All of them had had a history of dating much younger, hotter, poorer women than me. The reasons given (or hinted at) were:
- They wanted women they could control
- Women their age were generally too independent/unattractive/out of shape
- They didn’t want a serious relationship so why did they need to find common interests and shared values
- Their wealth made them more attractive to women that would never otherwise look at them
- Their wealth allowed them to give her a good start and a stepping stone in life
Whilst this type of arrangement worked for the men, there was also a fair amount of insecurity expressed by them, knowing that she was only with him for one thing.
From a woman’s perspective, or at least one woman’s perspective, my friend T enjoyed being treated and spoiled, even though she has a very good job and wants for nothing. She has acquired dozens of Louboutins and a lovely collection of clothes and bags from Chloé, all gifted to her by the much older, less attractive and very rich men she dates. For her, this is a form of empowerment, to know that she can command this just by turning up her girlish charm and sensuality to maximum. To her, men are her hobby, and she’s playing them for all she can get. And good for her, I say.
The short spell in the sugar bowl confirmed to me that my worth cannot be measured in Michelin star meals, shoes, diamonds or holidays on a yacht. If I want any of those things, I want to obtain them for myself, and I do. I understand the reasons behind playing this game and towards those that play, there is no judgment from me. Do what you need to do and be shameless in pursuing your needs. But I cannot offer up myself to a man in exchange for material goods.
The funny thing is this. It came as a great surprise to me, a happy singleton and serial dater, that I did end up meeting a lovely, warm, sexy, caring, romantic, creative, imaginative man through SA, and yes, reader, I am no longer single. He’s not particularly rich, nor old. We hit it off straight away and I immediately scotched any idea of an “arrangement” because I felt a crazy attraction and connection, the like of which I don’t think I’ve felt before. He’s not on Instagram or any social media and I prefer it that way. He still insists on paying for every meal, sending me flowers and buying me gifts but I am so fond of him that I let him, despite my scruples. Ultimately, and at the risk of sounding a hypocrite after everything I’ve said above, we come together as equals, with just as much to risk and to win as each other. Life is indeed sweet.