Students and the Sugar Bowl

 

This piece was part of a final year university assignment.

It’s pretty difficult being young in 2014. Whether you opt to pay between £6,000-£9,000 a year for an undergraduate degree or join the 1,701 applicants who were keen to be considered for one of the eight positions in Costa, you’re likely to be among the thousands of us with an uncertain future. After spending three years studying Journalism, I’m about to graduate to the exciting prospect of unpaid internships and work experience placements. With the final instalment of my student loan pending, it’s hard to imagine how I will finance wage-free living, a reality for the UK’s 941,000 unemployed 16-24 year olds. Wouldn’t it be great if some generous soul could take care of my rent and bills, and whisk me off to a tropical paradise for a few weeks?

Enter the Sugar Babies. It might seem like a far-off fantasy for many of us, but an increasing number of young women are happily sticking two fingers up to modern feminism and letting a rich, older guy take care of their expenses. These ladies, known as “Sugar Babies”, are showered with gifts, taken on lavish outings and, in some cases, given a cash allowance to pay for living expenses and to keep up their arm candy status. What do these men get in exchange for their generosity? A no-strings girlfriend he can show off at events, share intelligent conversation with and admire on exotic holidays.

Going Undercover

Sitting in my room wrapped in blankets (to keep heating costs down) and eating the last of my budget lentil soup, the idea of being spoiled by some lonely old loser seems more than appealing. With new inspiration, I type “How to find a Sugar Daddy” into Google, and I’m intrigued to find hundreds of sites dedicated solely to Sugar dating. I immediately stumble upon SeekingArrangement, the Sugar dating site that seems to constantly be causing a stir in the press, with its 2.7 million members, 1 million of whom are female university students. I sign up under the alter ego Lucy Teddington, an English Literature student from London with an expensive taste in handbags and fine dining, but who is ultimately looking for a man with “a quick wit, cracking sense of style and good manners,” who would “sweep me off my feet and prove that chivalry isn’t dead”.

The site asks Babies for some pretty standard information; age, location, height, body type, hair colour, language, education etcetera as well as a space to provide a short description. In the “Arrangement I am Seeking” section, Babies are asked to choose their Lifestyle Expectation – how much money they are expecting their Daddy to pay up each month. The options are ‘Negotiable’ (openly negotiable to any amount), ‘Minimal’ (less than $1,000 monthly), ‘Practical’ ($1,000 – 3,000 monthly), ‘Moderate’ ($3,000 – 5,000 monthly), ‘Substantial’ (5,000-  10,000 monthly) or ‘High’ (more than $10,000 monthly). Due to the US origins of the website, everything was marked up in dollars, but I guessed that my current rent, bills and food costs would come to around £1,000 ($1,608) a month, if I wasn’t living on a budget, which would put me in the ‘Practical’ category. I included two photos, cropped to show only half my face to make sure I was safe, and hit “submit”.

Within hours of my profile going online, I received my first bizarre message from a user called ‘Sidpan’, a 50-year-old Londoner whose profile advertised a ‘Fun bohemian in pinstripes,’ seeking ‘an adventurous travel companion, lover and great friend.’ His friendly message said: ‘I am really tempted to dust off the old pirates eye-patch in the closet, sail over in my schooner to kidnap and whisk you away to a desert island where we survive on fresh fish, fruit and passion for a month!!!What kind of man are you most attracted to and what is required to launch a steamy romance? Adventure beckons, Sidpan.’ I immediately grabbed my phone and Snapchatted the message to my friends.

Sidpan’s interesting introduction was one of the more creative I encountered, but most of my exchanges were largely very similar. Most Daddies sent a simple “Hi, I like your profile, let’s chat and maybe meet up” message, often including a telephone number or email address (both of which, according to the side’s rules, are not supposed to be exchanged).

One SeekingArrangement member, 30-year-old Cambridge graduate and investment banker James told me he was looking for ‘someone to treat like a princess’, recounting the flashy car he bought for an ex-girlfriend, and sending a link to the £900,000 flat in South London he’d apparently just purchased.

Another user, 38-year-old Joe sent a message asking if I was interested in ‘fun dates, intellectual conversations and naughty hotel times’ a few times a month in return for £1,200 allowance. His profile read ‘I understand what this site is all about and hope you do too.’

Talking about previous arrangements seems to be the norm in Sugar dating, as many users would describe their previous Sugar relationships in the very first message. 33-year-old executive city worker Faisal told me he was looking for ‘good fun times, evenings out and in.’ His former Sugar relationship had lasted two years, and they would meet three to four times a month for and in return for the ‘wonderful friendship and intimacy,’ he provided an allowance of £2,000-4,000 monthly.

Other Daddies were not so polite. Some members, such as 29-year-old Adam from Montreal, seemed to be using the site for more than casual dating. His charming message read “I am visiting London for three days in March, and am looking for someone to take out to dinner and return back with to my room at a posh hotel in the South Kensington area.” A quick glance at Adam’s profile indicated that he often looked for women to wine, dine and take back to his hotel on short business visits; his ‘About Me’ section reads “I am in Paris for three days in late March and am looking for a companion to spend time with in return for my generosity.” Guys like Adam were definitely using the site for more than a search for a potential pretty dates. He wanted dinner and sex, a quick transaction with no on-going ‘Arrangement’.

Many of the men were unattractive, overweight and seemed to seriously lack the charm required to win over a woman without paying her. So what’s making so many young women, particularly students, flock to sites like SeekingArrangement?

What makes the Sugar life so sweet?

Due to the imposition of higher tuition fees in 2012, many students are leaving university with record high debt. 64 of 122 UK universities now charge between £6,000 and £9,000 a year, while a survey from Push.co.uk found that students who began university after 2012 should expect to graduate with up to £53,400 to repay. With such dire financial prospects, it’s no wonder that increasing numbers of young women are tempted by the promise of cash, expensive gifts and good connections that dating a wealthy older man can bring.

However in other parts of the world, the Sugar life has always been a popular way to fund tuition fees. With average tuition fees of $28,500 a year, it’s no surprise that Sugar dating in the US has been rife for years.

Josie Kurkowski, a former Sugar Baby from Wisconsin, started Sugar dating when she was just seventeen years old. Josie was intrigued by the exciting world of wealthy older men and signed herself up to a popular Sugar dating website, lying about her age so that she was allowed to register.

“I never thought it would be successful for me as I was young and was very naive,” she explains, “I thought no one would really take my seriously until I got my first message stating an interest.” Josie was pleasantly surprised to meet her first Sugar Daddy within weeks, and they entered into an arrangement for several months.

When she started college at 19, Josie took a break from Sugar dating for a few months to focus on becoming an Audio Engineer and took on a part-time job to establish financial independence. However, when her father fell ill, she had little time for work and found herself sucked back into the world of Sugar dating.

When her father’s condition took a turn for the worse, Josie was forced to quit both her job and her degree to take care of him. In 2010, her father passed away and Josie was left with expensive medical and funeral bills. She says “I was still talking to most of my sugar daddies but only two of them knew my situation with my father. Both of the sugar daddies that knew the situation ended up helping me pay for the cost of everything and I was back into the lifestyle full time.”

As well as saving Josie from bankruptcy, her Sugar Daddies provided Chanel handbags, spa days with friends, expensive clothes and, of course, a generous allowance. “My allowance was about £3,000 a month, depending on of often we met up. I sometimes dated two at once. They knew my intentions, they knew they weren’t the only ones in my life and I made it clear to them that I am nothing more than business to them as they are to me.”

Similar arrangements are increasingly common for students in the UK, like 22-year-old Sarah*, a graduate from London. Sarah began Sugar dating while at university, when a work colleague told her about a rich businessman in America who was frequently sending her money. Sarah was intrigued, and began her search for a wealthy man to take care of her expenses

“I only met two of them,” Sarah recalls, “We just went on casual dates in public. I always let someone know where I was going, in case it was unsafe.” Sarah explains that she didn’t feel as though she had to give sexual favours in exchange for her Daddy’s money. “I’ve never felt pressured, but there is always an unwritten rule there. The whole thing has put me off older man, but it’s made me more open-minded to other people’s relationships and dating life.”

Some of the UK’s top universities, including the University of Cambridge, London School of Economics and the University of St. Andrews have high membership rates on SeekingArrangement, one of the UK’s most popular Sugar dating websites. These young women are intelligent and driven enough to get into a great university, so what makes the Sugar lifestyle attractive to so many ambitious students?

Angela Jacob Bermudo, SeekingArrangement’s Press Relations Manager, says that the Sugar lifestyle is appealing as it offers a low-commitment way to fund their studies.  “Students in need of assistance to pursue higher education have several options; one is to get a loan, and another is to take a part time job. Taking on a job can take away from their schooling, not only in focus but in time. Being a Sugar Baby doesn’t require as much focus. It’s more beneficial than a part-time job, which would most likely pay you minimum wage, and really do nothing for your career,” explains Bermudo.

Sugar Dating can also be beneficial in the long run, according to Bermudo. She says “the Sugar Baby lifestyle not only provides them with financial assistance, but it also gives them opportunities. For instance, if you have a Sugar Daddy who happens to be in the industry that you are looking to go in to, not only can he introduce you to contacts who can help secure your future after graduating.” According to Bermudo, these men can also offer “mentoring” to their Baby, sharing life lessons and industry advice.

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Sugarcoating prostitution?

While a generous allowance, dinner at Michelin starred restaurants and gifts might seem alluring, the question is what do the Sugar Babies do for their hospitable Daddies?

Some Babies claim to have platonic, non-sexual relationships with their Daddies, but from browsing countless profiles I get the impression that intimacy is part of the deal. Most will heavily imply their desire for a hotel room companion, but SeekingArrangement’s Press Relations Manager Angela Jacob Bermudo says that the Sugar way of life is nothing to do with sex work.

Bermudo insists that Sugar Babies aren’t prostitutes, as they are looking for a rich boyfriend, rather than a client who will pay up and have no emotional engagement. “They’re not in the sex industry, or trading sexual favours for money. Often cash isn’t even given to a Sugar Baby,” explains Bermudo. “It’s strictly prohibited to try to elicit sex through our website, and our users are great at reporting anyone attempting to misuse it.”

Jennifer*, a 24-year-old college graduate from Arizona kept up a string of Sugar relationships throughout her studies. She insists, “it’s not always about the sex. It’s about having a solid, trusting relationship and being something they want you to be.”

However, Jennifer admits that in her experience, Babies are more likely to get an allowance if they are “willing to do more to get it”. She’s also dabbled in Sugar affairs with married men, which she says is easy to pursue because “if their wives aren’t doing it for them, and they have someone like me wanting that affection, the desire of being wanted is what appeals to them.”

But former Sugar Baby and author of Sugar Daddy Diaries: When a Fantasy Became an Obsession Helen Croydon experienced the slippery slope between Sugar Babies and prostitution. Croydon sought out a Sugar Daddy because she liked the idea of dating older and more established men, who would share her love of the finer things in life. She recalls, “In the beginning, when men offered to take me shopping or eluded to a cash allowance, I was shocked and refused on principal.”

Croydon did not consider herself a prostitute because her motivation for Sugaring was not for money or material goods. She explains, “In my case, the main incentive was fun, adventure, romance, attraction, physical affection and all types of rewards you’d  expect with dating. That’s what the ideal of a sugar daddy relationship is. The money and material goods were a bonus.”

However, over time she came to find the presents and financial rewards increasingly alluring, and she found herself prioritising dates on who would provide the most, rather than who she was most attracted to.”When the money and material goods become the main incentive that it starts to blur into prostitution. I stopped because I realised that my motivation had changed from innocent fun and curiosity, which is why I initially joined the site, to materialistic gain,” she explains.

The sour side of Sugar

Given the growth and de-stigmatization of conventional internet dating, one has to wonder why what kind of a man joins a dating site exclusively populated by needy, poor women. Beneath the stories of Sugar Daddies wiping out debt and supporting girls through their studies, there is a darker side to Sugar Daddy dating.

Josie Bukowski has experienced the creepy side of Sugar Daddy dating. She wasn’t happy with how one Daddy treated her, but felt compelled to continue with the relationship because of its financial benefits.

‘He was verbally abusive, but I just accepted everything because he gave me nice things and a lot of money,’ she recalls. ‘I was afraid of how it would end if I had been brutally honest to him about how I actually felt. I realised that I valued my self-worth and broke it off, and I ended up selling all his gifts because they were painful reminders that I was “property”.’

Similarly, writer Helen Croydon admits that she became hooked on the gifts and money. ‘Those ‘treats’ became addictive,’ she says, ‘When you’re being showered with Prada and limitless store cards, it’s hard to say no to a date even when you’ve gone off them. The novelty of meeting high-flying strangers with fascinating lives had faded but I was still arranging new dates.’

It’s interesting to consider whom is manipulating whom in this situation; it might seem as though the young woman is taking advantage of the older man’s generosity, but life coach Kevin Carr argues that we should be wary of Sugar Daddies’ real motives.

He points out that a 40-year-old man seeking a younger woman is probably doing so because he can’t function in a relationship with a woman his own age. ‘A good amount of Sugar Daddies are seeking out a Sugar Baby because they are emotionally damaged and insecure,’ Carr explains, ‘They’ll seek out a woman who is 20, and mould or build her into what he wants her to be. It’s like a strange daddy complex.’

‘It’s damaging because it gives men the impression that they can control women because they have particular advantages or material possessions. It creates a sense of entitlement for some men.’

The Verdict 

The number of young women, particularly students, who are entering into Sugar relationships seems to be on the increase, and with the dire state of the economy, there’s no reason they’ll stop any time soon.

But psychotherapist and couples counsellor Deborah Wintersbourne advises that these relationships are not healthy. ‘The Sugar Daddy relationship will be one of “codependency” where both parties are gaining something something from the other that they value – usually money versus youth,’ she warns, ‘it’s not an ideal situation as neither party is loving the other for the person that they actually are.’

Deborah points out that this dynamic has existed for years, but ‘it just becomes more obviously stated with Sugar Daddy websites’. But surely in the twenty-first century, our generation of educated, motivated young women should aspire to be more than just a trophy girlfriend.

In his words: the Sugar Daddy

David Montrose was a successful married businessman, but when his relationship moved into the parenthood stage, he began to panic and sought out attractive, younger women online. For nearly a decade, he lived a double life; one as an upstanding stockbroker and family man, the other as a Sugar Daddy to multiple beautiful young Sugar Babies, who relied on him for financial support.

Montrose would meet his Babies through a variety of dating sites, even using the dating section of Craigslist to seek out his partners. He had no problems finding dates, who were often college students, as he claims “young Sugar Babies find us [Sugar Daddies] appealing for several reasons: Of course the material aspects of the relationship are important.  But many young women like to be surrounded and spoiled by a man who ahs already achieved a lot in his life, and likes to share those experiences.”

He was drawn to Sugar dating because of the lack of emotional commitment it entailed, although he wasn’t shy about providing extensive financial assistance. “I did provide allowances. Those would be given each time we met. After trust was established and I knew them better the allowance would be given one a month toward the middle of the month, or twice a month,” explains Montrose.

“This allowance depended on the SB’s needs and whatever we decided at that time.  It was up to $3K per month.  The amount of the allowance and how often I gave it to them was typically discussed on our first or second date.   I would typically ask them what type of arrangement they had in mind, and the discussion would go from there.”

However, Montrose admits that Sugar dating did have its downsides. He recalls, “sometimes I did get that feeling in which case I would go home feeling a bit empty at the end of the night, even if a night of passion took place.  I suppose it is to be expected. I usually liked to develop at least some type of friendship with the lady. If I ever felt that I was totally being taken advantage of I would just end it sooner rather than later.”

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