‘I like my money sugar coated’
How I went incognito on the world’s #1 sugar daddy dating website
Originally published in Main Street Magazine, spring 2015 issue
I need money. In fact, there are times when I feel desperate for money. I monitor my savings account just as frequently as I check my email, ultimately sulking in the fact that my future income looks grim and somewhat unpromising. The concept of post-grad rent in the city aches my conscience. And that is not even taking into account amenities like insurance, utilities and monthly loan payments to compensate for the education I will have already completed. At the moment, the average student debt is $28,400 per person. As a journalist, I would never put money over my craft. But I’ve come to accept the fact that I will need to make ends meet with increased efforts for most of my professional life. Whether that means waitressing three times a week at a high-end bistro or buying lottery tickets on the regular, I’ll do what it takes to make the dream work.
Cue Craigslist ad No. 1: About a month-and-a-half ago, I posted an ad stating that I was a University of New Hampshire student looking to make money, in the forms of “house-sitting, pet-sitting and babysitting.” I made the mistake of ending that list with “and any other opportunities you may have for me.” Little did I know the culmination this post would ultimately amount to. Perhaps only minutes after I had clicked the ‘post’ button, I already had my first job offer enter my inbox.
Would you consider doing weekly massages for a middle-aged man? I would pay well and make sure your bills are taken care of.
It wasn’t exactly what I expected, considering the content of my ad was rather PG and family-friendly. I simply ignored the message and thought nothing more of it.
Within hours, my inbox could have been equated to that of an adult film star’s. One man asked me to clean his house naked for an hourly rate. Another asked to engage in an ‘intimate friendship’ in exchange for complete coverage of my expenses. And perhaps the most upfront, one asked if he could play with my upper body parts for $100 an hour.
But it was one particular email that sparked this research.
“Hi Princess, are you open to a sugar daddy to pay the bills? –J”
A sugar daddy? I’d always seen these referenced in movies, with a submissive young female catering to the needs of an older man while he pays for her spending and living expenses. I essentially had a man (we’ll call him “J”) offering to pay for the rest of my college education. But I would have to sacrifice my moral compass by engaging in an arranged liaison, more than likely consisting of sexual favors.
I may be hungry for money, but I would never fall into a situation where I was under the control of a possibly powerful, older man. I would never trade sex for money. And I would never wish to be associated with a man who sends out offers to young girls via Craigslist. And while all of this rings true, I was still intrigued by the concept. I virtually had a free college education waiting for me in my inbox.
My investigative brain sprang forward. After three weeks of dozens and dozens of email offers from different men, I decided to play a different card. I posted another Craigslist ad, this time saying that I was a UNH student “looking for her sugar daddy.” This had to be the ad that every searching and interested ‘daddy’ wanted to come across. And then, I hit the jackpot.
While I didn’t enjoy the fact that my Gmail account had become a destination for sugar baby inquiries, I did have all of the tangible examples I needed to investigate this trend further. One man said he was looking for a girl to spoil. Another said he was a multiple business owner, asking if I was attractive and what kind of money I was looking for. Many asked me if I was willing to provide companionship in exchange for a monthly allowance. And sure enough, I had another message from this “J” character.
“Hi Ms. UNH, I’d love to hear more about you. Have you ever had a Daddy before? Regards, J.”
By his second email, I’d concluded that J was probably a middle-aged man who perused Craigslist ads regularly looking for younger women to message. Maybe he’d been a daddy before, maybe not. Maybe he was a millionaire or maybe he was lonely, living in a dirty one-bedroom apartment on top of a pizza joint. I didn’t know, and I wasn’t going to find out. But I knew there were girls who would.
In fact, college girls with sugar daddies are not an uncommon concept. As a 20-year-old female with dreams to move to the city and pursue high-level journalism jobs, I saw the reasoning and the need. In today’s society, we must work to live. And those of us who near the end of our higher-education careers see the trap door that many fall into once we’ve received our liberal arts diplomas and Mom and Dad turn our bedrooms into studios or offices. We need money to live. And we need lots of money to live and do the things that we enjoy.
I rationalized with myself that love and intimacy should not be mixed with money; it’s simply a bad concoction. But tracing back to our earliest ancestors, it’s an inherent, evolutionary concept. Since the beginning of time, women have been drawn to men who can provide for them, their children and afford the little extra things (or big things like cars, mansions and penthouses). It’s ingrained in the female mind, like seeing a man pay for dinner or watching him drive a car from the view of the passenger’s seat. It’s the aura of dominance. Parallel to that, men are triggered by young, innocent beauty. And this is where we find these arrangements originating.
While a sugar daddy was completely out of the question for me personally and morally, I wanted to see who, in fact, had tried this. And who were these men, shelling out their wealth?
A story told in an article by The Atlantic in 2014 introduced a sugar daddy situation that Amanda*, a senior at Princeton University, found herself in. A Wall Street banker in his sixties had her taking private limos to and from campus to his New York City apartment. They would eat dinner, have sex and she would be back on campus in time for her 10 a.m. class. All in exchange for a huge salary.
One example of the trend occurring across America, Amanda’s story started on Seeking Arrangement, a matchmaking site for sugar daddies, mamas and their sugar babies. According to the same Atlantic article, Seeking Arrangement announced in 2013 that about 44 percent of its 2.3 million sugar babies are in college. That’s nearly half of its female users.
CNN.com also reported in 2013 that the average monthly “allowance” sugar daddies advertised on Seeking Arrangement was $3,000 per month. Most of these men are quite affluent, depending on their geographic location, earning incomes of over $5 million per year. This is where my investigation led me next.
I made an account on Seeking Arrangement, hoping to chat with some real sugar daddies to see the other side. Registering under a fake name, I described myself as intellectual, mature and looking for older companionship involving a money/gift exchange. I pulled a photo of a generic blonde off Google images and advertised that I was a college student “looking for her match.” Going into this, I understood that none of the communication I’d exchange with these men could be verified, but for the purpose of this exploration, I took it all for face value.
Daddies must pay $49.95 per month for membership, or $1,200 a month for a Diamond Club certification. But as a college girl with an authentic .edu email server, my account was free.
My first daddy contact? A premium user who called himself ‘Suit and Tie’, a 39-year-old finance professional living and working in New York City.
“Our first meeting is a real opportunity to potentially yield a stream of 4 to 5 figure monthly cash flow and a valuable long-term relationship,” his profile read. “I am here because I work long hours and want an honest, upfront and time-efficient way of dating that is free of games and BS.”
Suit and Tie’s profile listed him as having a net worth of $2 million. He also had a section labeled “extra points.” As a sugar baby, you’d receive extra points if you were a student looking for support, a light blonde, willing to take the Amtrak on weekends to New York or a resembled a ‘Cali cutie.’ Hm, I thought. I need support, I’m blonde and I love riding the Amtrak.
On social media, I advertised that I was investigating this trend, hoping to find local New Hampshire sugar babies. I ensured their identities would remain anonymous, but I received no responses or tips. This being said, I did not equate this to the fact that there were no sugar babies at the University of New Hampshire or in the state. Because chances are, there were girls who were engaging in these relationships in the 03824 area.
Typing in the local Durham zip code, I saw that there were men from all over the area: Portsmouth, Dover, Newmarket, Somersworth, Manchester. One man from Hampton Falls posted, “I live alone on a seacoast estate not far from UNH. I have two small dogs and a big empty mansion. Possible live-in arrangement available.”
Robert*, a Portland, Maine native with an advertised net worth of $10 million, invited me to spend weekends at his waterfront Miami Beach home. This was after a simple exchange of four messages. When I asked how I could verify that he was telling the truth about his Miami home, he sent me an exact address and offered to send copies of his purchase paperwork. When I stopped responding, he messaged me continuously.
“$3,000 a date. As often as you want. We can go up from there.”
Pierre* from London asked if I’d like to make an Amazon wish list, from which he would buy me gifts, or “rewards.” But of course none of these gifts would come without reciprocation from my end.
Jack*, from Rochester, New York, traveled to Portsmouth frequently for business. We spoke about how we both loved the banana pancakes at The Friendly Toast and that we couldn’t resist Fat Belly’s burgers. He told me he’d like to take me to all of these places one day. And finally, he volunteered on his own that he had previously spoken with many UNH “sugar babies.”
Boom. There it was. UNH girls were on Seeking Arrangement and they were in fact looking for daddies. I couldn’t help but wonder, how much money were they making? And what were they doing in exchange? Or were they simply like me, making fake accounts to explore this fantasy world?
A few days later, I received a message from a Manchester man. He mentioned that he worked in law and had had copious past experience with sugar babies.
“I started with arrangements about a decade ago or so. I tend to do best with intelligent college women. The first was a girl named Jillian* who went to Williams College. That lasted about two years. I saw a Berklee School of Music student. A Boston University student. University of Maine. The last girl was a UNH student. Anthropology major. She graduated last year.”
He told me he would pick the UNH student up in downtown Durham on a Friday and they would go into Portsmouth for dinner, drinks and a night in a hotel where they would “do what adults do.” Safe to say Anthropology girl didn’t have to worry about her spending money back at UNH. A piece of me longed for that fund security.
During my experience on Seeking Arrangement, I spoke with over two dozen men. Many more messaged me, but I picked my conversations based on who I thought could give me the best information, or essentially what profiles advertised the highest net worth.
Some days I found myself checking it in class, and then looking over my shoulder to make sure no one behind me was peeking at the photo icons of men that plastered the page. There were times I logged on and had over 20 unread messages. At times I felt overwhelmed, as if I was actually living this double life, even if only through the Internet.
Several of the men I spoke with were simply looking for companionship. One spoke of how he loved trying new restaurants and was looking for a young woman to take out to dinners. Another told me his life revolved around running three businesses and he tried to find women to spend time with in the different cities he visited on a regular basis.
Of course, sexual remarks were made by most of the men, as sex is a huge part of the sugar daddy culture. One man in particular introduced himself as an avid BDSM participator and was looking for a submissive to partake in activities with “restraints and punishments.” His base pay was $1,000 per month, but mentioned pay would increase once our “connection deepened.” It was these messages that made me squirm in my seat because I knew it was no Christian Grey on the other side.
Physicality aside, I came to see that the motives behind these profiles clearly stemmed much deeper. They were rooted in need and desire. Perhaps a desire to be young and enticing again. When they browsed the hundreds of profiles of advertising females, they saw possibility for a freer, more unattached lifestyle. One that would rid them of the mundane.
Looking at the trend on a local level, in Massachusetts, Seacoast Online reported in 2013 that Boston University ranked No. 45 on a list of the fastest growing “sugar baby schools.” That same year, The Huffington Post had Boston as the No. 5 sugar daddy capital in a new survey. Atlanta, Georgia was No. 1. It also stated that on average in 2013, New York daddies spent $5,692 per month on their sugar babies. $28,400 divided by $5,692? That’s an elimination of student loan debt in simply five months.
After the many conversations I had with these self-acclaimed sugar daddies, I knew there was one more man I needed to speak with; Brandon Wade, creator of Seeking Arrangement. With 3.6 million active members and 139 countries represented, the site started somewhere; in the mind of this man.
And despite my skepticism, with a lot of luck and perhaps just the right timing, Wade responded to my inquiry. I received his response while sitting in my Monday evening class, where for the remainder of the period, I felt like I was holding in a secret as my stomach simmered with anticipation.
“I was motivated to starting SeekingArrangement.com because I wanted to solve the challenges I faced in my dating life,” said Wade. “I was a shy and socially awkward nerd who had little luck dating. My mother’s advice for me as a teenager was to focus on my studies because “one day when I am successful and wealthy, I would be able to use my generosity to turn my dating life around”.”
Wade seemed to attribute the sugar daddy trend to men utilizing their wealth to help them achieve what they want. Not completely ethical, but it made sense. For men who have had difficulty in their love lives, money presents itself an attractive asset for women. Wade graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993 with a degree in physics and electrical engineering. Wade has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many more highly acclaimed publications. This entrepreneur was in my inbox. Me, just a small, unranked college student.
“All relationships are in effect ‘arrangements’, be it business or romantic relationships,” said Wade. “Money (like muscles, good looks, etc.) acts as a sort of icebreaker or bait, to gain the interest of the other party. And just like muscles or good looks, money does not replace good personality or chemistry.”
Wade reasoned that money was only the beginning of these arrangements. But the way the website is set up, it’s all about the money.
“While money cannot buy love, it can certainly make the process easier,” he said. “For instance, it would be more likely for two people to fall in love at a three-star Michelin rated restaurant than at McDonalds.”
I felt that this definition was too innocent to characterize the arrangements I was offered to partake in on the website. It would be one thing if these men were looking for younger girlfriends, but in fact, most of them were looking for what they called “sugar babies”. But Wade’s reasoning was certainly an interesting application to the trend that has now gone international.
Usually, my paychecks and bills show up in my mailbox on the same day. It’s a cruel coincidence. “Hey you earned a lot of money last week but now it’s going to your cable and Internet bill!” The papers inside the envelopes taunt me. Even better is the email notification from Bank of America, “Your account balance has fallen below $25.”
As I said before, I see the need for a sugar daddy. I completely see why some young women become involved in these “mutually beneficial” relationships. But personally, the principality of economic independence is something I value, something that remains crucial to me as I move up the professional ladder. And as much as this opulent reverie fills the financial cracks in my collegiate life, I will remain with the convention that I cannot be bought.
Even when my card gets declined at Rite Aid for a mere pack of gum or another one of my professors pulls the “you must really love to write….” card, I remember how I was brought up, the way I was raised. That hard work earns satisfaction. That as a woman, I want my earnings and money to be in my own hands, and not someone else’s. Yes, sugar is sweet but so is self-made success.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy