Sweet N Savvy Seeks Witty Companion
If asked about my personal ideals, I would classify myself as a feminist, fiercely independent, and someone with a strong moral compass and unwavering commitment to my beliefs and integrity. If asked about my past, I would also have to classify myself as someone who has, on multiple occasions, been a “sugar baby.”
We all know what sugar daddies are: rich men who seek out often much younger women to date, and, essentially, spoil into submission. They make their home on the internet, scouring profile photos of young, often barely-legal girls, and throwing around words like “net worth” to attract those same girls who, most likely, don’t even yet understand what a net worth is. I was one of these girls.
I first made a profile on a sugar dating website in my first term of college—I was enrolled in a small, isolated liberal arts college that I had found, immediately, was not for me. In November, I was accepted for transfer to Emerson, with no merit or financial aid. I had a merit scholarship at my present college and my parents told me I could transfer, sure—but I had to pay the 6K difference in tuition per semester out of pocket. I was at a tiny school in the middle of nowhere with no viable means for income, and I felt trapped. So when a friend from high school told me about being a sugar baby, I immediately looked into it. It seemed really easy, and she had a sugar daddy that paid her just to talk on Skype—which seemed ideal. Making $300 dollars an hour to put on a push-up bra and Skype with a bored, middle-aged man? Probably not a story I would be eager to share with my children, but the only feasible way I could come up with to make the money I needed at that juncture in my life, outside of actually being a stripper.
Unfortunately, the “Skype-me-for-300-dollars-an-hour” types are hard to come by. The discrepancy I’ve found, from the friends and acquaintances I know who have done it, and the men I’ve encountered and what they are looking for, is that most (all) girls: 1. Get into it for the money and 2. Are not looking for an emotional relationship that takes up large amounts of time and energy. The men, on the other hand, are usually bored, unsatisfied with their marriages, too busy and successful to date normally—so they are looking for a woman they can spoil into being their girlfriend, or, at least, “special friend.” Very different ideals, which, from the start, I think, make for a failed relationship, amidst other emotional traumas.
The first man I met in person was very sweet. In his 60s, a successful film score composer, bashful, and slightly overweight, he showered me with compliments. “Artful Artist” was his screen name. I can’t remember his real name. We met at a Starbucks in L.A. near my house, 45 minutes away from his. Two of my friends sat at a nearby table. I don’t remember anything I said during the meeting, except that I ended it by saying I had a flight to catch (of all things). He offered to drive me to the airport. I clumsily declined, bolted away, ran the three blocks to the parking garage. My heart didn’t stop racing until I was safely five exits away on the freeway. He sent me a number of follow-up messages over the next weeks and months, but I did not reply.
I went home angry with myself, wondering why I couldn’t just suck it up and do it when it seemed like everyone else could. My friend in New York was making thousands of dollars, and lavish gifts from her multiple Daddies were always showing up on the doorstep of the $6500 Bushwick two-story walk-up she could not have afforded without their help. And I was still broke. The start of the spring term was encroaching, and I had $45 to my name saved to pay the steep tuition bill I had guaranteed my parents I would be on top of.
So I logged back on, connected with the first four men who contacted me, and met up regularly with them in the next few weeks before I moved to Boston. My parents thought I had gotten a babysitting job, and would ask me about how the children were when I arrived home late at night. I told winding tales of Chutes and Ladders and baking homemade pizzas. Meanwhile, I starved myself, worrying that the men would think I was fat, wouldn’t be attracted to me, and wouldn’t give me as much money. I never told them my real name. I denied all requests to stay longer, go out to a theatre show, take a ride on Jim’s yacht, stay the weekend at Steven’s beautiful oceanside Santa Barbara mansion. I stayed awake all night and made appointments to get tested for STDs.
When I arrived in Boston, I made attempts to connect with new, local sugar daddies, to keep my cash flow coming. I’d acquired a job in a café, and was working 40 hours a week in addition to being in school full-time, but I still had nowhere near enough income to make the school payments I needed to make, and my parents were insistent that I was not to take out loans. I met for “first dates” with various daddies, but would end up never replying to their incessant texts and calls. I’d delete their numbers over and over, hoping that that message would be the last. I felt afraid to log on to the internet—I couldn’t face them, even online.
One man I met, an interesting, young guy who was a high-powered photographer and who I might have been interested in in “real life,” offered to pay me $1000 to go out shopping with him, let him buy me expensive clothes, and photograph me in them. That was it—no strings attached—$1000 cash. I couldn’t do it. The whole process had left me feeling so insecure about my body and objectified that I turned down something that literally sounded like a dream.
The final straw was a 52-year-old man with the same name (and age) as my father. His messages were crude and his grainy pictures were dirty-looking. He told me he’d pick me up from my dorm room in his Toyota, drive me around the block so I could give him road head, and drop me back off right after. I agreed—easy, simple, no strings. My favorite type of arrangement. I needed the cash to pay for the outrageous hospital bills I’d just incurred when I’d had an egregious anxiety attack and passed out in the lobby of a school building. I’d been having a lot of those lately.
I got dressed and headed downstairs. In the elevator, I ran into a friend, who asked where I was going. I broke down crying. She brought me back to her room and made me tea as I cried openly for a long time. I had 10 missed calls on my phone from the man, and had two violent panic attacks wherein I feared for my safety, even though I was in a college building with security downstairs prohibiting the man from getting to me. I felt like a victim of sexual assault. I know I can’t say that because it was my choice, but it is how I felt. I’ve never felt more dirty, used, or cheap in my life than I did at that moment, after the culmination of those months.
I had absolutely no self-respect or self-worth. I had entered into this world voluntarily, but I don’t think I had any idea how it would affect my mental and emotional health. When I began, I was mainly just worried about meeting up with a man who was actually a serial killer. I thought the actual act would be fun and easy, no big deal. Especially since I had never felt anything towards any of the boys I’d had sexual encounters with in the past, and those had been fine. It was just a transaction for me. I thought it would be the same.
But sugar daddies were different. I felt like a commodity. I couldn’t take the casual, business-like attitude my friends seemed to have toward the ordeal. It really destroyed me. I certainly was not conscious of the extent that it affected me, and though it’s not something I really associate as a trauma now, thinking about it in that light, it undoubtedly was. It still affects me in every relationship I have had since. I am now too afraid to lend myself wholly to any experience. I have to keep my guard up, fight with all my might to keep things empty and myself safe (emotionally), even when I am with someone that I love and trust. No school tuition, amount of money, and certainly no pair of expensive shoes is worth that.
It definitely changed and shaped the way I see relationships with men—it made me feel like a total object and, in turn, associate heterosexual relationships as misogynistic in that way. Since then, I’ve not been able to trust men in any regard, and have exclusively withheld romantic love for women. I identify (begrudgingly) as bisexual, but I don’t think I will ever be able to have a romantic relationship with a man, or even a sexual one—at least not any time in the near future. I don’t know how much my experiences with sugar dating account for this handicap I now possess, but I would estimate that it has played a large part.
I have friends who have had vastly different experiences than me—one diehard lesbian who rakes in $900 a week giving out blow jobs to financial advisors without batting an eye. Another who loves being spoiled and shopped for by one extremely generous man who rents a hotel room for the two of them every weekend. I think that everyone is different, so you really have to know yourself to know if you will be able to be okay with yourself and be able to separate your personal life from this “job” of sorts. I thought I knew myself, but I was too young and inexperienced in my sexuality to know how I would react to the extremity of this type of relationship.
I have not deleted my online profile, and still occasionally talk with men online when I feel desperate and strapped for cash. I romanticize this option as an “easy out.” But I’ve not met up with another man since. When I log on now, the feeling of impending wealth and male attention that once filled me with excitement now just weighs my body down with dread.
Regardless of the candy-coated name put on the arrangement, sugar dating is, in all honesty, nothing more than poorly-veiled misogynistic objectification and female exploitation. In her new memoir, Lena Dunham writes, poignantly: “When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done.” I think this is the most valuable piece of knowledge anyone could impart in regards to the destruction that this type of relationship can hold for young girls.
If you asked me to really describe myself, “sweet n savvy” would be nowhere near the top of a true compiling of my personality, and that witty companion I’m seeking—yeah, I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, but the more time I waste on that website, the farther and farther I will get from finding them.