When I joined my first sugar daddy dating website five years ago, it wasn’t to find someone to help pay the bills or provide me with a shopping allowance. It was because of an innocent penchant for the older man.
Until this week, “modern” sugar daddy dating was barely known in Britain. But websites that promise to match older wealthy men with young attractive women have been thriving in America for years; one of the most popular – SeekingArrangement.com, which bills itself as a place “where the attractive meet the affluent” – claims to have a million subscribers, with 10 women for every man. It has just launched in the UK, where it is already boasting 80,000 members.
In return for a no-strings but mutually beneficial relationship, the women who sign up can get to be treated like a lady, showered with gifts, taken on all-you-can-buy shopping sprees, and enjoy meals at the best tables in town.
I realise some readers may be shocked by what I am about to divulge, or even consider that what I did and other women do on these sites is tantamount to prostitution. I know I am setting myself up for widespread condemnation – but allow me to explain.
I was in my late twenties, a television producer, and fresh out of a suffocating three-year relationship with a man who drained both my time and my finances when I signed up. I didn’t want a full-time partner. Instead, I fantasised about someone older, more sophisticated, more established. And, if I’m being honest, someone with some money, too.
It felt such a naughty thing to do, typing “younger women for older men” into Google – but when I did, I found several dating sites that would help me find men of a certain age with whom to have some fun. I joined two of them and for the first few months was like a kid in a sweetshop. I went on as many dates with men in their mid-forties or above as I could arrange.
My dates began offering gifts – and monthly cash allowances – to see them on a more regular basis. At first I was horrified, and deleted such messages which filled my inbox. It seemed so immoral.
But then I learnt that one of my dates – a handsome 45-year-old energy trader – paid all the other girls he went out with for the evening. The non-exclusivity didn’t bother me – but I felt a mug for providing for free what he would have been willing to pay for.
It was only after I spent an evening comforting a friend who had been dumped by a casual boyfriend (he had strung her along pretending he wanted more commitment than he really intended) that it dawned on me that paying to go on a date was a more honest way to conduct a non‑committal relationship.
Receiving money or gifts from your date is his way of saying “I like you, I want to spend time with you, I want to sleep with you, but I’m not prepared to meet your family or go to Ikea with you on a weekend”. His financial investment assuages his guilt that he can’t emotionally invest. Given that I didn’t want a committed relationship, it made sense to me.
Once I’d convinced myself of the moral justification – I know many will disagree with me – I started to entertain some of the propositions that landed in my inbox. Of course, the fat, balding ones still went into the delete bin, but many were perfectly dateable. A French man invited me to dinner and offered to give me £500 for my time. “To prove I am a real gentleman, I will not expect anything more than dinner,” he wrote. As promised, I went straight home after coffee with an envelope of cash and never saw him again.
Then I accepted a trip to New York with a fortysomething Canadian property investor. Dangerous? Probably. All I clung to for security was faith in my own judgment of character following a few Skype chats and one trusted friend to whom I had sent his details. At his insistence, I travelled first class. Thankfully he was as good-looking and interesting in the flesh as he was on my computer screen, and we spent two wonderful days together. He took me to Prada and bought so much that I had to buy another suitcase. Despite our spark, we knew we wouldn’t see each other again: neither of us were looking for anything more than a short but intimate romance.
It took me 18 months of receiving gifts in return for my company before I accepted money – or an “allowance”, as it is known on the sugar daddy sites. Even then, the idea of taking cash felt so irksome to both parties that we did it in the form of a monthly loaded store card from Selfridges. He was a hedge-fund manager in the City and physically attractive, but a ski trip to Colorado put me off him for good. He had an obsessive attention to detail and would plan every event to the second. I would have 15 missed calls on my phone if I was so much as five minutes late for our meeting. After several dates over four months, I vowed never to see him again.
I had two more sugar daddies after him. The first was a wonderful Malaysian divorcé who visited London four times a year and wanted a travel companion. We became so close that after six months, our cash arrangement felt inappropriate and we stopped seeing each other. He remains a friend today.
Then there was an unhappily married alcoholic banker from New York who, on orders of his therapist, had given up drink on home soil, but when abroad allowed himself the luxury of intravenous Martinis. We never had sex; he drank too much for that. For him, I was his drinking buddy in a feminine form, and that’s what he paid me for. “I just love the company of a woman,” he told me.
I kept what I was doing from my family, and of the carefully selected friends I told, most didn’t approve. They kept trying to fix me up with people, thinking that would make me happy. They couldn’t understand that I liked being single and keeping low-maintenance lovers.
But after three years on these dating sites, I stopped. I realised that my motivations had slowly shifted to monetary gain. The thrill of a date with an older, wiser, higher-flying executive had faded. The allowances and gifts, which were once a happy bonus of my adventures, had become my main motivation.
I had also become closed to the idea of ever having a real, loving or lasting relationship. Far from my experiences being demoralising, I found the opposite to be true. When a man whom you yourself have chosen to date pays you for your company, it is hard not to get arrogant. I began to believe that if men want women’s company so much they are willing to pay for it, then men must need women more than women need men. Relationships must be time-consuming chores if they are worthy of compensation. I certainly wasn’t going to invest time in one for free.
I stopped visiting such sites more than two years ago, but remained resistant to the idea of a conventional committed relationship. It is only recently that I have allowed myself to feel serious about someone. I am glad that the rewards I get now from my relationship are genuine love and affection, instead of brown envelopes and Prada shopping trips. But I still believe sugar daddy dating sites serve a purpose.
They offer a model of a modern relationship where two adults can have an honest, respectful, enjoyable non-committal relationship. Commitment and longevity is not necessarily what everyone wants all of the time but it doesn’t automatically mean there isn’t mutual fondness and respect.
It is the women who exploit these sites when they join specifically for monetary gain. If women used them, as I did, because they find the idea of meeting someone older and wiser a glamorous notion, then these sites work well. But, as word spreads and their popularity grows, the women on them seem happy to manipulate hearts to put themselves through university or acquire a new pair of Jimmy Choos. The men I met genuinely wanted a girlfriend figure but were too busy to sustain the real thing. “If I have to cancel dinner for the third time because I’m stuck in the office at 8pm, most girls wouldn’t stick around,” said one date.
To my mind, it is lazy to compare the kind of relationships offered by these sites to prostitution – but it’s a notion that certainly occurred to me and my dates. There would often be an awkward conversation about why we “joined a website like this”. The men would justify it by saying there had to be a mutual attraction, otherwise the arrangement became “something else”. But the reason men use the websites is because they cannot countenance one-off encounters with prostitutes. As one said to me: “Even animals have mating rituals. We’ve got to woo each other – or at least have dinner.”
There is a transactional element to every relationship. An exchange of time and energy for intimacy at one end of the scale, and the exchange of sex and money on the other. So-called sugar daddy relationships are somewhere in the middle, and although that isn’t the model of relationship I’d choose now, for many it works well.
‘Sugar Daddy Diaries’ by Helen Croydon (Mainstream) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £7.99 + 99p p&p. To order, call 0844 871 1515 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk
Claims to be the world’s number one sugar-daddy online dating service for “beautiful people seeking experienced, sophisticated and wealthy partners”. More than a million members worldwide – with 80,000 in the UK – and 10 women to every man.
For women seeking that “perfect sugar daddy, sugar baby relationship”, this site promises to help members find a rich British gent. Users are promised the pick of the UK’s financiers, oil traders and globe-trotting businessmen.
Founded by Brandon Wade, CEO of SeekingArrangement, this service pairs attractive female travellers with male “sponsors”, who donate their air miles to pay for their date’s flights and hotel accommodation. Free for female members.
“Money can’t buy happiness, but it certainly helps” is the slogan of this Worcestershire-based dating service. Members must have a “reasonable income” and come from a “good class”. Free to join, but users are charged to send messages.
With 60 per cent female users, this elite dating website is looking for “successful, experienced and generous men” hoping to meet “ambitious and attractive women”. Membership from £29.99 a month.
The UK arm of a worldwide dating service, this site registers users’ annual income and checks it against a “certified millionaires” list. Members include CEOs, athletes, models and Hollywood celebrities.