Editor’s note: All names have been changed out of respect to individual parties.
I first heard about Seeking Arrangement through Tom, a guy I was seeing in New York last Spring — or rather, through his Facebook page, which I happened upon one night while eating scrambled eggs for dinner like the broke NYU student I was at the time.
Tom had written a humorous article for CNBC about extreme ways of avoiding college loan debt
, which I skimmed half-seriously until I reached the passage on Seeking Arrangement. SA, as it is colloquially known, was a dating site that connected sugar babies and sugar daddies.
I googled until late into the night. “Relationships on your terms,” the website boasted, “Where beautiful, successful people fuel mutually beneficial relationships.” Next to the banner, an attractive Asian girl looked back at me with lips parted in ecstasy.
Joining SA, the website claimed, would make me part of a pool of sugar babies in the running for a generous sugar daddy — not a pimp, but a mentor, financial backer, travel companion and all-round experienced gentleman. So basically this was a voluntary escort service masquerading as a charitable enterprise.
At first, I had assumed this was just another New York fad for wealthy loners with too much money and too little time to meet girls in their daily lives, but I quickly discovered that the website had a fast-growing international following across a range of cities and cultures, concentrated in North America and Europe.
It came as no surprise that NYU, with its New York lifestyle and private school fees, had the highest number of sugar babies
of any college in the United States of America. Less comprehensible were the statistics for public universities with a tradition of generous endowments, like Montreal’s McGill University, the second-fastest growing
school for sugar babies. I felt a pang of guilt realising that, unlike many girls on SA
, I was coming to the site from a position of curiosity rather than genuine need.
Still curious but more interested in connections than material wealth, I invented a fake name and created my sugar baby profile that night. The objective: play into this paternalistic fantasy of young, nubile companionship for one month and see if it’s really as outdated and misogynistic as it sounds. No pressure, no hard cash. Best case scenario, you’ll meet some different types of people and collect a few useful business cards along the way; worst case, you’ll be found floating in the Hudson River a few weeks from now and he’ll get away with it because he and the judge were in the same crew team at Yale.
I kept my profile minimal: “French/Australian film student and writer. Hoping to spend time with someone who will help me discover New York.” Two photos: one from my trip backpacking around Laos, and one from a rooftop jazz show in the Meatpacking District.
Despite my fears that playing the hipster card would single me out as a fake amongst all the fake breasts and bikini shots, the approach worked as intended. When I checked my profile the next evening, my SA inbox was flooded with offers for coffee or drinks the following week.
Although there were a fair amount of creeps asking me how much I charged per meeting, a number of sugar daddies made a genuine effort to build a connection based on more than money. Most of the men who responded to my profile seemed to have passed their days of hookers and cocaine, and were looking for that manic pixie dream girl with whom they could fervently discuss Albert Camus over champagne brunches. I could totally be that girl.
Slowly, I became more comfortable throwing around words like compensation and discretion, and came to grips with the fact that many of these men were in loveless marriages and looking for companionship, sexual or otherwise. While the sugar daddies operated on a basis of strict anonymity, some men surprised me with their openness — genuine or not.
The senior editorial director of a major publishing company with a PhD in philosophy — and a failing marriage — wrote to me one evening, describing his achievements, hopes and failures as he entered his forties. As we talked, he seemed so excited about the possibility of us spending evenings at the Lincoln Center cinematheque and Smalls Jazz Club, and I appreciated his goofy way of referring to SA as a dystopian meat market.
The sweet, self-deprecating men like these were the ones I avoided; the power exchange between us confused me too much. Deep down, it felt wrong to be make financial demands of someone so emotionally vulnerable — but then again, it was hard to say which party would ultimately be more exploited if we were to strike arrangement.
After a week of speculation, I settled on a doctor from the Langone Medical Center. While he worked just two streets away from where I was living, we decided to meet for drinks at a wine bar in East Williamsburg.
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