If I can say one thing to summarize modern dating, it’s that the notion of “tradition” is constantly being challenged, and people are making romantic connections in ways that work best for them. As of late, discussions about dating and sex are circular and often repetitive—especially on social media, because people tend to insert their pown ideals and judge others by their personal standards. When “alternative” connections are made public, eyebrows often rise, lips sometimes sneer, and blogs are written pontificating on the moral woes of society, with women usually being saddled with the blame.
What matters most is whether or not people are truly happy in their relationships, right? Times are changing, and some people are making rather risky moves to get hooked up and find love.
One controversial pairing is the sugar daddy/sugar baby romance. In this scenario, a wealthy man seeks a partner (usually a woman) to spoil financially and materially, making financial status the primary basis for their pairing. He makes it known that he has money and a strong desire to spend it on his partner, do some traveling to exotic locations, buy her expensive clothes and jewelry, and maybe even help pay her bills.
Conversely, a sugar baby makes it known that she wants to be financially taken care of by a wealthy man with disposable income. She wants him to keep her in the latest Louboutin red bottoms and Lanvin, take her to places she’s never been, and she might even want school or children’s expenses covered.
Services like those offered on the “sugar daddy dating website” Seeking Arrangement facilitate these type of hook-ups, allowing people to negotiate the terms of their arrangement and enjoy each other’s company for however long such an arrangement lasts. On the site, you can log in and peruse the profiles of both sugar daddies and sugar babies. The profiles of the sugar daddies display age, photo, location, annual salary, and what his monthly budget is to spend on his sugar baby.
Profiles of the sugar babies include age, a photo, body type, location, and how much they expect to be spent on them each month. Most of the profiles are of generally older White men and younger White women, but there are sprinkles of diversity throughout the site. The creators focus on the idea of helping people find “mutually beneficial relationships” or arrangements, suggesting that most people simply aren’t honest enough with themselves when it comes to making connections. As one sugar daddy writes, “I love beautiful young ladies, and I am not ready to commit. This website is the perfect dating website for me.”
I imagine that most people have sucked their teeth and rolled their eyes at the idea of a woman willingly letting a man take care of her financially and a man happily doing so. I admit that it’s not an “arrangement” I’d be interested in because I consider myself to be financially independent, and I feel good about working hard for the money I earn. I also know that if I’m to consider a serious romantic relationship with someone, I don’t intend to become financially dependent on that person. So making finances the primary focus on our relationship would make me uncomfortable.
However, men have historically been expected to be the primary financiers of romantic relationships, and women have generally been conditioned to accept this as the traditional, ideal relationship. Women do tend to seek out male partners who are older, make more money and can provide more material resources. I think what’s most jarring to detractors of these arrangements is that some would dare be so open and honest about seeking this type of relationship, and that there are dating sites making it easier to do so.
Isn’t all of this about choice though? Money maven Suze Orman recommends that women approach the connection between romance and finances intelligently. Having your own savings and taking responsibility for your debt are two of the suggestions she makes in helping women transition into marriage. She also encourages women to have their own savings accounts outside of shared joint accounts with partners.
Who’s to say that the so-called sugar babies aren’t taking charge of their financial futures by engaging with men willingly giving their money away? Some liken these arrangements to prostitution, but I’m not sure if that’s true. There’s no guarantee (nudges and winks aside) that sex is going to take place or that sex is being offered from either person.
Dr. Terri Orbuch says that seven out of 10 couples experience relationship tension based on money issues. She encourages couples to talk about money early on and get a clear understanding of each other’s approach to finances. She also advises couples make financial rules and establish boundaries ahead of time. Well, in these arrangements, the couples are doing exactly that, aren’t they? The men and women both make it clear what their financial expectations are, and they decide early on what the nature of their relationships will be (likely before even meeting). Since it’s out in the open, the benefactors don’t run the risk of feeling “used,” because they agree to be patrons ahead of time.
The issue for me is that there are those who use money as a substitute for emotional connection, and feel less inclined to emotionally connect to someone they feel they are purchasing. Some of these sugar daddies are engaging in short-term fun that allows them to flex their wealth and pay for the “escort services” of women seeking financial assistance. On the surface, it may seem like a simple exchange. But a deeper dig may reveal emotional scarring, feelings of inadequacy, and/or coldness from past hurt. Many of the “babies” will have sex with these men, as they feel it’s an expectation of receiving monthly allowances and gifts. There’s almost an unwritten understanding that a woman needs to “put out” if he’s putting out the cash.
I always want people to make informed, healthy choices when it comes to getting into relationships, be they purely sexual or focused on long-term love. I want people to feel empowered and encouraged to think outside the box when it comes to making those perfect love matches. I will, however, caution people against getting involved in situations that can cause physical or emotional harm. Making money the third member of your relationship isn’t very smart, especially in this economy, when for many it is here today and gone tomorrow. Stick with dealing with people who want to be with you for who you are, not what you have, and avoid a lot of the mess and stress that comes along with rolling around in the cash.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.