Love & Sex
Meet Ashley*. She's "tall, sweet, smart, caring and non-judgemental", lives in Sydney and is 24 years old. She's also in the market for a new car and breast implants - and is not alone in going to some lengths to get them.
The 'sugar baby' joined website Seeking Arrangement six months ago after hearing that a friend was having her rent paid by an older man. Nervous to sign up to the "Number One Sugar Daddy Dating Site" at first, the ex-retail manager was also pragmatic. "I wanted a car and breast implants," she says.
She is one of a growing number of girls who hook their hopes on meeting an older man who will take care of them in a "mutually beneficial relationship." But, what is considered "mutually beneficial" by many is not exactly what romantic dreams are made of.
For NZ$380 a pop, Ashley provides "favours" for the men she meets - aged up to their mid-70s.
"You'd expect the guys to be businessmen - clean-cut professionals," she says. "But, they're not. They're overweight, slobby, fat men and a lot older [than I expected]. I've been on a few sites - they're all the same and all just after the same thing. They all say 'my wife doesn't give me affection.' They're not desirable, so I act like I'm interested in them."
Despite her feigned interest she has not yet found anyone who will "invest" in her chest. But, she did get a car out of one "arrangement". It was only second hand, but given she couldn't afford a car, let alone the registration, "it was a dream come true."
Ashley is open about her pursuit of material gain - but she was also open to finding something more. "I fell for one guy," she says. "He ended up in jail - that paints a picture of the sort of guys [on there]."
"I've been on worse dates [outside the site], ended up paying for the whole thing and woken up with only a hangover [to show for it]. It's better to wake up with a hangover and some money," she says. Plus "some of the guys want more of a girlfriend experience. I make it interesting. It's not just getting into bed."
As resigned and hardened as she may seem, this young woman is not impervious to the emotional impact of the 'arrangements'. "I was so shocked," she says, her voice shaking. "I had a sheltered childhood and thought I'd be getting married. I'm anti-relationships after what I've discovered. I've pretty much lost all hope in having a marriage."
And the more experiences she has of this sort, the more her fears are affirmed. With roughly 40 per cent of subscribers to Seeking Arrangement married men, her fears aren't unfounded.
It's not quite the vision CEO and so-called 'e-pimp', Brandon Wade had in mind when he started the company in the US in 2006.
A shy software engineer who didn't have his first kiss until he was 21, Wade says he was never the type to go to a nightclub to pick up. So, in response to his own dating struggles and in search of love, he started the social site, which now has an annual turnover of over $10 million.
"My mother said if you study hard and are successful, you can use generosity as a way to turn the dating game around for you," the affable 42-year-old explains.
He has since started the site in Canada and, earlier this year, in the UK and Australia. In Australia alone, it has up to 100,000 users and roughly one sugar daddy to every eight sugar babes, Wade says.
While Wade, who married his 26-year-old employee, Tanya, earlier this year, questions why married men might use his site, he asks, "who am I to make moral judgements?" Besides, he points out, "the truth is they're on regular dating websites too."
Aside from questions about married men, Wade is well versed in answering other questions of moral judgement, such as whether the site simply facilitates prostitution.
"It's a pragmatic way of dating," he says. "There is a negative association with the sugar daddy stereotype. But, if you ask [a woman] are you willing to date a guy who is successful and willing to pamper you the answer is usually 'yes, why not?'"
As well as this, the "arrangements tend to be much longer-term," he says. "Escorts have no choice as to who their client is and [on Seeking Arrangement] there has to be chemistry involved."
Ashley agrees that she has choice about who she sees. In fact, that independence is part of the appeal. "I would do it with an escort agency, but you have to be involved with a third party, you're under management," she says.
Wade is adamant that her experience is not typical of the site and that people get back what they seek. "If her goal is to go into it and get a quick buck - she'll find that kind of guy."
For his part, he still believes in love and is unfazed about money changing hands.
"People have different languages of love and giving is an important component of any relationship," he says. "The man is willing to pamper and spoil [the sugar baby] within the context of the relationship.
"Dating in our society today is a very superficial thing... It used to be about whether you were a good hunter, now it's how big of a wallet you have. Love comes later - after getting to know them and having a deeper knowledge about them."
But, a survey of 1000 of Seeking Arrangement's male subscribers found 55 per cent of the polled men joined because they were interested in having sex.
It looks like love - for most - may come a lot later.
"I'm not going to sugar-coat it," he says. "A survey like this gives us a good idea of who our customers are and what's important to them."
Not that the results may surprise Ashley, of course.
* Not her real name.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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