A date with equity

Love is a thrill, but it don't pay the bills. Catherine Townsend tries to find her sugar daddy by speed-dating
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The Independent Online

I've been fascinated with older men since I was 17, when I met my 29-year-old French boyfriend. While my friends at university waited for their partners to scrounge spare change for a pint at the pub, Simon-Pierre and I were flying first-class to Martinique to a luxurious hotel.

I've been fascinated with older men since I was 17, when I met my 29-year-old French boyfriend. While my friends at university waited for their partners to scrounge spare change for a pint at the pub, Simon-Pierre and I were flying first-class to Martinique to a luxurious hotel.

Since then, I've always found myself drawn to rich and/or powerful men from three to 30 years older than me. Since I put so much pressure on myself to succeed financially and professionally, I don't see any problem in requiring the same of a man.

Clearly, I'm not the only one. These days, career girls looking for a well-heeled suitor don't see themselves as shallow or materialistic, just focused. They are not girls in low-paid and tedious jobs who are scrimping to get by, but professional, high-achieving women who, like me, are more than able to pay their own way. Now, matchmakers in Britain are targeting people looking for love - and a fat wallet.

SpeedDater, the website that brought us endless themed dating events such as dinner in the dark, text dating, and quiet dating, is the first company to have started catering to the growing trend by offering Sugar Daddy Nights. The rules are similar to regular SpeedDater events - women meet the men for three minutes each and tick boxes on a scorecard next to the names of the ones they want to see again. But this time, in a bar close to Piccadilly Circus, a group of 23- to 35-year-old women are paired with men aged 35 to 50 who are required to earn at least £50,000 per year.

I meet Michelle, a 35-year-old travel agent and veteran of several speed-dating events, over the complimentary champagne. She claims to be looking for someone who can offer her financial stability, not full-length furs. "I'm not a gold-digger, but London is a very expensive city, even with two incomes, especially if you are thinking about having kids eventually," she says. "My last boyfriend was unemployed, always talking about the 'big property deal' that would set him up for life. The truth is that I ended up supporting him for six months because the deal never came off. I'm looking for someone with a good job and ambition - I work hard, and I want someone who does the same. What's wrong with that?"

Still, I can't help feeling a bit wary at an event where the barter system of youth versus money is quite so blatant, and I head to my first date with visions of a super-rich guy with a Donald Trump-style comb-over hairstyle. I am relieved to see my first date, a tall and cute 40-year-old IT consultant "I was afraid that there may be lecherous men here, but everybody seems quite normal," says Mike, who met his last girlfriend at a similar party. He is fun, but his suit is more Marks and Spencers than Mayfair.

My next potential dates are Richard, a charming entrepreneur who claims to be in his mid-40s - but I suspect he's counting in dog years - and Robert, a 35-year-old who, bizarrely, insists that I should recognise him because he is famous and has written books on skiing. Robert is impeccably dressed and looks the part, but no one mentions money. A quick scan through the men's online profiles later does suggest that many of them work in the computer industry, the City, or property, and have incomes hovering around the £100,000-a-year mark, but there's no telling for sure. You just have to believe them.

My next date, Jack, is a property developer, and clearly a fan of Charles Darwin. "I've always dated women who are ten to 20 years younger, because I think that it's the natural way of things," he says. "Women are biologically programmed to look for someone who can provide for them, and it's normal for men to be attracted to younger, attractive women." He claims to earn a huge salary, but I'm not convinced.

Charlie, a six-foot-plus and very fit 46-year-old comedian, who slightly resembles George Clooney, says that, like many of the other men, he's looking for someone slightly below his age bracket. "I looked at the website, and the women in my category went up to age 50," he says, "I take care of myself, and I sort of picture myself with someone in their late-20s to late 30s." I admire his candour. He also buys me a cocktail and thus, unwittingly, passes my first test. But his profile lists his income as undeclared.

In my experience, there are two reasons that men hide their income: either it's so big that they fear attracting the wrong type of woman, or it's much smaller than initially promised. To be fair, most of the men are polite and well turned-out, with no gold chains or Peter Stringfellow clones in sight.

During the break, I chat to a few women to understand why they are looking for a sugar daddy. "I grew up having nice things, and have worked hard to maintain my lifestyle," says one lithe brunette who works in the City. "I would probably be less likely than I was 10 years ago to agree to a date with someone who described himself as a writer or independent film maker." She laughs. "I know, that sounds terrible."

Some of the women complain that their potential dates have been closer to 100 than 50. "Some of these guys are clearly lying," says Anna, a brunette PR consultant in her mid-thirties, as she sneaks a cigarette during the break. "I've always dated men who are 10 to 15 years older, and that's what I'm comfortable with, but the guy I just met is not 50, or even 60 - he looks like my grandfather!" Still, she later finds three potential matches, and goes home happy.

During my second round of dating, I discover that some of the men have egos cashing cheques that their bank accounts clearly could never cover. "My checklist of ideal qualities for Ms Right is ludicrous, and I admit it," says Neil, a 46-year-old. "It's strange, because I'm right-of-centre, over 40 and a voracious carnivore, but I only date women who are staunch vegetarians, incredibly left-wing - and usually younger."

Still, no one seems to think that money can buy happiness - and the women all stress that they would not pick a rich guy at the expense of a nice, entertaining guy with an average income But they would say that, wouldn't they? "Having someone who is loaded would be great, but at the end of the day it's all about chemistry. If it's not there, no amount of money would ever be enough," Anna says.

Given that arguments about money are one of the leading causes of relationship break-ups, checking out a man's bank balance may help avoid a potential pitfall. But most women still prioritise kindness and a sense of humour over an unlimited credit line at Jimmy Choo. As for me, I'd choose a fit body and a fun guy every time. Of course, it would be great if he was loaded too.

All the names have been changed

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