“I like free stuff,” declares Clover Pittilla – a 21-year-old sugar baby – as she receives a goody bag, not realising she has inadvertently summarised the whole of the sugar baby world in four words.
In my day spent at a plush London hotel for dating website SeekingArrangement’s Sugar Baby Summit, I couldn’t fault the women (and men) who decided that they too, like Clover, like free stuff – whether presents, clothes, holidays, or even business advice.
And they found the perfect way to get it: from wealthy older men (and women) called sugar daddies and sugar mummies, willing to lavish them with gift upon luxury gift.
What upset me most about my day at the summit, was the summit itself.
It was a day of sessions run by many current sugar babies, covering “Getting Started in Sugaring”, “First Dates and Fashion”, and “Allowances and Gifts” – all spilling the beans on the skills they need to become a popular sugar baby.
The idea of teaching the women in attendance what to wear, what to say, and how to act in order to be a successful sugar baby transported me back to the days of the early noughties reality TV show Ladette to Lady, if not decades before.
In fact, when I suggested to a SeekingArrangement spokesperson that it was just like a modern day finishing school, she eagerly responded: “It is!... It’s the sugar baby university, of sorts.”
Telling sugar babies how to be successful in these kind of relationships wouldn’t be as bad if there were a sugar daddy finishing school, for all the rough male diamonds that need to be refined.
But when I enquired after the plans for a male equivalent, CEO and founder of SeekingArrangement, Brandon Wade, told me: “I think we should. But men tend to not really want to learn as much as women do. So we start with the women.”
In these “mutually beneficial relationships”, described to me all day as empowering, honest and logical, I don’t understand why the sugar daddies can’t benefit from a day of classes as much as the sugar babies.
Sugar baby Yasmina, 26, tells me: “They [sugar daddies] need the same treatment. I think they need it more than the girls.”
Aside from a healthy dose of sexism, what did I learn from the day spent with a handful of London’s sugar babies? It taught me that they have to work hard for what they get.
A successful sugar baby keeps up with the latest podcasts to seem intelligent, looks incredible on their sugar daddy’s arm, handles the request for a £5,000 a month allowance with ease, and can spot a sugar daddy with real money from the fake “salt daddy” a mile away. On a site where the sugar daddies are asked to share their annual income and net wealth, you’d think tracking down the rich men would be simple. But there’s some reverse psychology at play. The sugar babies were told rich men are the least likely to post the correct sums, so you won’t actually know how wealthy the man you’re dating is until at least a few dates in.
But at least you’ll know what they look like? Er, no. Emma Gammer, a sugar baby who married (and divorced) her sugar daddy and is running the session on profiles and messaging, tells us the rich men probably won’t have a profile picture as they’re the ones with something to lose if people find out they’re on the site.
So despite a worthwhile talk on online safety, sugar babies looking for a little extra pocket money each month could spend hours hunting down these affluent men without knowing whether they actually earn what they say they do, or even what they look like.
It’s a stressful life, being at the whim of a middle-aged man who doles out money for the pleasure of your company, but the benefits can be big. A jet-set lifestyle. A killer shoe collection. One of the sugar daddies even bought his sugar baby a bar.
But why is a relationship with a sugar daddy better than your run-of-the-mill version? The spokesperson says: “People who are on SeekingArrangement are just more honest about their lifestyle expectation.”
I agree that approaching dating like a business deal is pragmatic – everyone knows what they want from the outset. But when Wade tells me: “If you want to romance somebody, let’s set goals, let’s set objectives of what you can offer, what you want in return, and accomplish those in the types of romantic relationships that you form,” my initial reaction is that it just sounds exhausting. I don’t think I’ll be taking up the sugar baby lifestyle anytime soon.Reuse content