Somewhere in this city, a too-wealthy guy is searching for a too-good-looking lady.
We’ve seen him before. His black-rimmed glasses are tilted just off, his plaid shirt is tucked in waist high and his pants are two sizes too big. He snorts when he laughs and wears a collar to cover his neck hair. He has trouble finding a first date — he has trouble finding any date, for that matter. But he doesn’t have any trouble attracting dough.
Slumped in front of his computer, this man slips on his online goggles and transforms into a “Sugar Daddy” — the modern, successful and generous man willing to pamper and offer financial “help” or gifts to a young person in return for … companionship. In this world, our nerdy friend is sought after in an eight-to-one ratio. For maybe the first time in his life, he can’t keep the babes off.
But it doesn’t stop there. The female-equivalent, Sugar Mommy, is competing a mere click away, willing to trade her own financial successes for a young man or woman seeking that same arrangement. And then, in this twist of attraction, there are the hunters: Sugar Babies —young, attractive, ambitious and goal-oriented individuals willing to trade “friendship” for funds.
This world might sound new, but Sugar Daddies have been around since the days of kings and queens, now made more accessible by the world’s most sugary sites, like SeekingArrangement.com. And, in a recent study performed by the group, Victoria’s Sugar Daddies scored the accolade of “Most Generous Sugar Parents in Canada,” spending more on their sweet tooth than any other district.
Behind the fiscal fantasy
Back in the early 2000s, Brandon Wade was that anti-social nerd who couldn’t find a date. He had successfully completed his business degree and masters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was already pulling in an easy six-figure income working for companies like Microsoft. But when it came to social connections, Wade was as poor as a pauper.
“I didn’t have the confidence, I didn’t know how to act around other people, and yes, maybe I wore my pants too high and had Harry Potter glasses,” says Wade, 42, founder and CEO of SeekingArrangement.com. “My mom always told me, don’t worry about being the most attractive, because you’re not; just focus on making money and treating women right —pamper them, and they will come to you.”
Wade found out his mom had a point. In Singapore, he had watched his stingy father leave his mother to work for her own money and buy herself jewelry and nice things, which bothered Wade. Then, as he was graduating university, Wade remembers finally being invited to a party by a girl he liked.
“I would meet girls, but I could never get it to that next step. This time, I could tell she liked me, too, but I didn’t know what to say to her or what to do, and I just sat in the corner as another guy went up and flirted with her, and eventually they went home together,” he says.
That was the last sticky straw for Wade, who decided then to take his mom’s advice and focus on the strengths he could offer: cash. While he had tried online dating before, he felt the high male-to-female ratio left him without a chance. So, with little on the market to fill the need at the time, Wade used his degree to create SeekingArrangement for himself. He found dates all right, but he never suspected his site would become so popular, or that it would be the beginning of his life’s calling.
“I was always that ‘great guy once you get to know him.’ But the greatest pain I ever experienced growing up turned out to be the thing that drove me into my career — and I think that may be true for a lot of people, some just haven’t realized it yet,” says Wade.
Since SeekingArrangement launched in 2006, Wade and his team of 22 employees have watched the Sugar Daddy dating scene accelerate with the number of active Daddies growing from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. The site now has over 1.7 million users around the world.
But before you picture the average Daddy as a handsome grey-haired man, drink in some statistics. Sugar Daddies range in age from 21 to 84 years old. In Canada, that average age has dropped from 44 (in 2007) to 40 years old (in 2012), as younger men enter the lifestyle. Approximately 38.9 per cent of these men are married. The average makes an annual income of $247,757, is worth about $5.3 million and spends approximately $4,047 a month on his sugar addiction — though all these numbers have dropped with the economy, with the monthly budget down 25 per cent from $5,063 in 2007. As for sweet preferences, 95.3 per cent of these men are heterosexual, 4.1 per cent are homosexual, and 0.6 per cent are bisexual.
Victoria ranks eighth in Canadian Sugar Daddy density per capita (0.93 out of every 1,000 adult men), with Toronto ranked first, followed by Calgary and Vancouver. In a recent statistical study Wade performed based on five years worth of data collected from his website, he discovered Victoria notches off the most generous Sugar Daddies in Canada, with the average spending $4,947 a month on his sugar addiction — that monthly budget is the self-reported amount he gives to his Sugar Baby in gifts, travel and allowances. Approximately 33.1 per cent of Victorian Sugar Daddies are married, making Victoria’s Daddies the most faithful bunch, while Winnipeg’s group ranked least faithful, with 54.1 per cent married.
Another surprising fact: Wade discovered the average age of the Sugar Baby is increasing, with some Babies now well into their 60s and already financially secure. And don’t think it’s just about the sex — at least for everyone.
According to a poll released by the New York Post this fall, 70 per cent of men on general online dating sites are looking specifically for sex. Yet in Wade’s study, he found sex to be the primary motivation for just 51 per cent of the male members of SeekingArrangement. So why do the remaining 49 per cent choose this site rather than face-to-face offers? The number-one reason reported was: “not enough time to date.”
“Our goal is to match those who love to pamper with those who love to be spoiled. There are still a lot of stigmas around this lifestyle, but the benefits are mutual. The girls I dated, for example, helped clean me up, taught me what to wear, even how to act around beautiful women. And my confidence grew.”
Six years after birthing his creation, Wade now lives in L.A. with his wife, who he did meet on SeekingArrangement. They were married this past February after dating for two years, though, in typical romantic irony, Wade says she’s as much of a nerd as he is.
“Really, she’s a geek trapped in a beautiful woman’s body! She’s like a female version of me — well, she’s very good looking — but she’s a total science nerd, and it helps that we speak the same language,” Wade says. “She doesn’t think of herself as a Sugar Baby either; she’s very self reliant and makes her own money. But I still like to pamper her and, sometimes, she lets me.”
When is prostitution not prostitution?
Katie is a 19-year-old Sugar Baby from Victoria who, like many, was looking for a financial leg up when she joined the site.
“My friend made a joke saying I should get a Sugar Daddy to help with my bills, and at first I laughed it off but then I decided to look into it,” she says.
Katie currently works for a residential cleaning agency but, since signing up with the site in April, will soon enter a bachelors program in interior design. She has met up with nearly 45 different Daddies, some who have offered her up to $20,000 for school “and whatever other expenses.”
Katie says her current Daddy takes care of all her bills, takes her shopping and to nice dinners, and gave her a down payment for a new car and money for books and tuition. He also flies her out to join him in Edmonton, New York and the Bahamas, while covering what she would have made while she takes time off work.
“It’s nice dating a man who’s more mature than men my age, although he is fairly older than I am,” she says. “My current Sugar Daddy lost his wife of 35 years earlier and, in dating a younger girl like myself, he’s trying lots of new things that are more fun, and having spontaneity in his life. While — with his specific case — sex is something he wanted out of this, it hasn’t always been the case. He’s actually the only Sugar Daddy I’ve slept with.”
Like Katie, many college students, single moms and low-income earners have looked to the site as a jackpot — but the lifestyle is not without its costs. Her relationships can often feel as much like work as they do dating, and are often kept secret — only Katie’s best friend knows she’s on the site and, at first, was very much against it. She also says the same internet threats apply.
“Initially, I was worried that it would lead to something too similar to prostitution, but I’ve been most surprised by the number of men I’ve met with who aren’t just looking for sex, or are OK with going to all lengths to help me financially even just to have someone to listen to them or to hang out with,” she says. “You do have to stick up for yourself, though — if a guy isn’t willing to get to know you or make you more comfortable, then he isn’t looking for the right kind of thing.”
SeekingArrangement has come under scrutiny from critics and organizations that believe Wade is promoting a derogatory lifestyle, yet Wade believes the site is closer to online dating than prostitution.
“We do hear from women who say what we are promoting is oppressive. In the conversations I’ve had, though, I’ve found that even many feminists in their hearts want to be able to let go and be princesses — but now in society we’re told that makes a person weak or oppressed, or even conniving,” says Wade. “And often, these same women are the ones who themselves are going above and beyond to give to their partners — sometimes I wonder, is ‘equality’ really fair? Whatever happened to being a gentleman?”
Wade says expectations are the key here: give up the idea of “going Dutch,” and you’re already on board.
“A lot of people do see this as prostitution, but that’s like saying it’s prostitution if a guy buys movie tickets, popcorn and dinner for his date,” says Wade. “I’ve always pampered all of my girlfriends. The difference is that a prostitute is performing her job; she might not pick and choose if she likes someone or is attracted to a client. Here, we help facilitate a meeting, but it’s up to those two people to take it from there — they might just go for coffee, or fall in love and get married.”
With books like E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey topping bestsellers’ lists, the Sugar Daddy lifestyle has come more out of the closet than ever before. And Wade says another interesting phenomenon has popped up on the site — women posting as “Anastasia Steel, looking for her Mr. Grey.”
“I think why those books are so popular and why we are seeing this trend is because the main character is a self-realized feminist who is totally independent and really doesn’t need anyone to take care of her,” says Wade. “Somehow, accepting that makes it OK to allow her this luxury of indulging a true gentleman.”
Fantasy aside, the lifestyle comes with very real risks, from billionaires being blackmailed to women facing the same dangers as anyone dating online. While Wade says the site performs background and identity checks and does everything possible to inform users of how to be safe, both sides face abusers and fraudsters.
“There are ways to look for warning signs when you interact with someone, like women who only want to talk about money, and men who only want to see pictures,” says Wade. “You have to learn to say ‘No’ and be assertive with your boundaries, because you will have people ask for things you don’t want to do.”
While the site is useful for millionaires and minxes, Wade has recently started a new business for those with less-expensive aspirations: WhatsYourPrice.com — a site for “generous” people to date “beautiful” people, for a price.
“What we discovered was that women would often be willing to go on just about any date if they didn’t have to pay for a thing, but that includes what it costs to do her hair, buy clothes or get her makeup done, so we developed a way that can happen,” Wade says.
WhatsYourPrice makes no guarantees about the ultimate value of these Sugar Babysitters, but for $50 to $100 a date, a man, for example, can pay to take a woman out for dinner, a movie, or more — and he will accept the bill. While the price is guaranteed before the date takes place, the expectations are not. The goal is only to get that first date in — it’s up to Mr. or Mrs. Generosity to score the second.
“The truth is, dating is just a costly business — whether we’re talking financially or emotionally,” says Wade. “But the more you go out and interact with as many people as you can, the more you learn about yourself. And that’s pretty sweet.” M