How to graduate from college debt free
by Abigail Censky
The girl walks up to me a bit timid.
“Are you Abi?”
“Yeah, I am! Go ahead grab whatever you want,” I say, already in line and approaching the register. She grabs a sandwich and pivots back to my place in line.
“Are you sure that’s all you want?” I ask.
“Yeah!” she assures me. We stand in line, the both of us a nimbus of nervous energy.
She looks average enough wearing a polka-dotted button down, a green camisole and jeans. Her hair is dark brown, deeper than chestnut but not black. The standout feature on her petite face is her almost opaque hazel eyes; they’re larger than the rest of her facial features, but in a way that’s striking. She looks demure, even shy, amidst the dinnertime rush. At first glance, it’s hard to imagine this girl has a sugar daddy.
* * *
I heard of the Sugar Bowl, or rather SeekingArrangement.com (SA), nearly six years ago—tardy considering the site was launched in 2006, but premature considering the explosion of media interest in the topic between 2013 and 2014. Back when I heard of it in 2010 I was a sophomore in high school. My friend Nina had excitedly mentioned it to me—we were radical feminists who had bonded over the fact that we came from conservative families. Nina’s thesis for our yearlong language arts curriculum was about legalizing prostitution, and something this big, a website connecting sugar daddies with sugar babies, was lunch table fodder. A glimpse into the realm of reclaiming femininity: young women who were taking money from rich men to pay their college tuitions or simply get ahead. We were enchanted. We talked about creating profiles and going on a date, but neither of us really had the balls to do it.
SeekingArrangment.com is a dating website, initially founded by longtime bachelor Brandon Wade, used to connect older men with beautiful younger women with the intention of forming “mutually beneficial relationships.” Except these “older and wealthier men” (as the site advertises) are not just men and these “younger beautiful and intelligent women” (also advertised) are not just women. They are sugar daddies and sugar babies. In exchange for providing companionship to older and successful men (40 percent of whom are married), these women receive monetary compensation in the form of an allowance or gifts, coming to a site average of $3,000 a month. In the eight years since SA has launched, it has reached 139 countries and its membership has grown to nearly 4.5 million babies and daddies with an average of four babies seeking every available daddy. As of 2009, 80,000 babies on SA were college students. Today they number one million of the 4.5 million. SA claims that babies can make nearly $36,000 in allowances and gifts annually.
* * *
We make the trek to Girl’s living quarters. She tells me a little bit about her background. She grew up in the suburbs of Denver; she’s particularly interested in how race, sexuality and gender are portrayed in film and how we perceive these portrayals.
After going through the motions of small-talk, I ask her a list of questions that have been on my mind since 2010: So how did you get into the Sugar Bowl? What made you want to be a sugar baby?
Her answer is curt but friendly, “Not being stressed about money—simple as that.” She told me she first found out about it from a friend. One of the guys she modeled for liked to buy her stuff, but he didn’t have enough money to buy her everything she wanted or needed, in her words “he couldn’t put out enough.” That’s when her friend, a sugar baby herself, told her about the sugared life and SeekingArrangement.com. Girl has been on the site since October and has already netted $1,350 in cash plus more in gifts and meals.
I ask her how many dates, or ‘meets’ she has been on, ‘meets’ being part of the ‘sugared’ vocabulary. Girl is a baby who asks for a moderate allowance expectation ($3,000-$5,000 monthly) and calls her daddy a ‘splenda daddy,’ not a full sugar daddy, because he cannot fully meet the gift and allowance stipend she is looking for.
“With my main guy, I’ve seen him probably seven times,” she answers.
“Total?” I probe, “Every meet you’ve been on since October…?”
“Oh heck…I don’t know, twenty?”
“And what’s a typical allowance for babies who have an allowance rather than per meet type set-up with their daddy?” I ask.
“Oh, I don’t know…” She looks up as if the numbers are floating above her.
“For platonic meets $200-600, some girls can get up to 6k for sex though…”
Sex sells. And that’s the most problematic critique that plagues the site; some people allege that SA is indeed selling sex, claiming that the service is nothing more than a prettier name for prostitution, or sex work. The site frequently counters this claim by saying no modern relationship would begin without the expectation of eventual intimacy. After all, SA is all about defining expectations so things can be mutually beneficial. But Girl is very clear when I ask her if the comparison to sex work is fair.
“Absolutely not,” she says. “It’s not prostitution because prostitution is transaction based. This money is a gift, and the sex is between two consenting adults.” She pauses and then adds, “A true sugared relationship is a genuine relationship because both people want to be there.” I ask Girl if she’s heard about any of these media critiques. She hasn’t.
“Have you ever been asked directly for sex?” I ask.
“Oh yeah… There was one really shitty offer in particular that really offended me. This guy offered me $300 for 2 hours NSA,” she audibly scoffs.
NSA is part of a specialized parlance for sugar babies and daddies: not the National Security Administration, but rather No Strings Attached sex. Such “pay for play” phrases are common on the profiles of daddies or babies who are looking for sex explicitly.
“I mean come on!” she pleads, preaching to the choir. “AND,” she poses haughtily “he countered what I messaged him back by saying that’s more than someone would make at a minimum wage job in a week.”
“I’ve had to gently move some guys to Backpage.com.” She pauses and asks if I’m familiar with Backpage.com (a free classifieds website with a reputation for advertising services of sex workers, especially underage or trafficked girls). I nod.
I ask, awkwardly, if people ever gawk at these odd couples, older men with such a noticeably younger girl. The short answer is no, but she elaborates.
“I think we’re socialized as a society to accept younger women with older men. Plus I typically look 25-26 with make-up on. When I’m in a cocktail dress and five inch heels, I’ve even been told I look as old as 32, which then I’m like ‘woah there…’” Her Splenda daddy is 39, she’s been in contact with guys as young as 26, and she’s been on dates with guys in their fifties.
“And do they know you’re a college student?” Yes, she confirms. Her status as an undergraduate is confirmed in what she calls her “tag line.” She asks me if I want to take a look at her profile.
When she pulls it up, I’m surprised. It’s pretty average. Just like all the general descriptions or quips that you would see on the more domesticized Tinder or OkCupid accounts of any other coed. You list your interests, some funky facts about yourself—trying to remain flirty. In fact, this profile is much more docile than some Tinders I’ve swiped left on.
Girl’s profile picture is a headshot from a modeling job she’d done. One of the thumbnails is a photo from when she’s seventeen “But I don’t tell guys that,” she quickly adds.
“Everyone loves food, traveling, and intelligent conversation,” she says. I scan through her listed interests and one catches my eye, “well read (moderately).” I chuckle and ask her what it means.
She laughs casually, “A couple of guys have actually asked me that on meets”. The term ‘meets’ jolts me back to reality. We’re not just gabbing over dates we’ve been on as girlfriends, but a calculated “mutually beneficial” relationship.
“It means I’ve read Tolstoy but not Dostoevsky; I’ve read Shakespeare but not all of the Shakespeare,” she smiles.
Her poignancy turns to frustration as she finishes.
“Guys are like, ‘Oh I want a smart girl…’ but if you’re smarter than they are—they don’t want you anymore.”
“So have you actually been attracted to any of these men?”
“None. No genuine attraction. To me this is much more of a job than a relationship.”
She is animated when I ask her about some of the SA specific nomenclature.
A sugar daddy is your ideal man on SA.
A salt daddy is someone who has no sugar at all or is inappropriate on the site. “The guy that offered me $300 for 2 hours of sex, hardcore salt daddy.”
She proceeds, “A POT is a potential—no money has changed hands, no allowance has been given.”
The Sugar Bowl is a double-edged sword—it can refer to the entire SA community of babies and daddies, or it can refer to one daddy having multiple babies. She gives an illustration.
“A daddy can reach his hand into his sugar bowl of multiple babies.” But it doesn’t work the other way around—only daddies have sticky fingers.
A “whale,” much like the investing term, is the ideal catch. The daddy with deep pockets who treats you right, and can give you a high monthly allowance with many tangential benefits.
She also mentions sugar sisters and sugar support, evidently big hashtags on Instagram amongst the sugar baby community. She reaches for her phone anxious to show me. “Her daddy just flew her to Hong Kong and she had a 21k week,” Girl marvels. She scrolls to another picture “I mean look at her legs in this picture, they’re so long…she kills it.”
With money on my mind, I ask about her personal gains explicitly, I want to know if she calculates exact amounts received, including an approximation with gifts. She does. “I actually have a notebook of all the money and gifts,” she says. “Well that and to keep the guys straight…You know what they are interested in and stuff so I can be a good conversationalist on meets…most of these guys are pretty lame.”
She has received $1,350 in addition to gifts and dinners. “It just helps you know…Like now, for example, I have a $900 cushion of cash in my safe. Plus it’s just nice to walk back in after a date and count the bills in your hand,” she makes the motion of fanning money and smiles at me and I can’t help but return her glee. It sounds incredible.
She likes the meals, too. Usually dates take her to higher end restaurants in the Springs or Manitou area. “One date took me to Blue Star, and it was a really awful date, but at the end of the day I had a fabulous dinner.”
“Must be better than Rastall,” I say, only half joking.
I ask her if she could recreate a date for me. It’s always better to take your own transportation to your public meeting place and she always brings mace. Next it transitions from precautionary preparations to more mundane dating strategy. “Midway through I usually take a break to reapply lipstick and perfume, decompress a little.” I ask her about specific dates. Did she have a favorite?
She does. One guy bet her that she couldn’t do the incline (a popular local hike) faster than him. If he won he could cut and style her hair any way that he wanted. She did a little probing and learned he envisioned a trim and to change the color to a deep red. She could live with that. If she won, then he would give her money for a gift of her choosing. She won handily. “I beat him by six minutes,” she said with an impish grin. “I figured six minutes is six hundred dollars.” She tells me at the top of the incline, he whipped out five hundreds and then told her he’d have to go to an ATM to get the last one.
Later, as we’re scrolling through some of her messages, we come to a particularly creepy message. It’s from a man much older than Girl.
50ShadesofCool to Girl:
“Didn’t know Amazon sold: Feeling like a princess, real men who know how to treat a lady, and wild screaming orgasms. Who knew? Bet those are expensive.”
First I laugh. Then I think about what it would be like to receive endless messages like that from men that I had no attraction to. Vicarious exhaustion and sadness comes over me. The tone turns less glamorous and more disquieting.
“Do you have any other jobs?” I ask bleakly.
She does. One on campus job and this is the first semester she hasn’t had two on campus jobs at the same time. She off-handedly follows up with, “I have my fingers in many pies. This is just one.”
This is a girl who needs money. She sifts through hundreds of messages a month from the likes of 50ShadesofCool so she can find a daddy who is less creepy than most to buy her skis, so she can have the $900 cushion for rent or meal plan money. Admiration for her strength surges in me, but buffering that admiration is a pity for her plight. This isn’t entirely a choice. And that’s the thing…I don’t think most sugar babies do it for the entertainment or as a study of feminism. They do it because they need money…badly.
I ask Girl if she plans to continue for a fixed amount of time, until a certain cushion of cash is reached, or if things remain indefinite. “It’s really open ended,” she responds. “As long as I have bills to pay and an income I’m not happy with…I mean I’m not going to go Kim Kardashian on this, but if someone wants to pay for grad school, I’d let them.” She laughs.
Girl asks me if I’d ever create a profile. “I might,” I say hopefully. Girl wants to know if I’d do it for real or from an academic standpoint. “For real,” I lie. In reality I couldn’t do it, and I know that when I’m answering. We walk down the stairs to find her roommates in the kitchen as I head toward the door. Earlier she said that they are the only people on campus that she told. Not even her best friend knows. “Seriously,” she says, “let me know if you’re making a profile. There’s some safety stuff,” she adds cheerfully, excited about a POT sugar baby. “I will,” I promise.