Meet two women who went on paid dates to supplement their incomes – one while studying overseas, and one while working in a low-paying temp job fresh out of university. They call themselves ‘amateur sugar babies’, in other words, women who go on one-off paid dates for quick cash.
They speak of feeling empowered, in control and desired for having men willing to hand over hundreds of dollars just to take them out for dinner.
They each had negative experiences, too, with one sharing a terrifying story of how one particular date ended. And although both admitted to seeing no problem with sleeping with men for money, neither of them actually had sex with the men they met.
They both dated through a website which charges men (and women) a subscription to ‘bid’ for first dates, usually with a much younger companion.
Both women tell me that unlike similar website Seeking Arrangement, there is no obligation to see your ‘generous’ suitor more than once. Most of the time, they would go on the date and never see the guy again.
In 2014, after four years away at university, I was back in my hometown. I was unsure what to do with my life, unhappy about living back with my parents and disenchanted from a series of failed relationships and flings. I found myself in a temp job, doing data entry for a tech firm with 13 other women aged between 18 and 32.
For the first few days of the assignment, the atmosphere was predictably quiet and studious. As we got to know each other, my feel for the dead-end assignment started to change – I made close friends and our conversations in our closed-off room descended into chats normally heard at the pub – family, relationships and drama.
One day, a girl called Natalie* changed our world forever.
We had noticed that her Instagram was full of designer clothes, bags and shoes, and filled with luscious pictures of beaches and city breaks throughout the world. Surely this low-paid job and her side hustle, running a wellness and yoga blog, couldn’t have paid for such an extravagant lifestyle? If her parents had been footing the bill, she must have been the luckiest 26-year-old in the world.
It wasn’t her parents: she had a second side-hustle as a sugar baby. The idea immediately appealed to 10 of the 13 – we were all young, highly-sexed and mostly single. On top of that, the idea of being paid for our company made us feel powerful – educated, beautiful women like us were clearly in demand. At the time, most of us didn’t even think about sex, but I never ruled it out. If I had sex with somebody, that would be my choice; and my reasons would be my own.
We immediately set up our profiles in the office, asking for advice on bios, photos and more – not unlike asking your mates to check your Tinder profile. We then set up a WhatsApp group to document our endeavours, ask each other for advice and keep safe (noting down who we were meeting and where before we went). We made the collective decision to only date men with a clear review and recommendation: this meant that at the beginning we only dated men Natalie had deemed secure (and lucrative).
My first date was uneventful. Dolled up in a black dress, heels I couldn’t walk in and red lipstick I met my Romeo – 50, in banking, charming but dull. We dined on oysters and lobster and sipped on champagne and red wine. He spoke to me about his paraplegic wife, and at the end of the date he asked me to be his lover. His previous mistress had been a young Russian university student; he had paid for her uni fees and had lavished her with gifts and rent payments. Coquettishly, pocketing my £100, I said that I would think about it – and proceeded to ignore his messages for a month.
My second date was an interesting situation. An older American doctor, staying at a £500-a-night Kensington hotel, had booked out his last day in the UK with dates. Unbeknownst to him, most of these dates were with the Temp Ten – he met one of my friends for breakfast, another for lunch, myself for afternoon tea and another for dinner. In the bathrooms we messaged one another, and as I entered his hotel I saw my friend leaving. This was my favourite date as it only lasted an hour-and-a-half, and as it was afternoon tea I felt no pressure to take the situation sexually. We had idle chitchat at the hotel bar, drank tea and champagne, and at the end of the date he gave me £150 and a bottle of Dom Perignon. The other girls received the same prize.
I grew fondest of Mark*, my third date. Like the first, he was also in banking. During our dates (we had three) he seemed genuinely interested in my life and my career prospects. At our first date he took me to an exotic London restaurant that served ostrich, zebra, snake and more. As we talked I felt his sadness, he seemed lonely and a bit lost at this point of his life – his early 60s. During our last date (which I went to, unpaid), at a London jazz club, he mustered the courage to ask me to bed. I gladly kissed him instead.
My fourth date was the one that broke the spell. Hans*, a German political correspont, met me after work – worryingly close to the office. Upon meeting me he sneered that I clearly hadn’t made an effort, as I rocked up in what I had been wearing to the office (a white shirt and a black skirt). Alarm bells rang, but I needed the cash and I was young and naïve, so I stayed. As we ate sushi, he bragged about the money he had, the places he had been, and the celebrities he had known. I perked up after a fascinating story involving terrorism, and I told him that I was considering international relations as a Masters course, and did he have any tips? “We are not here to talk about your future,” he replied, “but do you do anal?”. Half an hour later, he slammed £80 down on the table, pushed me into a wall, forcibly kissed me and called me a whore. I cried all night.
After that experience, I only tried dating for money once more. The guy asked me to show him my underwear in his car (I didn’t).
Although I am now happily in a long-term relationship, I wouldn’t change my past experiences for anyone.
I was 19 and studying abroad when a friend-of-a-friend, Claire*, told me about the website.
We were the only two international students at a party, and after chatting for a while the conversation shifted to the cost of living in the famously expensive city we were in. I started complaining about my money struggles - something my parents had always taught me not to talk about in public.
It was my first time living out of home, paying rent and standing on my own two feet. I just couldn't seem make it work and was much too proud to ask my parents for financial assistance. Instead, I had taken a 9-5 job in an office and was working as a bartender on weekends, all while studying and trying to keep up with my new uni friends, who were much wealthier than me.
I felt like I couldn't enjoy living abroad because I was working so hard all the time but barely making any money. Then I met Claire.
She told me she had felt the same before she discovered a quick way to make money to fund her nights out, designer wardrobe, and even trips to Europe and the Caribbean: paid dating.
The first word that came to mind when she told me was 'escort', and I assumed she was paid to have sex. But even if she was, what did it matter? As long as it was her choice and she was safe about it, who was I to judge?
She'd shown me her profile and explained how the site worked and I was initially intrigued, but when I woke up hungover the next morning I decided it wasn't for me.
A few weeks later, after spending another weekend run off my feet at the bar - still with a dismal dollar amount in my bank account, I thought about her suggestion again and changed my mind. Why the hell not?
My plan was to go on one date to see how I felt about it. I set up a profile and watched the requests roll in, feeling a rush I hadn't expected to feel.
My first date was to a restaurant my match told me was 'an establishment for the rich and famous'. It was stunning, with high ornate ceilings, crystal champagne glasses and waiters who drape your napkin over your lap for you.
I remember feeling jitters in the cab ride over, fiddling with the hem of my sequinned skirt. I was nervous, but excited.
My date was a film director in his late 60s. He had that artsy-intellectual air about him, but a warmth as well. He looked me dead in the eye when he spoke, but it didn't make me feel uneasy - I felt calm in his presence. In fact it felt just like a normal date, and I'd been on plenty of those.
Throughout the date he told me he'd directed Colin Farrell as a teenager among a host of other actors and actresses I pretended to know. He asked about my career prospects as we drank our way through the cocktail list and shared a decadent seafood platter. He was kind, and didn't even ask about sex or try to kiss me at the end of the date - which Claire had warned me might happen. He simply slipped an envelope into my bag and waved goodbye.
I remember checking the time after the date - I'd been there for two hours, and made $200, which was much more than I'd make in an 8-hour shift at the bar. It was the easiest money I ever made.
I went on about 12 more dates like it, mostly with older business men, but some younger men who'd tell me they struggled with social interaction which made it hard to meet women in a conventional way. Once, I was given a bottle of Dolce & Gabbana perfume, another somehow figured out where I worked and sent flowers - I found this alarming and embarrassing.
My favourite part of the dates was asking the men why they were on the site. Some shared stories of girls who had fooled them into transferring money before the date, then never showed up. One guy said firmly: "If I wanted to pay a woman for sex, there are plenty of sites I could go to." Ironically, he was the only one I felt uncomfortable with. Just something about him.
(He later disclosed that he was married and looking for a discreet affair, and offered to pay my rent if I moved into an apartment close to his family home. I declined.)
Some said they liked how the site 'cut through the noise of Tinder', others said they felt they couldn't ask a young, beautiful girl out on a date, so the offer of cash was a way for them to meet women they saw as out of their league.
Each time, I'd enjoy a lavish meal, chat for an hour or two, then pocket a wad of cash. I'd walk away feeling extremely confident and totally badass - like I was a character in a movie. At my peak I had a drawer full of cash that I could dig into whenever I needed money for a night out. I quit the bar job and was finally able to enjoy my life abroad comfortably.
I never told anyone how I was suddenly so cashed-up, either. I was living a double-life and it was exhilarating.
I was always upfront with my dates about my 'no-sex rule' if they asked. Sometimes they'd cancel, but it didn't matter, there were plenty more who wanted to pay for my company alone.
I kissed one guy - a gruff South African accountant with piercing blue eyes and a dark sense of humour. He never asked for a second date, which I took offence to. Not that I thought it could ever go anywhere, maybe because I felt by kissing him I'd somehow lost my appeal.
I eventually deleted my account because I wanted to find a boyfriend, and with the amount of time I was spending on my secret life as a professional dater I wasn't able focus on meeting someone I could start a real relationship with.
I haven't yet, but when I do I think I will tell them about my past life. It's part of who I am.