Desperate times call for desperate measures &ndash, even in the dating game. Meet the ‘sugar stunners&rsquo, in the mood for a mutually beneficial arrangement, rather than old-fashioned love
By Julia Llewellyn Smith
7:00AM BST 24 Jun 2012
In the darkened bar of a hotel in Kensington, London, scores of youthfull women in brief, taut dresses are huddled together, sipping white wine. Scattered among them are a few fellows, usually much, much older, in suits and ties.
‘So what do you do?’, purrs one woman in her early twenties with a voluptuous figure swathed in a crimson bandage frock. ‘I’,m in coffee,’, replies the man, bespectacled, balding, old enough to be her father.
‘It’,s a very busy schedule. Much of the year I’,m in Colombia, then Kenya. I also have a base in Paris and Fresh York. I dabble in property. This year I…,’, As he goes on, the chick nods and smiles.
This is the British launch of Seeking Arrangement, a hugely popular American website ‘for those seeking mutually beneficial arrangements’,. If you are confused as to what ‘mutually beneficial’, might mean, you need only spend a moment navigating the site to understand.
Here’,s ‘Gorgeous’,: 23, blonde and indeed –, judging by her photo –, beautiful. She’,s from Britain, is expecting $Five,000 to $Ten,000 (?Trio,250 to ?6,500) monthly from a ‘sugar daddy’,. ‘Sugar Baby’,, 25, is setting the bar even higher with negotiations opening at $Ten,000 to $20,000 (?6,500 to ?13,000) a month.
With a duo of clicks you can inspect the ‘sugar daddies’,. There’,s ‘Rico’, based in Lucerne, photographed on a tropical beach in sunglasses and tagged ‘I have an interesting life’,. He’,s 52, his bod type is ‘average’,, his ‘net worth’, is $750,001 to $1 million (?485,000 to ?650,000).
Or what about ‘The Perpetual Partier’,, 57, from Florida, who, while not exactly George Clooney, earns more than $1 million (?650,000) a year and is ready to bestow $Ten,000 to $20,000 (?6,500 to ?13,000) a month on his ‘sugar baby’,?
Similar sites to Seeking Arrangement launch every month. Latest newcomers include seekingmillionaire.com and misstravel.com. These sites suggest a marketplace where older, rich fellows and junior, pretty women engage in aggressively brazen transactions.
On mainstream dating sites members witter about ‘soul mates’,. On gold-digging websites the talk is of no-strings ‘arrangements’,. Such brashness is paying off. Founded Ten years ago, Seeking Arrangment now has a million members on its American site and 100,000 in Britain.
Its founder, Brandon Wade, is a besuited and charming man who is well used to tackling criticisms about the site’,s shallowness. ‘I think all relationships begin off in a very superficial manner,’, he tells me cheerfully. ‘Humans are managed by genes and hormones. Fellows want gorgeous women and women tend to look at dudes in terms of how successful they are .’,
Women pay nothing to join the site, while fellows pay ?31 a month, ensuring they are outnumbered Ten to one. Albeit I hear stories of ‘millionaires’, turning up in Ford Fiestas (and ‘sugar babies’, turning out to be 55), I’,m also told that the site boasts two members of the Forbes Fortune 5000 list. ‘Women on this site can meet some exceptionally interesting and powerful studs,’, Wade says. ‘What’,s not to like about that?’,
The concept of the gold-digger is not fresh. From Becky Acute in Vanity Fair to Scarlett O’,Hara, some of our greatest fictional heroines have made bagging a rich man their quest. But since the feminist revolution the idea of pursuing wealth has been frowned upon, women could make their own way in the world.
But the clinical psychologist Sheila Keegan believes the situation has come total circle. ‘In the Victorian era it was respectable to marry for security,’, she says. ‘I was brought up in the hippy era, so for me talking about money was tacky. But now women are just more pragmatic.
‘Greed is no longer perceived as a bad thing, and women are admired for being brainy, but not necessarily clever. It’,s seen as a question of who’,s using whom. In the digital era people are used to getting things very quickly and they may think, “,Why go through the slog of building a career?”,’,
Nikki Howarth says she joined Seeking Arrangement, not as a career budge, but because she desired to meet fellows even richer than her. From Beeston in Nottinghamshire, Howarth, 26 (‘I’,m getting so old, I can’,t bear to think about it!’,), is a former glamour model who has posed for magazines like Nuts and Loaded. Now she turns over about ?300,000 a year, running her events-management company Eloquent Events.
Tall and curvy, with long, peroxided hair, a fake sunburn, crimson, skin-tight jeans (‘So not my normal style, I haven’,t even put my eyelashes on today’,) and a Louis Vuitton tote donated by one of her ‘benefactors’,, Howarth meets me, a fortnight before the launch party, at a London hotel.
‘I’,ve always had a thing about older guys,’, she says. ‘I’,m mature and I’,ve done a lot, but guys my age are all about, “,Here’,s my number, now text me,”, and then they take me to Nando’,s. ’,
Howarth joined Seeking Arrangement eight months ago. Her very first date was at Nottingham’,s best restaurant. After that she met another two studs, one 43 and one 47.
‘One boy was truly nice. He had his own business and we got on truly well, he was so funny. He took me away to a fantastic, luxurious spa in the Lake District. I used to ring him about business and he gave me excellent advice.’,
There’,s also been a businessman in Hong Kong, whom Howarth has never met, but who recently sent her an iPad. ‘We may never meet but he said he was sending me the gifts as insurance for a future relationship.’, Others have paid to fly her to Dubai. ‘Who wouldn’,t want to be treated like that? We call it living in the sugar cup.’,
Helen Croydon, a 34-year-old writer and broadcaster from London, believes that no matter how emancipated we are, at a primal level women like to be ‘spoiled’, and guys to spoil. ‘Cavewomen’,s children would get through if a man could share his resources. It’,s only very recently that women have no longer had to rely on fellows.’,
Five years ago, fresh out of a relationship and looking for venture, Croydon, a well-dressed, well-spoken blonde with a degree in Japanese, joined sugardaddie.com. ‘I did have a genuine penchant for the older man. My fantasy was meeting someone in a fancy bar and having an intellectual conversation,’, she says.
For the next few years Croydon’,s life, recorded in her book, Sugar Daddy Diaries, was, depending on your perspective, ultra-glamorous, or super-seedy, or both.
The rich (and sometimes married) guys she met took her to London’,s best restaurants, flew her very first class to Fresh York and Aspen and, in scenes reminiscent of the film Pretty Woman, when Richard Gere takes the hooker played by Julia Roberts on a shopping spree in Rodeo Drive, paid for splurges at Prada.
When she later joined Seeking Arrangement, matters became even more blatant, with Croydon’,s dates regularly handing her bundles of cash in come back for her company.
So what was the difference inbetween using these sites and joining an escort agency? ‘The idealism,’, Croydon says instantly. ‘These relationships have an emotional rapport. There has to be a genuine attraction and an element of wooing for there to be lovemaking. It doesn’,t happen straight away, but is preceded by dates –, just like normal dating protocol. There were lots of people I met with no spark, and then we wouldn’,t meet again.’,
The chicks at the party all tell me it is like any other dating site, except it offers access to ‘higher-quality studs’,. But the fact they turn down to let me use their names suggests an unease about being associated with it. None of the fellows will be named, either.
Even Brandon Wade is a pseudonym –, partly because it sounds ‘more Hugh Hefner’, than his real name, but also because he fears it might tarnish his chances of raising funds for future enterprises.
Wade insists his site is far more than an online brothel. ‘Just because money is exchanged doesn’,t make it prostitution. My mother stayed at home and she got an allowance from my dad. We ask people to indeed think about what they want in a relationship and what they have to suggest. Honesty is a good basis for any relationship.’,
Sheila Keegan agrees. ‘At best what might come out of these sites is a marriage with both sides providing what they can, which can be lovemaking or love or attention or dedication, while the other gives money. If that’,s an equal thing then perhaps it isn’,t so bad.’,
Perhaps. But I still feel sad when I talk to Xing Chin, a 26-year-old studying for a PhD in neuroscience at Newcastle University, who has been registered with Seeking Arrangement for a year.
Beautiful, softly spoken and clever (her profile talks about her reading materials consisting of ‘popular science and global issues’,), Chin is from Singapore and has had three relationships via the site.
She claims she’,s using it to meet people ‘outside the campus, who have more practice of the world’,. She says, and I believe her, that she doesn’,t wear jewellery or makeup and hates ‘spending unnecessary money on clothes’,, but pauses when I ask if there’,s no mercenary motive.
‘I’,ll be fair,’, she says at last. ‘I don’,t earn enough as a student to support the stuff I like to do. Seeking Arrangement is a way of fulfilling my potential, of being able to travel, and of having exposure to people who travel and who are on a potentially high level. It’,s very fulfilling for me.’,
Wade says that, as university fees go up, more students are using such sites, a fact borne out by student chatrooms, where there’,s regular debate about its morality.
‘If they’,d rather get through college this way than by waiting tables, why not?’,Because they won’,t lose self-respect by waiting tables, I think. Croydon tells me that, much as she liked ‘being spoiled’,, she also began to dislike herself.
‘As I embarked to view my romantic life as a business transaction, it closed off the idea of genuine love. If dudes wished a relationship so much they’,d pay for one, my time was a commodity, why would I give it up for a normal boring date? I shut out the idea of meeting a man who I just simply loved being with.’,
Back at the party, Mr Coffee is still talking. The Cherry lounge is the best, but Singapore has the best food. His interlocutor’,s face is frozen in fake fascination. He hasn’,t asked her a single question about herself. But she’,s very pretty. She’,s obviously determined it doesn’,t matter, because he might give her an iPad, or diamonds, or send her to Dubai.
Online Dating »,
Julia Llewellyn-Smith »,
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