Sophomore peace studies major Grace M. has 13 potential suitors. Among them are a 51-year-old fire breather, a professional “philosopher,” and a self-described generous divorced almond farmer who promises to keep their correspondence a secret. Despite their apparent differences, there is one common trait among them: They are all willing to pay money to meet her. But she has a different attitude.
“I said on my profile I was interested in guys aged 18-25, but the youngest guy who messaged me is 31,” said M, who requested to be referred to by her middle name to protect her identity. “Most of them are old enough to be my father. It’s weird.”
All of these men are potential “sugar daddies” – older, wealthy men looking for younger women to “spoil.” They’ve reached out to M on seekingarrangement.com, the go-to site for matching sugar daddies with younger women, who are known as “sugar babies.” There are 82 Chapman students with sugar baby accounts, according to Seeking Arrangement. This is a jump from the six Chapman students who were registered in 2012.
Seeking Arrangement spokesperson and former sugar baby Brook Urick credits the rising number of college-aged sugar babies to the increasing cost of higher education. The site can facilitate “mutually beneficial” relationships by matching college students looking to decrease their debt with benefactors willing to help them pay it off in return for companionship, she said.
“(The rising cost of tuition) affects a number of girls who want to find sugar daddies because sugar daddies would rather pay tuition instead of giving gifts. They see it as an investment, it’s advantageous. They want to see their money go to something good,” Urick said.
Seeking Arrangement even gives free premium memberships to sugar babies who register with a college email account.
“Sugar daddies want sugar babies with goals, and being in college shows you have a goal,” Urick said.
Though sugar daddies may be looking for an investment, some potential sugar babies look to make some quick cash – or to simply pass the time.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to meet any of these guys. I just wanted the money,” said Cameron, who requested to only be referred to by her middle name.
Cameron created an account with Seeking Arrangement because she was bored, she said. Although she never had any intention of meeting up with potential matches, she admits the possibility of making extra cash was a draw.
“I didn’t reach out to anyone, but one day, about two months after I created the account, a guy messaged me and offered to buy me gifts,” Cameron said. “I needed to pay my sorority dues and I didn’t want to ask my parents for the money, so I just had him send me $500 instead. He sent it over Venmo and that was that.”
While the man didn’t ask for anything in return for the money, Cameron deleted her account soon after because the messages made her uncomfortable, she said.
“Most of the messages I got were scams. Also, I would get messages from the occasional weird old guy who would want to be friends with benefits and it was just creepy,” she said.
Now, Seeking Arrangement has a policy against online-only relationships and transactions. Due to previous scams, sugar babies and daddies who refuse to potentially meet up in real life can be kicked off the site. This system is a failsafe against these online scams, which are common, Urick said.
“My advice is to always meet with someone in person in a public place,” Urick said. “Do not go home with someone right away, especially on a first date, and do not receive money electronically. Just have common sense. If someone messages you and asks for your bank account info so they can transfer you money, they are obviously a scam.”
Though this rule was established to limit online fraud, meeting potential sugar daddies in person can rouse other safety concerns.
“I never want to meet the men who message me. They’re preying on college students’ desperation. A lot of the girls on the website are vulnerable, and if we meet up with these guys in person there’s nobody there to protect us,” M. said.
While the website is monitored, the sugar babies are essentially on their own when it comes to in-person meetings. For women who use the site, the intentions of the men who message them are often in question.
A controversy surrounding these relationships comes from the expectation that sugar babies will be financially compensated for their romantic attention, and where these relationships cross the line into prostitution. Though there is no set “pay” for being a sugar baby, some form of payment is typically expected. Because of this, the dynamic can be a legal gray area. Urick insists that there is nothing illegal about the relationships as the individuals may choose to set their own boundaries, which may or may not have a sexual component to them.
“These guys don’t want a prostitute. A lot of the time, it’s genuinely friends with benefits but on both sides. It’s more intimate, more personal than just picking someone up off the street,” Cameron said.
Still, the myth persists that women will be handsomely compensated in return for their time.
“It’s not a fantasy world, it’s a dating world. (Seeking Arrangement) is partially to blame for spreading the idea that being a sugar baby is some sort of fantasy,” Urick said. “Girls see our stories of successful sugar babies and they think it’s always like that. They think they can get $3,000 a month because that’s what they saw on the website, but this is not a job. If they want a job they can go get one.”
Seeking Arrangement is also responsible for perpetrating an idealized view of the sugar baby lifestyle, M said.
“There’s a lie that the website advertises that ‘beautiful men and women’ are on the site. No. Only the girls put in an effort. The demographic for the guys is old and generally creepy,” M said.
Urick attributes the age disparity to older men and college-aged women tending to have busy lifestyles.
“There’s usually something finite and structured. Oftentimes, the men will be on business trips and will just want someone to go out with them so they aren’t sitting in a hotel alone. College girls have school and sometimes part-time jobs, so some don’t have time for traditional relationships,” Urick said.
Although sugar daddies may not break any laws, there is still a stigma surrounding the ambiguous nature of the arrangements.
“(On Seeking Arrangement), nobody even sees your name. It’s a username. It’s like you’re not a real person, you’re an object. It’s slightly demeaning. They want a classy woman, but they aren’t going about it in a classy way,” M said.
Although M takes issue with the ideals the site perpetrates, she still has her account but doesn’t interact with people anymore.