Here are some things that are on the rise: tuition fees, inequality, unemployment, a non-specific sense of alienation, and hopelessness. In these times, the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty. Fulfilling jobs are hard to come by, and dreams of financial security are complicated by the feeling that we want more than just security—we want the yacht, the statement cheese board, the monogrammed hand-towel set.
It's in this world that the website SeekingArrangement thrives. The site connects young women ("sugar babies") looking for money with older men ("sugar daddies") looking for companionship (sex). The site has 2.7 million members, 1.9 million of whom are sugar babies, and it's growing fast, with 2,000 to 3,000 new members joining every single day.
On the site, sugar daddies—who are often married—say they're looking for a “hot girlfriend/naughty personal assistant,” “open-minded females,” or—and this recurs—a “princess.” Sugar babies normally sell themselves as “fun,” though describing yourself, as one former sugar baby did here, as a “part-time hooker” doesn’t sound that fun.
At the heart of the website is the idea that there are no compromises in the sugar daddy–sugar baby relationship. Everything is negotiated up front, so nothing can possibly go wrong. As with many dating sites, risk—a vital element in love—is supposedly removed; the idea is that no one will ever feel any pain and no one will ever be left longing.
I spoke to the website's public relations manager, Angela Jacob Bermudo.
VICE: Hi, Angela. So SeekingArrangement was started by a guy named Brandon Wade. Can you tell me a little bit about him?
Angela Jacob Bermudo: He’s Singaporean, and the whole idea behind the company came while he was studying at MIT. I don’t know if you know, but Brandon is a self-proclaimed nerd. He didn’t have much luck in terms of love—he'd never kissed anyone by the age of 21—but was very successful and quite smart. His mom actually gave him a bit of advice that's responsible for all our websites. She told him, "Don’t worry about relationships and love now. Go for success, and once you're successful it will be easier, because you can show women your values by your generosity."
Show them your wallet, basically.
Yes. And he realized he wasn’t the only one with the problem. A lot of men who were successful found it hard to commit time and effort to dating. He created SeekingArrangement because he realized that there was a community of men out there who could start the relationship through generosity and who would then be able to kind of work their way into a relationship through that.
So money allows you to learn how to be in a relationship?
Well, I would say the money gives you opportunity and certainly increases your chances.
And money and success allow you to transcend that sort of clichéd American-film nerd role.
The two types of males Brandon primarily tried to help in creating SeekingArrangement are those who are kind of nerdy, who don’t have the social skills to fend in the wild against other men—and those who are successful, who don’t have the time to commit to relationships, to meet women in bars and waste time trying to find relationships.
We soon branched out into SeekingMillionaire, which is a millionaire dating website, and WhatsYourPrice.com, which allows men to bid for a first date. You find someone you like on the website and offer them a bid to go out with you. That man or woman can then deny or accept that offer. And then there is MissTravel, our travel dating website. Instead of coffee, dinner, or movies, the first date is a trip together. Our newest edition is Carrot Dating, where men can actually bribe women for dates.
Doesn't that just amount to prostitution?
It’s a misconception that people have about our sites. Because there's money or an item in exchange for a date, they are quick to see it as prostitution. Prostitution is a black-and-white exchange [of sex] for money. First of all, none of our sites actually allow you to solicit sex for money, and we don’t allow prostitutes on our sites. We understand that it is legal in some places, but, you know, we don’t allow that on there.
How would you be able to tell if a prostitute was on your site?
Well, a couple of things. We do back-up image searches, so if your photo happens to be on an escort or prostitution website—or if it's on the back page of Craigslist, or something like that—we are able to find that through our research and support. Once we find you on any of those sites, we suspend you. We also police our messages.
But if men are looking for companionship and are willing to pay for it, have there ever been scenarios where they've become irritated? Do you feel like they are expecting sex?
Anyone who's on the site expecting sex is not there for the right reason. There are such great men out there on the site. And they are doing it in order to help young women, who they see potential in. A lot of these sugar daddies love the mentoring aspect of being a sugar daddy. They get great joy out of seeing a woman go from, financial-wise, a blank slate to a woman who is thriving in her own sense.
Sure. Do you think of SeekingArrangement as a dating website?
Yes, that is 100 percent what we are. A lot of the media is struggling to understand how you can possibly form a relationship if money comes first, but most of the relationships that you see nowadays have an economic aspect to them. Though the man is not up front, saying, “Hey, I’ll give you $8,000,” they are making a silent promise. And the women are betting them without being so direct. Women will always find the men with a good job. The difference is that SeekingArrangement is brutally honest about that. A lot of these men are busy, and a lot of them don’t have time for regular relationships, so we cut through the bullshit and essentially just say, “Look, this is how much money I can offer to take care of you, and this is the ideal relationship that I’m looking for."
Do you think it's more honest than other dating websites?
I would say it’s actually more up front and honest not only than other dating websites but than any relationship out there. Oftentimes people enter into relationships and sort of adjust to what the other person wants, and they're never actually truthful about their expectations. We've seen millions of movies where miscommunication comes between two people. On SeekingArrangement, you don’t deal with that.
Are you trying to cut out compromise?
Yes. What we do is sort of section-off that compromising and make it “negotiating.” This happens in the first meeting, which is essentially the first date. In the first meeting, the sugar daddy and baby discuss what their expectations are and what they can provide. So, instead of compromising later on, you have a negotiation at the beginning, and there’s no compromising later on because even that word itself—“compromise”—implies that somebody is losing out.
So it’s more like a business transaction.
Yes, I would say so. At the beginning it is very much like a business transaction, but then once you get that out of the way you are free to enjoy the relationship, and it's not something you have to worry too much about. Though negotiations do happen again. For example, if the sugar daddy wanted to see you more often, then you would have to talk about a change of allowance.
Do you think that arrangement solidifies the traditional hierarchy between men and women, in which men have the power?
In terms of the financial power, the men certainly provide financially. Just to break it down a little further: With these relationships, one person gives cash, and one person gives companionship. So if you were to ask me, "Does this solidify a certain hierarchy in which men are higher than women?" I would say no. This site empowers women. I’m a successful woman, and I have a rule to not date anyone who—financially or in their career—is lower, makes less than I do, or is at an earlier stage in their career.
I will tell you why; it’s because you don’t benefit from that. If the man who you're dating doesn't match you or doesn’t have a good job, it creates stress. And I can say this from experience. I don't think this is a step backward for feminism, either—it's telling women: "Look, you have the ability to dictate what goes on in a relationship, to set your own rules." The reason I’m looking for someone at the same success level is because I want someone with the same mentality.
That can exist without there being lots of money involved, though.
That’s not to say that the reason why I wouldn’t date somebody outside my financial bracket is purely financial. It’s not a financial thing. It’s a mental thing. And then, of course, if you are a successful woman, dating somebody below me is a problem. Men have egos—sorry to say this, but I’m sure you can relate with me on that. If you are constantly climbing the ladder of success and he's not quite there yet, that affects relationships.
Brandon said that his site was helping the government relieve the burden of unpaid loans. Does he feel that the site can be beneficial to society at large?
One of the things he said was that if all relationships were as honest as those you see on the site, you would see less and less couples match up, waste months and years in a relationship, and then later find out it’s not what they were looking for. If men were re-trained to be chivalrous with their partners, a lot of women would be a lot happier.
Do you think romance is dead?
I would say [yes], in some typical relationships. Because women have had these polar-opposite ideas hammered into them—one being "don’t ever rely on a man" and the other being the need to find a gentleman who will take care of you. Romance is dead because we’ve tried to push these social ideas on it instead of letting it take its course, like before. If we were to take—and I’m not saying we should go back to how things were before—just the bit of chivalry where men had to impress women to get into relationships with them, let alone sleep with them, then we would be able to cultivate this again and have women who are happy in the relationship again.
But do you think romance is an area that can be so closely linked to money? To be commodified in this way?
The word "commodity" is so odd to put next to the word romance. If you were just looking for somebody’s time to commit to a possible budding romance, then yes, it’s something that you can break down to that sense.
You sent a picture of Brandon and his wife. Did they meet in a kind of sugar-daddy scenario?
When Brandon first launched the website, he went to Ukraine to hire a team over there to help with the business. She was applying for a job with the website. They are an absolutely charming couple. Quite hilarious.
I’m sure they are. Thanks, Angela.
Follow Oscar on Twitter: @oscarrickettnow