This article originally appeared on VICE US.
I’m a single mother to an autistic child, and dating is financially painful. Even getting your hair and makeup done to look nice for the date causes a burden. And when you have kids, you have to pay for childcare. So to walk out of the door to go on a date, I’m like, $200 down. You go on a few dates a month, and suddenly you’re spending nearly $1,000 just to see who’s out there. Sometimes the guys wouldn’t even show up, or cancel last minute! It became painfully obvious for me that I couldn’t afford to date in this way and provide well for my child.
In LA it has become the norm that women will pay for half of a date, but you have to spend so much money on maintenance even just to get that date: gym, hair, nails. I think, I have to spend so much money to look the way I do so you will look at my photograph and invite me on a date. And then you have to pay for the date too. So you’re paying twice over. I came to equate dating with being broke.
Dating can lose its romance when you know you literally have to budget for each date. Whereas sugar dating has a kind of Victorian feel to it. In order to spend time with a woman, the man must provide. I’ve been sugar dating for about eight or nine months, and it’s because all my other avenues to date weren’t working out. I need to have some male attention and romance in my life, but I can’t have it costing me an arm and a leg. My son needs my time. That’s what he needs. Because he has special needs, I have to take him to therapy every other day and I only get a limited amount of respite care. I usually use that time for grocery shopping or even just having a nap! So my time to earn money is limited. I’m maxed out. So in order to have any grown-up, dating time at all, there has to be some give-and-take. The give has to come from a sugar daddy—someone who'll pay for the privilege of dating me, with gifts or cash presents.
My profile on the sugar dating sites is quite minimal. I try to keep it fun and light hearted. You set a price point for your time, which goes up in increments: so, $50 for a coffee, $100 for a dinner. I started out charging about $50 for a date, but now I won’t leave the house for less than $100 dollars. I’m in the $100-200 price bracket for a date now, and that normally includes a gift as well—a candle or some perfume or pretty earrings. They don’t have to be terribly expensive, just something thoughtful.
When you’re speaking to men online, it’s easier for them to be rude to you. There’s a certain amount of work involved in just maintaining your own dignity. I had one guy who offered me a dollar for a date! I was like, you don’t have to be rude. If you’re uncomfortable with the situation, don’t take it out on me. You don’t have to say, you’re only worth $1 to me.
My first ever sugar date was with this young guy who’d grown up in a refugee camp. I could tell he was really awkward so I went out of my way to make him feel at ease. He told me that he wanted the sugar part to go away, and he wanted a real girlfriend, so after a few dates I broke it off respectfully. I’d only been charging him $50 a date, because it seemed like he had a lot on his plate and really needed some human contact.
Another guy I dated told me that he only dated sugar babies, and only broke things off when they became serious with them, as his priorities weren’t being in a relationship. He’s very generous: sometimes he’ll just PayPal me money and say, “this is for your son.” When I see him he always gives me cash and also pays for my babysitter.
After you set the price point, you normally show up, have the date, and then at the end you do the “sugar exchange"—they give you the envelope with the money in it. With one person, I had to remind them of it at the end of the date. He got really embarrassed and handed me a little wad of rolled up bills. But then on our second date before we’d even ordered our drinks he gave me an envelope with a heart on it that he’d decorated himself and I found that very charming. With him, I realized that he was waiting for me to laugh at his jokes and see if we got on. When that happened, the sugar part immediately occurred: it was very easy and fun.
I’ve had a sexual relationship with three of the five sugar daddies I’ve dated. It was great: really nice and pleasant, and then we moved on. I don’t care if they expect sex from me. If I don’t want to have sex with them, it’s not happening. If you do sleep with them, it’s better to have them seduce you a bit. It makes the sex better. If sex is going to happen, it’s because he’s been a kind, interesting, attractive individual. You’re still ultimately two human beings relating to each other: the money thing isn’t as cut and dry as it appears to outsiders.
Money and romance have always been closely interlinked in our society. Women are still not financially equal to men in most settings, but men still expect you to look amazing or pay for half. It’s difficult. Normally when I explain to my dates that I have noble reasons for needing the cash—my son—they understand it. But all women have noble reasons for needing cash, of course. They’ve got to pay their bills.
I have one sugar daddy who’s in the film industry, and he’s helped me so much with my own filmmaking. He set up a home studio for me, and spent hours teaching me how to use the equipment. He’s taken me on set with him and shown me how to set up a beautiful shot. That means the world to me because it feels like a master artist is willing to teach me his craft. With him, it’s a human relationship we’re having. We have arguments; we make up. We connect really well on an artistic level and it’s a thing of beauty, even if we’re never going to get married.
Being a sugar baby has taught me that there’s not just one way of doing things. I was married for 11 years before my divorce, and sugar dating has taught me that there’s life after marriage. The men I’ve met have allowed me to enter their lives and they understand that I’m not flush with cash but I have intellect and a little bit of time and other gifts to share.
Being the mother of an autistic child, my whole life is wrapped up in my son. All the other women I know are mothers of autistic children, and I don’t think they would ever judge me, because they know how hard it can be to live day-to-day. But I don’t think I’d speak openly about it.
My advice to someone looking for a sugar daddy is: know yourself and what you’re okay with and what you’re not okay with. Love yourself first. Don’t pretend you’re not as smart or worldly as you are. And present yourself how you want to be seen, and in the way you love yourself best. The money is just an access point. How you meet doesn’t really matter. It’s all ultimately about relating to another being.