Chelsea Raymond was a 21-year-old student when she posted a profile on SeekingArrangement.com, a site where older men with the time and funds to spare on a no-strings-attached relationship search for younger women. Why did Chelsea sign up for such a cynical romance? She saw it as her ticket out of the dorm.
Nearly four years ago, I left my parents' house in the midwest and moved to New York for school. I got a housing scholarship for freshman and sophomore year. Then I found a studio apartment for $980 a month I was determined to move into.
I applied everywhere for a job and kept hearing rejections. "You're not qualified to work at Abercrombie," or, "You can't be a cocktail waitress, you've never worked in a bar." (While I was close to earning a degree in French Lit, I didn't have a degree in folding T-shirts or the skills to balance cocktails at a nightclub.)
My old roommate suggested I date a rich guy. Her boyfriend ran a hedge fund and supported her drug habit. I don't do drugs and rarely drink, but I wound up taking her advice. I wasn't looking for love, or even lust; I wanted to be financially stable.
On SeekingArrangement.com there was a liquid pool of hungry men and women trading their dignity and goods for cold, hard cash.
A "sugar baby" must tweak her profile to garner interest from the best suitor. I played up the desperate and vulnerable part of me that wanted to get the full treatment advertised. When asked who I was looking for, I wrote: "An older, wiser, generous and courteous man who wants to take care of a deprived young girl, lost in the city."
Using a picture that one of my roommates took at a dorm party, I found my guy within a week. Actually, he found me.
On the day we were supposed to meet, I had half-an-hour to kill before class. He suggested we grab coffee in Soho. I was familiar with the block -- too familiar -- I wished I'd dressed in disguise. How would I introduce him if I ran into one of my classmates?
I walked into the cafe and spotted him sitting in the corner, arms interlaced behind his head, dark eyes directed on me. There was no escaping. I walked over, expecting he would stand up and greet me. He just smiled and tapped his palm on the seat next to him and welcomed me in a raspy, native-New-Yorker voice.
He wasn't my type (I don't go for Armani suits -- I prefer poor, artsy boys), but he was actually good-looking. He was almost 14 years older than I was. While he dressed like a typical businessman from Brooklyn, I had to remind myself he'd signed up for Web site that helps older guys troll for girls to take care of financially. It's a nicely packaged service that borders on escorting, with no middle man and no set hours or fees per hour.
The Rules of Engagement
We chatted about his club, which I've frequented with my old roommate. It wasn't long before we cut through dumb, first-date stuff. He let me know that if I was serious about the situation, I'd receive an allotment each time we got together.
He took out his Blackberry and looked at his calendar. I mentioned my ex-boyfriend and that I didn't want to get serious so soon and, as though obligatory, he assured me I shouldn't worry about him ever meeting my friends.
I mentioned that I wanted to move out of the dorm for a furnished apartment and he put down the first month, up front.
A week later, I finally went to his apartment. It was very frat boy for someone in his 30s. I took him up on his offer for a drink. He tried to sleep with me immediately, of course. I lied and told him that if I really liked someone, I never slept with them on the first date.
He said I wasn't making any sense, that I was "really turning him off." I reminded myself that this wasn't a "normal" guy. I couldn't screw this up. Twenty minutes later I was in his bed.
No Turning Back
He went into the bathroom and walked out in a towel. I don't recall his exact words, but I remember him being kind of an a**hole, like he was testing me in some way. We hardly spoke the whole time. As he was about to get a condom, he reached into his bedside drawer and handed me an envelope and said: "Five hundred is in there, just so you know I am a nice guy."
I felt sick. I pictured an ex of mine and zoned out. It lasted about 10 minutes. Right after, we were in his living room, chain smoking and drinking red wine. Shouldn't that have been first? Whatever, it was not a proper date. He gave me cab fare and we hugged goodbye.
During the ride, I realized I was hooked. I liked the way he got right to "business," and the money didn't feel dirty at all. Nobody besides my old roommate knew the truth. My friends wanted to know how I had suddenly had such a nice furnished studio apartment, yet I would do everything I could not to discuss the subject. The ones who visited thought I was house-sitting for a friend. I wondered if my classmates would take a "sugar daddy." Probably, I thought, although they might not admit it.
The End of the Arrangement
The next time I hooked up with my sugar daddy he was surprised I wanted to hang around his apartment. I even asked him if we could do it again, merely 10 minutes after. He was too tired. I should have taken that as my cue to leave. Instead, I waited on the bed and asked if I could stay the night.
"I need space, but perhaps another time. Don't forget your allowance," I remember him telling me before I took off. The more I tried to talk with him, the more distant he became. James soon told me he didn't like how "serious" our "relationship" was beginning to feel.
When we parted ways, I spent a little time on the site looking for other possibilities. Then I checked his profile to be sure he wasn't back on the prowl for another desperate sugar baby. He was. I called and left a distraught voicemail. I know that he never intended to hurt me, but sex changes things.
A few weeks later, he sent money. I think he felt responsible for sending me back into my average, less-than-lush life. I left a voicemail: "Well, this arrangement is over, but I appreciate your gift."
The Take-Away (Other Than Cash)
It was hard to take my next relationship too seriously. I had enjoyed the sex I'd had with my sugar daddy. There were strings attached even if I didn't want to acknowledge them.
It took a long time after we ended things to feel normal again. I recently went out with a guy I met at a bar a little while ago, and on our date he said, "Stop apologizing for talking so much." I've grown incredibly concerned about opening up to men ever since my sugar daddy.
I've moved back to the dorm and, for better or worse, can honestly say I feel much better back in my cramped living situation. Even the constant whirl of fear that I might end up dead broke seems a little more real than the way I'd been living. Although I've always hung out with people older than me, I'm unexpectedly starting to appreciate my dorm room and the freedom of college life.
SeekingArrangement.com boasts more than 300,000 registered members -- one-fifth as much as Match.com. If you think this site is all about old letches tracking down unsuspecting nymphets, consider that "Sugar Babies" outnumber "Sugar Daddies" 10-to-1.