Rich pickings: How to get a Sugar Daddy
Catherine Murphy meets an Irish single mum who has dipped into a fast-growing website dubbed the perfect 'fishing bowl for sugar daddies'...
'No one ever asked for their money back." It sounds like a slogan, but these are the words Irishwoman Fiona, a 28-year-old single parent, uses on her profile on a sugar-daddy website.
Fiona will date sugar daddies -- older, richer men who pay her an allowance to go out with them, travel with them and, usually, have sex with them.
She's attractive, 5ft 8in and has the dyed blonde hair, fake tan and ambition that fits the stereotype embodied in the tragic former 'Playboy' model Anna Nicole Smith, who became infamous after her marriage to 89-year-old J Howard Marshall in 1994.
Smith denied speculation she married the oil tycoon 63 years her senior for money. After his death -- 12 months into their marriage -- she was embroiled in a complicated battle with Marshall's son E Pierce Marshall over her claim on half of his $1.6bn estate.
Both E Pierce and Smith would die before the case was settled. The former model died of a drug overdose in 2007 and, four years later, the Supreme Court ruled against her estate.
Meanwhile, Fiona comes from the boom generation that feels wealth is almost an entitlement. Various sugar daddies have brought her on holidays, bought her laptops and helped with legal bills and car purchases, all in return for dates, company and sexual relationships.
"I know when I date a sugar daddy that I'm not going to bed with an Adonis or Spartacus," Fiona says. "I know I'm sacrificing age and looks to get the things I want. I'm a realist; most of them are never going to be in the next Armani campaign.
"But if they're willing to play the role of a more old-fashioned, financially secure guy who helps fund my lifestyle, then I'm willing to play the role of sugar baby."
Fiona, of course, is not her real name. She refuses to use her real name or be photographed for this article. It's not that she thinks dating men for money is a bad thing, it's just that others can be judgmental.
"I think what I'm doing is normal," she says. "Among my friends, that's the first question asked about a guy -- what does he do, how much money does he have?
"There are times when the old Catholic guilt creeps in. Then I say, 'hold on a minute; no one's getting hurt, everyone is happy'."
Still, Fiona doesn't want to go on the record and she's not alone.
Let's call another user of the site Amy. She's a 19-year-old Limerick girl who also uses the site and portrays another side of it.
She said she loved the money and the buzz of sugar-daddy sites but, more than anything, she talked about how much she enjoyed being paid for sex, and how her boyfriend had no idea about her secret life.
Brandon Wade, the Hong Kong-born tech entrepreneur who founded www. seekingarrangement.com, claims to have thousands of Irish members, but it seems Irish sugar daddies are more traditional than their US counterparts.
"In America," says Wade, "being a sugar daddy is not only about being a much older man with a very young woman -- the average age of the sugar daddy has come down -- whereas in Ireland it's still men in their 50s.
"The recession means that the average wealth of sugar daddies has fallen. You will see millionaires on the site posing in photos with their Ferraris and Maseratis, but you'll also find guys who don't want to be defined by their wealth, or men who earn €60,000 a year and have a bit left over each month that they're willing to pay a sugar baby.
"There are more normal guys who want to be generous and super honest about what they want," he adds.
Wade also claims that the site reflects social realities at any given time. Some 40pc of sugar babies are students looking for someone to pay their way through college.
The next biggest demographic is single mothers, limited in their capacity to socialise and also looking for financial back-up.
They're followed by the ambitious young women who are fascinated by wealth and want to be around it, and learn how to get it.
Then there are the Fionas, hoping that, despite a nine-to-one ratio of women to men on the website, they'll land a big catch.
They are attracted by successful men and yearn to taste that wealthy lifestyle without relying on their own talent, sweat or success to get there.
The most obvious criticism of Wade's website is that entering into casual short-term relationships in return for money is a form of prostitution -- that being paid money by men to enter into 'arrangements' puts women in a position of vulnerability, one that's open to abuse.
Of course, that's not how Wade or sugar babies such as Fiona see it.
Fiona was 22 when she dated her first sugar daddy. In all, she has had short-term 'relationships' with three sugar daddies, all Irish, marital status often dubious. "All my friends were out partying six nights a week," she says. "I was struggling with money and had limited options for socialising. I was at home on Saturday nights with my baby, so I thought, 'Let's see what it's all about'.
"I find sugar-daddy sites more honest than regular dating sites; you don't have all that batting backwards and for-wards to find out if someone interests you."
Fiona's first connection thro-ugh the website was something of a learning experience. I was very nervous the first time I met a man through a sugar-daddy site," she says.
"But he was a sweet man -- 50 years old, never married, quite shy and a bit overweight. He had his own IT company, but he wasn't the most confident man in the world.
"He paid me a weekly allowance of €600 and that was mainly to go with him to events. He was a very funny man and we became good friends. Sex was never mentioned, but I knew it would happen. In the end, it evolved naturally after a few dates." All her dates seemed to be starved of physical intimacy, not just sex but affection.
"One guy thought a hug was the best thing in the world," she continues. "Maybe they're divorced, separated, in relationships that have gone sour, or their woman has shut them out."
Among the good moments were a holiday to Malaga during which Fiona's sugar daddy bought her dresses. There was a new laptop when she mentioned that hers was clapped out, and weekends away in top hotels.
Fiona's second sugar daddy was a 56-year-old property developer who came to Dublin every few weeks and paid her €350 a week.
"But he did help towards paying for a new car for me," she says. "I was never sure if he was married, so that one didn't last too long -- I knew him for about seven weeks. Fiona had doubts about the marital status of her next conquest, too.
"The third guy was 53, again he was in construction and said he was unhappily married, which I took with a pinch of salt," she says. "He didn't pay me an allowance, but he did help me with a legal bill, around €3,000."
So far, Fiona's sugar-daddy experiences have been positive, but she is careful how she uses websites to meet men.
"I use the sugar-daddy site as a tool," she says. "I've been quite clever in how I pick men and if I do meet someone who seems weird or gives me a bad vibe, I cut it short."
Perhaps Fiona should read 'Sugar Daddy Diaries', a book written by 34-year-old British woman Helen Croydon about her days as a sugar baby. Croydon has said that she believes all women, at a primal level, want to be pampered. However, she stopped dating men for money when she realised her time had become a commodity.
Ironically, it's Brandon Wade who seems to undermine the genre he has capitalised on.
"For some women, using the site is a phase in their lives," he says. "I've spoken to women who've left the site and asked them why they left, and they say they met someone and fell in love. Very often, the men they fall in love with have very little money. Women are very practical but, when it comes to love, money is the least important thing."
Despite the financial success, perhaps the man who brought sugar daddies back into vogue realises that while sugar tastes good, it's bad for you.