By: Rachel Sandler | Illustrations by Helen Kim
Ashley* met him in Franklin Square, about two-and-a-half miles away from the Syracuse University campus, at the beginning of September. He was tall and handsome—exactly like his profile picture on the website he messaged Ashley ona few days earlier. He said he was 28 on his profile, and, to Ashley, he looked it.
The pair went for coffee nearby. He told Ashley, a senior in The College of Visual and Performing Arts, about his job as a commercial pilot, which allows him to travel around the country. It was a decent date, Ashely says, even after he told her he didn’t want a typical relationship.
He wanted to be her sugar daddy.
Sugar daddies are usually wealthy older men who give younger women—sugar babies—financial support in exchange for companionship. Most of the time, this companionship includes sex. This kind of relationship is supposed to be mutually beneficial. Sugar babies like Ashley, get financial security. Sugar daddies—and mommas—get attention and—most of the time—sex from a younger partner.
Ashley met the pilot on Seeking Arrangement.com, a prolific sugar daddy website with over 5 million members, according to numbers posted on the site. Seeking Arrangement is like online dating but has different terms and its own set of rules. Sugar daddies and sugar babies make “arrangements,” or a set of guidelines that govern their relationship. Sometimes that involves fixed monthly allowances or gifts in exchange for time spent together. In 2016, the average sugar baby in college got $3,000 per month from sugar daddies, according to Seeking Arrangement data.
Seeking Arrangement overtly and directly markets itself toward college students. Over 1 million student sugar babies were on the site in 2016, according to Seeking Arrangement data. The website brands itself as a way to have your college tuition paid "by a generous sponsor” or a “sugar baby scholarship.” Users who register with a .edu email automatically get a premium account, while those who don’t have to pay membership fees of $20 per month. The site released an entire ad campaign based on the idea of “Sugar Baby University,” a fake university made up entirely of sugar babies. “Diverse extracurriculars help eliminate the dreaded freshman 15,” an actress says in the Sugar Baby University video. “More like freshman 15k.”
Each year, Seeking Arrangement releases a list of “fastest growing sugar baby schools.” In the past five years, SU has not made the list, even though the number of students overall on Seeking Arrangement has increased since 2012. The colleges and universities consistently at the top are New York University, Georgia State University, and the University of Texas. A spokesperson from Seeking Arrangement said she could not provide exact data about how many SU students are on Seeking Arrangement.
After Ashley’s date with the pilot, she told him she wasn’t interested. He was moving to San Diego at the end of month, and Ashley already had a long-distance sugar daddy once before—a 32-year-old lawyer and investment banker from New York City. They saw each other for almost a year, during which he was married but separated from his wife.
Even though Ashley met the lawyer on Seeking Arrangement, she calls him her ex-boyfriend, not her ex-sugar daddy. She doesn’t like the word “arrangement.” It feels too clinical. “I see it [Seeking Arrangement] as more of a dating site,” she says. “I’ve always been attracted to older men.”
She’s not in dire need of money either. But she does like to feel secure and to have nice things—such as designer lingerie and Michael Kors purses, both of which were frequent gifts from her ex. And since he lived in New York City, he would pay for her to come stay with him. He would also pay all of his own travel expenses to visit SU. “It was a relationship, but at the end of the day he did pay for everything,” she says.
The language on Seeking Arrangement is careful, always referring to sugar daddy and sugar baby interactions as “arrangements.” They never call it a “transaction,” sex work, or prostitution. There’s even a FAQ page explaining the differences between “sugaring,” which according to the site is a “lifestyle choice” and prostitution. And before making an account, a warning at the bottom says, “If you are an ESCORT, DO NOT use this site.”
Most women on the site explicitly say in their profiles that they’re not prostitutes. They say they’re college students looking for a genuine connection and a way to pay off some students loans.
“I’m looking for a mentor and someone I can really get along with.”
“Straight up, I have a lot of student loans. Looking for someone to help me out.”
“If you’re looking for a prostitute that is NOT me.”
Ashley isn’t ashamed about having a Seeking Arrangement account. She’s told a few close friends about it, but she’s afraid not everyone will understand. Even though she doesn’t necessarily view herself as a sugar baby, Seeking Arrangement is, after all, a sugar daddy website and she can’t control what others—including those in her sorority—might think.
A few weeks after she ended things with the pilot, Ashley revealed some of her Seeking Arrangement profile in Marshall Square Mall. She turned her computer and showed her messages.
You look hot.
"No profile picture,” she says. “That’s weird.”
You look beautiful.
Hey gorgeous, love your profile. Message me sometime ;)
"See, he’s cute,” she tells me. “I might respond to him.”
And she does.
*Ashley’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.