“But I’m not here for love”

Ciaran Sunderland speaks with a former sugar baby attending Trinity and discovers the complicated working relationships involved.

Art by Harriet Bruce

“Sugaring” is an interesting neologism. Conjuring images of confectionary and added frosting, the sticky term has a secondary implication of persuasion or seduction. Amateur linguistics aside, the term is becoming increasingly common, appearing in several recent stories about the rise of students supplementing their incomes by working as “sugar babies”. Many of these students use websites to make arrangements online with interested parties. SeekingArrangement.com is the best known and most popular website that facilitates this. Trinity made headlines last year when it had the most sign ups of 2016.

In an email correspondence with Trinity News, Josette D’Espyne, public relations coordinator for SeekingArrangement.com, reported the number of registered users in Ireland. “There are currently 31,298 sugar babies from Ireland registered on SeekingArrangement.com, and 11,788 sugar daddies.” More than 10,000 of the 31,298 registered sugar babies are students and the number of users continues to grow. The website offers premium membership to sugar babies that sign up with their college email address or show proof of enrollment. Premium membership allows users to contact more partners and increases a sugar baby’s networking potential.

The benefits involved speak for themselves. “The average sugar baby in Ireland receives €2,150 in monthly allowance,” says D’Espyne. “However, that is just in monthly allowances – many sugar babies travel with their sugar daddies, and are given gifts.” In America, where sugaring has been established longer, gifts can extend from covering a month’s rent to the use of private chauffeurs and holiday homes. As a method of supplementing your income at college, sugaring is potentially lucrative, but what is it really like to work as sugar baby?

In an anonymous interview with Trinity News, Sally [name changed for purpose of this article], a former sugar baby and current Trinity student, describes why she started sugaring. “I got started because it was coming up to college and there were some issues with my SUSI grant application and I didn’t know if it was going to come through properly or not because they were checking health records for my family for social welfare reasons. I kind of panicked a little and I saw it as an option and made an account I suppose.”

Starting out didn’t prove difficult with the wealth of information available online. The “sugar bowl” is the name given to online groups of sugar babies.  “So initially I got started on Tumblr and looking at the suggested posts that were on the feed and clicking at the tags at the bottom of posts. There was already so much help out there from previous posts that I used them as guide books almost, like I didn’t need to do that much looking at all basically because it was already compiled”. A well-established network of working practises was already in place, and despite the relatively small numbers of working sugar babies in Ireland in comparison to the US, Sally said a tight-knit community had developed.

Sugar babies engage in continuous networking in order to find a sugar daddy. Messaging potential sugar daddies or “pots” (short for potentials) can be time-consuming and often a sugar baby will find themselves talking to multiple interested parties at the same time. The working practises of sugaring often depends on the participants and the type of relationship both parties are interested in pursuing. As a result, this can quickly narrow down the field. However, finding a suitable sugar daddy can still take time. Sally estimates she talked to about 40 pots before eventually finding two suitable men that she agreed to meet.

Before agreeing to an arrangement the matter of payment is handled: “I used cash after talking to people with more experience of it. It was guaranteed money immediately whereas with bank accounts it takes a few days to get to you because it is an international bank account and then you get no more money.” Sally said she never had any issues getting paid this way, “so it’s safer to get cash and I never had any fake money given to me.”

The sum is decided beforehand as well. “You let them know first how much in total and then you let them know before, ‘I need this for a deposit,’ and then you get the deposit at the beginning which you can set at wherever you want to and then you get the rest of it after. Depending on when it [the arrangement] ends at a dinner or the event afterwards.” Sally explains because of the brevity of her activity, “I wasn’t asking for that much. I didn’t do the monthly allowances because I wanted to establish boundaries, our dynamics, how to be independent from them, things like that before I signed up to any unofficial contract from them. So I only really got deposits from them”.

The vocabulary for sugaring can be opaque and on some occasions referring to arrangements as “dates” can seem natural. However, it is important to distinguish from the start the nature of the work. “I’m a service, for a lack of a better word,” Sally explains. “You have to get it into your head on a formal basis that it’s kind of an arrangement because if you start calling them dates in the beginning of these things then it makes things overly complicated”. The type of relationship established between the sugar daddy and baby can often dictate the terms of engagements between them. Sally is also firm about how she devised her terms: “You have to set boundaries. What you are here for, so I’m here for talking, if you need someone to vent to or talk to or anything else you might need, but I’m not here for love.”

Lines can be crossed though, and Sally talks about how this presents challenges to the work. “There have been instances of men and women that I know who have been involved in these arrangements when, most often it’s the sugar daddy, where they are seeking more than your arrangement, where they are seeking a kind of replacement for what they are lacking in their own marriage.”

Of course, the dangers involved cannot be overlooked. SeekingArrangement has faced questions before about the safety of its users. D’Espyne highlights the steps taken by the site for security. “There are safety tips posted on SeekingArrangement.com as well as SeekingArrangement’s sister site, LetsTalkSugar.com. Additionally, the site does offer a third-party background check and we encourage our members to only date background-verified members. Plus, there is an in-house customer support team that watches for suspicious activity and monitors reports from members.” However, D’Espyne says that SeekingArrangement “do not have reportable metrics on accounts that are problematic”, so the question of the exact number of problem cases with the website remains.

Reflecting on her time as a sugar baby, Sally says: “I was always pretty cautious” due to “previous experiences before with my personal life that taught me to be more cautious”. She said that sugar babies themselves can highlight and flag problematic sugar daddies and generally keep each other updated. The sugar bowl operates a “kind of a buddy system mutually looking after each other”, where “you usually have a few numbers and you text them all the details, who you are meeting, where you are going and what time you are going and what time you are leaving”. If a sugar baby does not contact her partner then they are instructed to raise the alarm. According to D’Espyne, if a crime does occur then SeekingArrangement urges “that person to report said crime to their local law enforcement agency. If this person then reports that they met the other person involved on SeekingArrangement.com and law enforcement needs assistance from our site, our team would cooperate and assist in any way that was necessary”.

In her three months working as a sugar baby, Sally met two sugar daddies five times in total. Although one of the arrangements led to sexual acts being performed, the others primarily involved company for dinners or attending cultural events at galleries. As well as arranging to meet up, one of the relationships involved Skyping an English businessman, which she was also paid for. Sally was quick to point out that sugaring is relative to what is arranged and that her experience of it reflected her. “I mean it’s so broad like that’s just one experience of it. Those were the ones I was prioritizing, because I was just starting it out and I was more comfortable in my mind than but I wasn’t as comfortable in my body yet”.

As time went by, Sally described becoming more competent at networking and approaching potential sugar daddies online and made use of other dating websites such as Plenty of Fish. She often found that sugaring spilled over into other such networks, although staying online constantly was a challenge. “I always thought of it as any other job,” she said, “like I didn’t enjoy it but I never had any issues with it”. She points out that she was “always looking for other jobs” but was impeded by a lack of experience and by widespread nepotism, a common complaint for young people searching for work in rural Ireland.

Ultimately Sally called time on her work as a sugar baby when she received confirmation of her grant at the end of the summer. “Like before initially I wasn’t going to stop because the summer has ended, I was going to continue it for the rest of my degree, so I was hoping for a regular steady income.” Sally says she intended to spend her summer earnings on rent but instead financed her first term living costs and added to savings. “I stopped when I got my grant,” she said. “I was planning to stop if I got it but if I didn’t I was going to keep going with it. I was perfectly happy with it, I didn’t have any negative experiences with it”.

Sally now lives off her grant and does not currently work part-time. While no longer working as a sugar baby, she remains very private about her first job. Her friends and family have no idea what she did that summer before she received her grant. “I’m not ashamed of it, I see nothing wrong with what I did or what anyone else does, but society thinks otherwise and it’s my way of protecting myself from society’s projections onto me”.

SeekingArrangement recognises their growing user base in Ireland and even held a coaching event last month in a Dublin hotel to advise members about developing relationships. If the number of sugar babies in Ireland continues to grow then perhaps more attention will be given to sugaring as a social and economic phenomenon. In a comment recently to the Journal.ie, SeekingArrangement spokesperson Brook Urick said: “This isn’t a lifestyle that we invented, we’re just the first ones to optimise it and be honest about it.”

As it stands, if the necessity arose again Sally has no qualms about returning to the sugar bowl. “I’d do it again,” she said. “It’s not what I want to do with my career but yeah I would do it again”.