UK: The pay as you go girlfriends

July 2, 2009
Helen Croydon

Men can now buy the girlfriend experience — dinner dates and weekends away — without the commitment. So what’s the catch?

About two years ago, one Saturday night home alone with a glass of chardonnay, I guiltily googled younger women dating older men. I was bored with guys my age and wanted to meet someone older, wiser and in a different league from what I was used to. I ended up joining SugarDaddie.com. It was nothing to do with any gold-digging ambitions; I just wanted to sample some glamour and to be taken out in style. What woman doesn’t?

But what started as personal adventure ended up lifting the lid on a fascinating world that I never knew existed — the pay-as-you-go girlfriend.

Sites such Sugar Daddie and more explicit ones such as Seeking Arrangement or Seeking Millionaire are regularly used by successful, busy men who want the pleasures of a relationship but don’t want the time-pressures that they demand.

The concept is similar to the film on everyone’s lips at the Edinburgh Film festival last week, The Girlfriend Experience. The Steven Soderbergh film, which will be released in November, is a snapshot of a few days during an American presidential campaign and a financial crisis. Chelsea, who provides a “girlfriend experience”: dinner in a smart restaurant, a movie and often sex, finds that her dates dwindle along with the stock market.

In real life there are thousands of young girls willing to offer companionship to high-flyers in return for shopping allowances, holiday funds, help with school fees or just the thrill of five-star travel and fine dining. These are known as “mutually beneficial relationships”, although the fact that Soderbergh chose a porn star, Sasha Grey, to play his central character may indicates how sexually charged the role of a paid paramour really is.

My first “date” was a 45-year-old partner in a City law firm and divorced. He wasn’t interested in exchanging cash for dates. He was so relieved to meet me, he said, because the previous two girls demanded a monthly allowance of £1,000. “I don’t mind paying, that’s what this site is about, but I don’t want a pro,” he told me. “There are so many of them that it’s frustrating.”

My jaw nearly hit the floor but I was also a little embarrassed at my naïvety. I should have suspected that an unsavoury culture existed, given some of the messages that landed in my inbox: “Are you free on Saturday? How about a shopping trip followed by dinner at Nobu?” suggested one. “I’d like to get to know you, would you join me in Dubai next week, I’ll fly you first class, of course.” Those messages went straight to my delete bin. Such blatant offers struck me as too much like a business transaction.

I wasn’t the only one to be shocked. There seems to be a 50-50 split between members who want the thrill of dating in luxury and those who seek hard cash. Kay Walker, a 38-year-old dental nurse from Lincoln, says that she is the former. “I joined because I wanted to meet high-calibre people. It’s the success factor. I have my own money so I don’t want to be supported but I get lots of those offers. The most recent was £1,500 a month plus a clothing allowance to meet three or four times a week. I said ‘no thank you very much’.” I empathise with Kay for being attracted to prestige but once either party mentions a set sum, the element of choice is removed.

Success and confidence are sexy and I found the novelty addictive. I was eating in the best restaurants and conversing with intelligent people. I was in my perfect playground. I wrote in my profile: “I’m bored of younger guys and want to enjoy the company of someone, older, wiser with more stories to tell. I enjoy the freedom of single life so am looking for fun but honesty.”

The majority of women, though, expect something more than just excitement. After all, they’re providing a girlfriend experience minus the emotional demands.

Amie is a 25-year-old medical student in London. Her profile on Seeking Arrangement makes it clear that she wants compensation: “I’m an attractive yet admittedly dominant young black female. I’m happy to be upfront and tell you that I seek an interesting, solvent and generous guy who wishes to share part of his life of luxury.” It sounds suspiciously on a par with prostitution, or at the very least an escort service.

“Oh no,” she chirps, “it’s not about money. I enjoy the lifestyle that these men can give. It’s nice to meet people who are in a different walk of life. I met one guy who regularly charters his own plane. Another keeps classic cars and races them around the country — I just wouldn’t meet people like that in normal life.” Amie has an arrangement with a 47-year-old events manager in London. “He’s recently divorced so he doesn’t want a serious commitment but he does get lonely. He wants someone to share his spending power with. We don’t have a formal agreement, but he asks if there’s anything I need. If I say, “Yes, I need to go shopping” he’ll take me to Harvey Nicks. He has my bank details and puts in a few hundred pounds here and there. One weekend he asked me to go to a two-day conference. He said he’d compensate. It was lovely; yes, we flirted and slept in the same bed, but we didn’t have sex. When I looked at my bank he’d put in £7,000 with a note, ‘Thanks for the weekend’.”

Amie may console herself that she didn’t out and out sell her body, but it’s no less invasive than selling her soul.

I got braver. One day I responded to one offer of an arrangement. I was researching and presenting a dating documentary for Current TV, so I reassured myself that this was purely for research — though it was more to do with personal intrigue.

Paul was a 44-year-old director of a private equities firm, handsome, charming and intellectual, I found it hard to believe he’d have to pay for company. “I don’t have the time to meet someone in the conventional way,” he explained over dinner at The Mandarin Oriental. “I travel every week. I can’t expect to meet someone who will understand that. If I cancel a date, it’s because I’m stuck at the office. If I can somehow compensate someone for putting up with my lifestyle, it makes it more pleasant for both of us.”

It struck me that Paul was so used to solving problems with money, that he’d extended it to his love life. On our second date he invited me to go skiing and offered to compensate for “loss of earnings”. What a dilemma. I fancied him, we were both single, upfront about not wanting commitment and I’d clearly not be denting his bank balance — who could possibly get hurt?

Then, on second thoughts, Paul was needy and couldn’t be on his own for five minutes. When I arrived ten minutes late (on both dates), he was agitated and if I didn’t happen to answer my phone first time round, he’d phone repeatedly until I picked up. I had visions of him insisting that we ski down mountains in tandem, not letting me out of his sight. I decided that I could not accept his offer.

Aren’t the men also in fear of losing their dignity by buying the girlfriend experience? Mavis Klein, a relationship expert and author of Pain and Joy in Intimate Relationships thinks so. “Any man should know, if he’s worth his salt, he can have sex for nothing. If he has to pay, it’s the ultimate insult from the woman. These girls are exploiting the men, not the other way round.”

It seems that the going rate for the girlfriend experience is £1,000-£2,000 a month, based on three to four dates and the occasional weekend. Female members of Seeking Arrangement specify the monthly allowance they require from a drop-down box and the men state their income and their net worth. Men can pay extra to certify their wealth but, like any internet social platform, there is nothing to certify a person’s character. Amie, Kay and I never had a bad experience but that doesn’t mean that there is no personal safety risk.

The concept of men providing material goods in return for affection is nothing new. A man’s eligibility and power has long been judged on how much he can spoil a woman and how many beautiful women he can attract: take the recent call-girl scandal to envelop the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

And, of course, power is an aphrodisiac. “Women have evolved to be dependents,” says Janice Hiller, a clinical psychologist who specialises in relationships. “We are the child-bearers so we are programmed to need that someone to provide supportduring pregnancy and early child rearing days. In some individuals, that can manifest itself as a need for material support.”

Perhaps these websites simply formalise an implicit arrangement that has existed among rich men and beautiful women for centuries and the anonymity of the internet eases the awkwardness of negotiating. Substituting cash for the legwork of a genuine relationship may suit busy lifestyles, and certainly helped to fund Amie’s medical studies.

However, it’s a pretty deluded world. I met a celebrity TV chef, an American film director, drank my weight in vintage wine and one first date was a champagne breakfast at The Langham. I had a ball but my lasting impression is that most who seek the girlfriend experience are men so drunk on power that they genuinely think that cash can substitute for an emotional bond.

Original on Times Online

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1 Comment

  1. Makes me think of celebrity couples with a much older man and a lesser known or entirely unknown woman.

    For instance Patrick Stewart (68) and Sunny Ozell (31).

    At 31, Ozell is young enough to be his grand-daughter and is also younger than his own children from his first marriage, Daniel, 41, and Sophie, 36. Clearly Stewart doesn’t care what others think, and clearly Ozell is in it for the “fame” but as you say, one wonders if its worth it to sell your soul in such a fashion.


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