The growing number of women now ‘dating up’ with sugar daddies has led to a strange new creature emerging from the depths. He’s suave, charming and wants to date you. Oh and he’s totally… skint.
I twirl the straw in my vodka, lime and soda as I sit in the corner of my local pub, sandwiched between a major girls’ catch-up on my left, a couple on what I’ve decided is probably a third date to my right. I’ve had more hungover Sunday roasts in this pub than I care to admit, but I don’t imagine I’ll have as many fond memories from tonight’s visit.
I spot Steve* when I’m three sips in. I take another as he draws nearer. That’s because I’m pretty sure this man has been lying to me about almost everything since we started chatting a few weeks ago. In particular, about the size of his bank balance.
Steve and I have been asking each other how our days are going for what feels like a long time now, but tonight, we meet #IRL. When he originally suggested meeting up I was unsure. He’s nice. He never has me worrying that he won’t text back. He’s just a few years older than me. He’s funny, too. Perfect on computer screen, right? But that isn’t what made me cautious.
There is something unusual about how Steve and I met. We crossed profiles on Seeking Arrangement, a site that launched 12 years ago and is famous for legitimising – and providing a platform for – sugar daddies (and the occasional mummy) to meet their sweet-toothed cubs.
Kings and courtesans have been up to it since the court of Napoleon III, while in Japan, the art of ‘Enjo-kosai’ (roughly translated: ‘compensated dating’) is well-practised and basically amounts to older men giving young attractive women money or presents in exchange for their company, and what my nan would describe as ‘a special time in the boudoir.’
Since then, it’s steadily been on the increase, with more and more women in particular using it as a way to obtain all the trappings our status-driven society demands (the right bag, beauty hauls and #lifegoals mini-breaks) – without the chance of earning the corresponding pay cheque to afford it ourselves. There’s also been a reported increase in the number of people turning towards the sugar baby lifestyle during the pandemic, around the Western world.
I understand that search for status all too well. Last year, I had to transfer an entire month’s wages to my mum after I borrowed the money for an essential purchase – a Prada bag. To earn enough myself to buy designer loot and still afford small things like rent and food is a dirty fantasy of mine. But as much as I joke about wanting to marry up, the thought of actually relying on a guy for financial stability and ‘treats’ doesn’t sit right with me.
A lot of my peers, however, disagree. According to Seeking Arrangement, a quarter of a million UK female students are now using sugar daddies to get themselves some extra life perks, while the app has seen a 40% increase year on year in young women setting up profiles. And now, for the purposes of this feature, I’m one of them.
I create what I think is an award-winning profile on Seeking Arrangement – some lovely pictures of me having a jolly old time on holiday and a bio about wanting to really get to know London. I receive just one single message… asking if I’m up for some ‘fun.’
I thought I’d find a lot of snowy-haired grandpas in cravats and relaxed corduroy who’d be gasping for a date with a 24-year-old who was once described by a man in a bar as “the second prettiest person in the room”. Granted, there are quite a few of them; but, for the most part, a lot of the men are much younger – and more attractive – than I expected. Which makes me question why men like that would need to pay girls to go out with them in the first place…
After weeks of no interest, I speak to self-confessed sugar baby Ella*, 29, from Barry Island, to get some tips on how to get noticed. “I rotate my pictures daily and write to men constantly. It’s not easy,” she tells me. After a quick scout of Ella’s Instagram feed (all selfies placed at just the right angle to show off her cleavage), I change my lead image to one taken the day after I had lip fillers. Overnight, my inbox fills up as quickly as my pout did.
Quizzing Ella further, I ask her about the seemingly rich, young, attractive men that keep popping up as possible matches. “Don’t take everything you see at face value,” she warns. “I met one guy and we went for dinner at the five-star Celtic Manor hotel in Newport,” she tells me. “He said he was in the restaurant business and we had a nice dinner; he was open about wanting to see me twice a month in return for certain… perks. The next day I found a Facebook page about him. There were girls complaining. He’d told one he was a CEO of a start-up and another he was a property developer. He wasn’t a millionaire at all.” There’s a pause. “I’m so glad I only kissed him.”
Looking back, Ella thinks this man may not have been as wealthy as he led her to believe. She is one of dozens of women embroiled in a mutation of sugar dating that sees men posing as millionaires in order to schmooze matches that would, under normal circumstances, be ‘out of their league.’ Its name? Salt dating – an arena perpetuated by ‘salt daddies’.
How does it feel, I ask, to be reverse-catfished in this way? Ella lets out a long sigh: “It really annoys me when they lie. It’s a complete waste of my time. I work and I have a little one. I’m holding up my end of the bargain.”
Next, I meet Stacey*, a 24-year-old nurse who also found her palate teased by a masquerading ‘salt daddy.’ Omar* caught her attention on Instagram when, after only a few messages, he offered £20,000 in exchange for dinner and drinks. He told her he was an oil millionaire, had an Instagram feed that supported his lavish claims, and sent her numerous receipts that supposedly demonstrated he had done this before with other women.
“We quickly moved our conversation to WhatsApp,” Stacey explains. “I was a bit confused as to why he was offering so much [money], and he said, ‘I’m bored, I’m rich and you’re hot. Want to go to LA with me?’” She eventually agreed to a date.
“After a few months of talking, we met up at a local bar. He kept taking phone calls and telling me they were from his PA. He would say things like,‘Can you move my meeting in Paris to Tuesday?’ I thought he was a little strange, that he was maybe trying too hard to prove his importance, but harmless. A week passed, with a lot of texts, but he didn’t transfer me the money he had promised.”
She stopped contacting Omar immediately. “I would never even consider doing anything like this again,” she says of the experience. Stacey thinks Omar was a salt daddy.
I already dislike Brock Robinson. He’s the writer of the blog The City Bachelor (where he shares dating anecdotes and salt-daddy tips), which has become internet-infamous in the way that Neil Strauss and Dapper Laughs were before him. This guy has got so good at lying to girls about his bank balance that he wrote an entire book on the very subject, Salty: A Shocking Excursion Into The World Of Sugar Dating. His previous title was called Snapchat Seduction: How To Get Laid Using Snapchat.
He tells women that his name is Donovan Chase and that he’s a social media mogul worth £1.5million. In reality, he earns exactly £40,000, but lives vicariously through his millionaire alter-ego.
“I get to have a sex life that was previously only available to kings and rock stars,” he says when I ask him why he does it. “I’ve been doing it for two years now. I’ve met around 100 girls and had sex with half of them.”
He tells me it’s easier than I think to get girls.“I’ll usually say,‘I’m looking for someone to spoil. Do you know anyone?’ They will write something like, ‘Haha, I think I know someone – me.’” He’s an attractive 20-something guy. Not hot enough to take the lead role in an action film, but cute enough that he would be cast as the loveable guy in a US sitcom who gets the girl by the season finale. So why doesn’t he just meet women in real life?
“The girls are way more attractive, and when you meet them, you have their full attention. I don’t usually stand out, but on the sugar-dating apps every other girl tells me I’m the most handsome man on the site. They treat you like a celebrity.”
“But do you ever feel bad?” I ask. “I don’t have a problem with lying to strangers and exaggerating my wealth. I usually tell them after I’ve slept with them as it doesn’t really come up on the date,” he says.
I tell him about my story and ask for his advice on spotting a salt daddy, ones like Omar and – well – him. “Any good-looking guy who’s under 40: if it seems too good to be true then it probably is.” With Brock’s words still ringing in my ears, I think of Steve – my new match on Seeking Arrangement. He’s charming, good looking and funny (at least in writing). He was pretty shady when I asked him how he earned his money – an NHS doctor who somehow has a net worth of £1million? No rich parents to speak of ? No side hustle? I smell a rat.
There’s certainly no ostensible sign of money on his profile – unlike a lot of the other ones I’ve seen that are dripping with pictures of yachts. He is only 31 and his tastes don’t speak of fine wine and fast cars. In fact, he refused to meet me anywhere other than a high-street pub. The biggest clue of all is that he wanted to make it clear that he wasn’t keen to set up an arrangement straightaway. He complained instantly about girls who’d asked for money too soon in what was clearly a bid to deter me from doing the same.
After an agonising wait, Steve clumsily envelops me in a hug. I note that he does, at least, look like his pictures, but he doesn’t look like his (alleged) bank balance – he’s wearing a ‘Lacoste’ jumper with a crocodile logo that’s just a little too big, and scruffy trainers. He smells as if he’s bathed the croc in Lynx Africa, and when he smiles, his teeth are more Pete Doherty than Peter Andre.
He takes the seat right next to me on the sofa, rather than the stool opposite, and invades any dreams I had of personal space.
Five minutes in, I realise I am officially the worst undercover journalist ever. I’d told Steve my name was May, but I have a prominent ‘Josie’ necklace dangling from my neck. “Who’s Josie?” he asks. “My sister,” I reply as I swiftly tuck it under my jumper.
After that, we chat easily about our favourite TV programmes and our weeks ahead. He tells me,“It’s going to be a hard week because I haven’t got any curtains in my flat so I’m struggling to sleep.” You’d assume someone with £1million in the bank could afford a trip to Ikea.
My phone begins to flash. It’s my flatmate – doing our pre-arranged ‘get me out of here’ phone call. I make my excuses and he is understanding. When he goes in for the kiss, I turn my cheek to his face as quickly as I can.
But later that night, I feel a stab of guilt. As I scroll through my latest addiction – an app called Perfect365 that allows me to brighten my eyes and make my teeth just a little whiter – I realise we all have our own way of manipulating the truth. Maybe, we all occasionally bend reality to get what we desire. For me, it’s likes on Instagram. For Steve, it’s a date.
If women are actively seeking guys with deep pockets, then isn’t it common sense to expect that some men are going to try to play the game for their own ends? Of course, when it comes to actually scamming people out of money (Natwest have found 40 cases of sugar baby/salt daddy scams in the past year but fear the number is higher) it’s a whole different ball game and something that is never okay.
During our conversation, Stacey talked about how her relationship with Omar quickly left a sour taste in her mouth. “I suddenly felt really weird for being angry at a guy for not paying me. It didn’t feel like what my life should be about.”
And personally, I feel the same. My salt daddy experience only fuelled the fire within me to work so hard that I never have to financially rely on any man – or to feel as empty as I just did with Steve. Of course, for other women they may genuinely thrive in a sugar baby situation, it’s all just a matter of taste.
I take out my phone one more time, but not to filter another selfie. Instead, one by one, I delete every app that requires me to fill out an ‘ideal earnings’ box. I can’t stop the ‘Donovan Chases’ of this world – but I can make sure there’s one less ‘baby’ to bait.
* Names have been changed
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Cosmopolitan UK, some of the original wording has been updated to reflect any changes that have occurred since publication.
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