Pour some ‘sugar’ on me

By Trevor Ballanger

In 1967, The Beatles sang, “All you need is love.” In a world fueled by status, that philosophy is now almost old-fashioned—love is incidental, but diamonds are forever. Sugar daddies seem to be getting younger every year, and their sugar babies get the money they need.

The term “sugar baby” refers to a young woman or man who is financially cared for by a “sugar daddy” or “sugar mama,” often in exchange for sexual favors. Sugar babies also provide “arm charm” for sugar daddies and mamas when they travel or

attend events.

On Chicago’s Near North Side, the intersection at State, Rush and East Bellevue streets forms a triangle. On weekdays, this location’s bars and hotels appear innocent enough, but when weekend nightlife floods into its corners, the area transforms into “the Viagra triangle.”

Savannah Burow, a bartender at The Whiskey, 1015 N. Rush St., is familiar with the term “sugar daddy,” having seen the phenomenon firsthand. While the age demographic varies in this neighborhood, she said it’s easy to tell by the expensive cars, business suits and clientele that its crowd is moneyed. Its location in the Gold Coast, a portion of the city thick with wealthy men in their 30s and older, makes it the ideal spot for younger women to find someone to

buy cocktails.

Burow said women come to the bar and frequently order a drink they expect someone else to pay for. She added that these girls often strike up conversations with men to provoke the

flirtation process.

“There definitely are instances, especially on weekend nights, when girls will get plastered,” Burow said. “You kind of see guys will go for anything.”

Jake Wiederaenders worked at Luxbar, 18 E. Bellevue Place, for six years before transferring to Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse, 1028 N. Rush St., also in the Viagra triangle. During his time in the triangle, he said he’s noticed a gradual and steady decline in the age of the crowd. Burow pointed out that The Whiskey is attached to one of several hotels in the area where it’s easy to spot men willing to spend money while on business trips and vacations.

“Everybody who lives in this area is wealthy,” Wiederaenders said. “You see older men pick up younger girls. That’s why they call it the Viagra triangle. No offense to any of the women, but that’s just the way it goes. Women want sugar daddies.”

For those looking to find more than just free drinks at the bar, there is SeekingArrangement.com, the world’s foremost sugar daddy/sugar baby dating website. Both sugar daddies/mamas and sugar babies can activate profiles on the site for free. Brandon Wade, former sugar daddy, founded the site in 2006 and promoted it as a great way for struggling young men and women to pay off their college debt. For him, the site is about fulfilling two desires: giving men and women of wealth a choice to explore relationships without wasting time or risking heartbreak, and giving younger people the benefit of being spoiled by the finer things in life.

Amy Freier, a licensed professional counselor practicing in Chicago, said people involved in this type of situation need to realize there is a clear distinction between a traditional relationship and a financial arrangement. According to her, the most important thing is to identify clear boundaries beforehand in order to have a

positive experience.

Freier said if values and integrity are kept, “sugar” relationships can be a healthy way to explore one’s sexuality. Protecting one’s self emotionally is a priority, she said, which can be achieved with communication, becoming acquainted with potential repercussions and talking with trusted peers or therapists. She added that these discussions aren’t easy to have but could benefit both partners if they learn to communicate effectively.

“What can you learn from this experience?” Freier asked. “How can you identify what role you were playing in the relationship? What about it felt good? Because some of it might have felt good. And what about it felt like you were giving up too much of yourself? Certainly, the idea isn’t to deny what happened, but really what can you identify in order to use for your next relationship to its benefit.”

Jack Oden, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, became a sugar baby at 19 when he lost his job and couldn’t find another one for three months. He said he wasn’t aware that sugar baby websites existed until a friend introduced him to one. He said he felt he had no choice and thought it would be an easy way to make money.

Using the Seeking Arrangement website, he was able to find two potential sugar daddies. Oden said he immediately disliked the first because the daddy wanted a real relationship, something Oden couldn’t fake. The second lasted three months, on

friendlier terms.

“It benefitted me, but at the same time it kind of ruined me in every way,” Oden said. “Thinking about it now and talking about it is actually really hard for me. It was definitely not something I wanted to do. It was a desperate reach for something.”

Denise Cummins, author of “Good Thinking: Seven Powerful Ideas That Influence the Way We Think,” a book on establishing one’s standards, said it’s unfortunate when people allow themselves to be sugar babies. However, when it comes to the current job market, she understands why people in their 20s would feel the need to enter these relationships. But in her opinion, doing so comes with a price, such as depression.

“It’s an age-old strategy,” Cummins said. “You could probably find this carved into caveman walls. The whole idea, basically, is you’re trading sex for financial gain. One person in the relationship is going to feel exploited. It

breeds resentment.”

As Wade became more financially secure from the success of his website, he explored sexual experiences and relationships with sugar babies. His inspiration for the site started after his fear of failed relationships prevented him from becoming romantically involved

with anyone.

“I think it’s sort of one of those cycles where, because I was shy, I channeled most of my sexual energy, so to [speak], into my school, and that made me less socially apt,” Wade said. “My status never actually had much to do with my confidence at all. I never really got comfortable with women until my

late 20s.”

Darren Wilson, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, considers himself a sugar daddy. Now a divorced man in his 50s, he chose to seek his ideal woman: a nerdy “girl-next-door” sugar baby. After experiencing disappointment on several dating websites, he took a chance on Craigslist.

One of his two most successful sugar baby relationships was with a student at the University of Chicago. They were together for two years, during which time he helped pay her tuition, took her on vacations to Europe and Mexico, helped her get a job and bought her a car. Wilson said he genuinely cares for the girls he spoils because he can help build

their confidence.

“The first young lady I helped mentally,” Wilson said. “[I also helped] her outlook on life, getting [her] out of her shell and realizing what a beautiful woman she was and helping her to learn to be confident. That’s aside from the

monetary [benefits].”

Wilson said he considers himself an “alpha male” who attracts women lacking a strong father figure. His relationships sometimes become sexual in nature, and he said he gets regular STD screenings, uses contraceptives and communicates with his partner to

establish boundaries.

For Oden, the physical aspect of being a sugar baby began after the second meeting with his sugar daddy. Oden said his partner initiated intercourse, and afterward he was paid cash that went toward paying his rent.

“There are guys out there seeking to do that, for whatever reason,” Oden said. “I don’t know if they get off at the idea, but it was definitely something that he was in control of rather than me. I was there because I had to be. So I kind of just let him take control of the situation.”

Wade said he thinks an agreement between consenting adults isn’t anyone’s business and added that “sugar” relationships often evolve to include more than sex. In fact, he is now married to a woman he met through his website.

Anthony Woodson, 42, a lingerie boutique owner and art broker, said he uses Seeking Arrangement because he was disappointed with girls he found on sites like Match.com. He said the majority of the women he met on other sites were “webcam models” who lacked the dating experience he desired.

“I was extremely skeptical about it,” Woodson said. “I was very sincere in my profile. I think it’s very important to be sincere, or you’re wasting your time and the girl’s. Generally, I like to go for girls [who] are first and foremost up-front and honest in what they’re seeking in an arrangement or [potential] relationship. That’s the most important thing.”

Woodson said finding women who appreciate what he gives them is a priority so he can feel good about “spoiling them.” In these cases, he will aid in their finances, buy clothes for their children and take them on vacations, particularly to Florida. His relationships often turn physical after no more than four dates, and he said he has STD screenings and respects

sexual boundaries.

“I am a total gentleman,” Woodson said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m kind of open. I kind of go with the flow as long as I feel comfortable with her, I’m attracted to her and the

feeling’s mutual.”

The issue of whether or not sugar babies are prostitutes is a concern Wade said he is often confronted with. He said Seeking Arrangement enforces strict rules that restrict prostitution and escorts by consistently screening subscribers, and he has recently implemented background checks to ensure safety and

rule regulation.

“We’re very clear that sex in exchange for money is something that we do not allow,” Wade said. “What we want to make sure what happens on the website is to give people the best shot of meeting likeminded people with similar interests and ultimately [who are] going to help improve each other’s lives.”

Oden said that although several friends knew what he was doing, he felt alone and would sometimes cry himself to sleep. The only thing that got him through the ordeal was talking to a friend who was also a sugar baby. He said in retrospect it would have been easier to find a traditional job.

Now he said he’s grown as a person and is no longer as “careless” as he used to be. While he understands some people may now look at him in a different light, he would rather help people with his story than keep it to himself.

“I’m proud of myself,” Oden said. “It’s nice knowing I don’t have to resort to something like that. It’s not a good thing. I definitely would not mind helping someone [to make] them realize it’s not healthy for anyone.”