I've had a lot of different experiences with relationships where one person makes more money than the other; sometimes I was the flush one, sometimes I was the dependent. There's a lot of ways these situations are negotiated, and the expectations for each are vastly different, yet they often get conflated into simplistic terms that ignore the subtleties. I've had people I see regularly and formed a relationship with on more equal footing, and I've been a sugar baby, someone who is financially taken care of. Both of these experiences had high and low points, but I think they're really different and want to discuss why.
My thinking about this topic began when I spoke rather recently on my experiences as a "sugar baby" (which, by the way, is an awful term) in the same forum as the founder of a popular website that connects sugar babies and their generous patrons. I found talking to Brandon Wade fascinating before the cameras were rolling, probably because he admitted very honestly that he started the site because he was personally interested in a sugar baby relationship himself and, well, if you want it done right, do it yourself, I guess! At least in the time we talked I was interested to discover how realistic he was about the fact that it was, at heart, an arrangement first that needed to be mutually beneficial. I respected that.
Anyway, one of the questions that came up during our discussion queried the sugar daddy/baby arrangement as basically being what Huffington Post dubbed "white collar adult entertainment", an interesting phrase for a myriad of reasons (classism being one, but that's another article). Sugar babies are portrayed, perhaps, as gold diggers, but perhaps with a little more consent on the table- their partners tend to be fully aware of the agreement and complicit in it, while the term "gold digger" often indicates a sense of manipulation.
There's been an ongoing debate about whether or not sugar babies are, in fact, adult entertainers or escorts, and therefore if sugar daddies ought to be considered patrons of adult entertainment in a traditional sense. If so, where do we draw the line, in a society where people with money often seek out relationships with people who are beautiful by media standards? Is marrying to exchange a title or a famous name for financial stability also a form of relationship economics? In a capitalistic patriarchy, is it not somewhat arbitrary to decide what sort of compensation is inappropriate and what constitutes heteronormative gender roles?
My experience being a sugar baby versus being someone's favoured adult entertainer definitely showed me that there's a few differences between the two, and they're possibly subtle to someone on the outside. Still, they're significant to someone weighing out the pros and cons of each arrangement, so I thought I'd discuss a few of them with you in the context of how to best care for and maintain two different styles of arrangement.
Now, I've had a few different sugar daddy experiences. I think the typical experience (at least in the media) is a wealthier man and a pretty, younger girl; in fact, many women I know who have been in these relationships either were students or would claim to be. I had heterosexual sugar relationships, a lesbian sugar momma, and a gay male sugar daddy (which was awesome but an experience for another post). All of these situations were different, but there were some similarities.
Each one wanted a relationship. The transactional aspect of our arrangement was often not clear cut, was flexible, and was based on the strength of their perception of that relationship. Most of my sugar relationships wanted emotional commitment from me in exchange for my "allowance", which was often dependent on my behaviour. Each person had their own way of managing it- some would not give me cash but would treat me to shopping trips, fancy meals, and pampering, while others would offer me ridiculous amounts of money "for the cab", far more than I actually needed for transport. But all of this was completely dependent on me playing the role of the perfect companion to get the maximum allowance possible. I was to dress well, smile constantly, never have a headache, and never cancel a date.
This was a big problem with sugar relationships for me, as I tend towards being pretty independent. Plans are something we schedule together. I'm not really one to come when called. As the financial aspect of these arrangements was never clearly discussed in any way, it felt incredibly manipulative to me- there was an expectation that I had to perform with no guarantee of payment, and sometimes it felt like we were both testing each other to see what we could get away with before the other one walked away.
There were, of course, positives. Part of having some sort of relationship and their success often meant I met other successful people, allowing me to add to my personal Rolodex of contacts along the way. I would often ask sugar relationships for a bit of investment advice here and there, and squirrel away what I could to save for the future. It's important to keep in mind that some sugar daddies/mommas will give you a flat to live in, or a car- but have paperwork, know whose name it's under, and make sure that you don't end up stuck with things you can't afford or no savings to show for it when you part ways. When there's no contract, and clear negotiation "ruins the romance", you can find yourself going from riches to rags if you step wrong, which can be incredibly stressful.
The best way to manage a sugar relationship, therefore, is to negotiate with yourself. Know what your goals are going in. Figure out how genuine your emotions can be (because it does help to have some genuine affection for your partner in these arrangements or it might infuriate you). If there are things you might need, like days that are private, make that clear to potential sugars in the beginning. And save, save, save, because these arrangements feel like security without necessarily providing any. Proceed with caution, and don't forget that maintaining this type of relationship requires you to treat it like a relationship, not a money arrangement (even if it is). I recommend checking out the "Sugar Baby Diaries" by Helen Croydon for some insight from someone who's been there.
In my experience, regulars understand that there are time constraints to your companionship. They understand that you have a life outside of the time you spend together, and that you probably have a partner outside of them. They don't expect the same level of intimacy, even while they might get crushes on you or want it to be more of a relationship. There's a negotiation that's upfront that allows for clear boundaries, and that can mean it's less emotionally taxing.
Now, granted, because there's an actual discussion about what you're both bringing to the table, this also creates more of a sense of security for both parties, which has benefits and disadvantages. While a clever sugar baby can delicately seduce many treats from a sugar daddy or momma, there's almost a stark honesty to the relationship with a regular that doesn't allow for that kind of interpersonal game-playing. If anything, you might reward a regular you like by making a little extra time together, or bringing chocolate or wine to your date, things that make a regular feel cared about and special.
While some regulars certainly develop a desire to share feelings and may even fall in love with an adult performer they form an attachment to, there's a fallback where you can re-establish boundaries and personal time. Again, there's some similarities to the sugar baby arrangement: you (probably) don't want to be too cold or formal with regulars because fanning some warmth is part of what keeps them coming back, but if your arrangement is no longer sustainable it's a lot easier to bluntly negotiate with a regular than with a sugar daddy. My personal suspicion is that part of this is because regulars aren't often as wealthy as self-described sugar daddies, and so there's less of that suspicion that everyone's out to steal their money and take advantage of them. Ironically, in my experience, that means it can be easier to be honest with a regular because you don't have to walk on eggshells!
So the best way to maintain your regulars I think is to take care of the little things. I find that listening to the various things my regulars like and occasionally treating them to those things, whether it's a preference about what I wear, or a type of wine they like, or maybe the type of music I play while we're together. I've found that while sugar relationships appreciate these things, they also tend to feel more entitled to that kind of pampering. In my experience, regulars are more grateful for the details, which makes me feel happier about providing them. It's a win win arrangement.
Personally, at the end of the day I found myself preferring having regulars instead of having a sugar relationship, because I felt like I had more control and could be more honest about where I was at. Everyone is different, though, and while the sugar thing forced me to be too sweet for my taste, you might find it to be your cup of tea. Just take some time to reflect, do a bit of research, and be honest with yourself.