Sugar and spice and all things nice...

Forget the clichéd sugar daddy image — rich, middle aged men now log on to find young women.

Long before Richard Gere shimmied up a fire escape for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, women have been entranced by the idea of being rescued from the hum-drum of everyday life by a Disney-haired white knight.

What’s more, the rich older man/younger woman relationship is as old as the proverbial hills. Add a broadband connection and this time-honoured dynamic takes on a whole new meaning, with suave business men hooking up with savvy women.

In this economic climate, there are countless Irish women who have already decided that the sugar daddy/ baby relationship is very much for them.

The website Seeking arrangement.com — which specialises in matching rich men with younger women looking to benefit financially — boasts a 10,000-strong Irish membership (and 1.7 million members worldwide).

And, given that the ratio of women to men on the site is 8:1, US-based founder Brandon Wade estimates that over 8,000 Irish women have signed up in the hopes of landing their own sugar daddy.

Amy Byrne, 28, (not her real name) from Wicklow signed up to the site four years ago after experiencing mixed fortunes on regular dating sites.

“I had my baby when I was 20,” she says. “Young love is very blind and I was with someone very young and immature, who had no sense of what was needed to look after a family. Money was a constant issue with us, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I was very vulnerable (emotionally) after the baby, so I took time out to think about what I really needed. Younger men don’t grasp responsibility. I did the usual sites and wasn’t meeting anyone that blew me away. Then people told me, ‘you need an older guy’. I searched for ‘older man, younger woman’ on Google and the site came up.”

After lots of dates, Amy ended up in three ‘arrangements’ — the first was a 52-year-old IT consultant from Dublin, who paid €500 a week.

The second was a 61-year-old businessman who came to Dublin for business who bought her a car. The third was a 56-year-old IT professional from Germany.

“I met the first guy at the end of the boom,” she says. “He wasn’t a stunner but wasn’t a bad looking guy. I was nervous but after a while it was just like any other date. There was a bit of a spark and he was in a position to pay an allowance. He then invited me on holidays with him that week and bought me a laptop.

“Hand on heart, the allowance thing didn’t sit well with me initially. It certainly wasn’t my aim. For some girls it’s a priority. But these men are financially secure and in a position to do this. I was interested in seeing someone who would treat me nice — up until then I had been starved of being spoilt. And in a recession people want this more than ever.”

Predictably, Brandon’s site flourishes in hard economic times.

“Economics have everything to do with our membership,” he says. “We definitely see a surge in sugar babies signing up in times of economic crisis. 40% of female members are students who are looking for another way to pay for school. Another 25% of the members are single mothers.”

While membership is free for women, the site makes money from the monthly $50 (€40) subscription that its male members pay.

42-year-old Wade admits that he is his own best success story. Now worth around €13m thanks to a number of retail, tour and mobile companies, the business graduate entrepreneur has dated no end of beautiful young women, and recently married his 26-year-old girlfriend Tanya, who he initially met through the site.

“I started the site in 2006 as an answer to my dating problems,” he says. “I was a very shy, nerdy person. I was never socially adept and only got kissed for the first time when I was 21. My mother told me to focus on my studies, and that dating would be easier when I was successful. So I was lonely and looking to date, and I became seekingarrangement.com’s first member. I took my mother’s advice — that women like generous men — and the site was born.”

He found that the reality of dating ‘sugar babies’ was different from the long-held stereotype. “Many of the sugar babies are educated and going to school. They have goals. It was a pleasant surprise to find there were so many high-quality women out there once I started dating. They were open-minded, and rational thinkers. They just wanted to meet a guy who treats them like a princess.”

On the site, both “sugar daddies” and “sugar babies” mean business.

An unnamed 35-year-old blonde Dubliner said she expects to receive a monthly allowance of between €2,350 and €4,000 from her partner in return for meeting up “from time to time”. One Dublin-based multi-millionaire, 48, claiming a net worth of up to $50 million and an annual income of $1m, said he was willing to pay a monthly allowance of up to €4,000 to a sugar baby.

As to the idea that seekingarrangement.com facilitates those wanting to exchange money for sex, Wade counters: “If it was, we would be banning these members from our site. As with all dates, there are pros and cons, good people and bad. Sugar relationships are pretty much like normal relationships. Some work out and some don’t.”

Amy has no doubts where she stands on the issue of sex for cash. “To anyone who says it’s a prostitution site, I can see their point but I don’t agree with them,” adds Amy. “I made it clear in my relationships that I’m treating it as a long term thing. It’s not a transaction, or a one-night date. I met one guy who thought I was an actual hooker. I had one drink with him and then legged it.

“I see lots of girls in their 30s out in bars looking for affluent men in their 50s,” she continues. “It’s not that much different to being on the site. We’re just being more upfront about it. In Ireland, people have problems with dating sites. For me I want a long-term relationship. I’d love to meet someone solid.”

Yet still, the question looms large: just why do older rich men and much younger women want to hook up with each other? “Women have looked for stability and a man who can provide since the dawn of time,” says Amy.

“The relationships I’ve had through the site have been very natural, normal ones. It’s not like, ‘you owe me sex now’. Lots of the men are coming from an emotionally-starved place. At a certain age, they’re delighted to be out socialising and on dates. They are engaging, keep themselves groomed, and it’s not exactly a chore being with them.”

According to relationship counsellor David Kavanagh (www.avalonrc.com), men like to feel important, needed and depended on.

“It’s a reaffirming experience,” he says. “Power is the key thing here; the man doesn’t necessarily want to be in a relationship as an equal. If you’re 50 and you want to have a 25-year-old hanging on your every word, and be perceived a certain way by the males in your own peer group, this relationship works. That’s the fantasy at any rate.”

For a woman, there’s the Freudian angle. “Perhaps she’s at a developmental stage that involves a resolution of parental issues,” says Kavanagh. “Perhaps there wasn’t adequate parenting on her father’s behalf and she is seeking an older man for security, or because she wants to be wanted in a ‘fatherly’ way. That said, I’m not sure how great the sexual tension or spark would be.”

David Carey, consultant psychologist at Connolly counselling centre Stillorgan (www.counsellor.ie) believes older men can see younger girlfriends as trophies. “ A younger lover reflects well on a man and his status in life, and that they can still attract these women,” he says.

But what distinguishes a relationship with an older man — where love is clearly a significant part of the equation — and a sugar daddy/baby relationship? “These can be healthy relationships when it doesn’t revolve around money or prestige,” says Carey.

“It’s the dependency element that distinguishes one from the other,” adds Kavanagh. “If a woman is holding her own financially, there is a different sense of equality. The age or maturity difference is balanced out if she has her own means.”

For his part, Wade is confident that many of the relationships that start on his website have as good a chance as any to survive. However, there are serious issues to be addressed. “There are big personality and lifestyle differences to consider. I’d be more inclined to think of the sugar daddy relationship as a passing phase that a younger person goes through,” says David Kavanagh. “The difference between a 25-year-old girl and a 40-year-old will become more pronounced as time goes on and the novelty wears off. I’ve yet to come across a long-term relationship of this nature.”

For would-be sugar daddies, Kavanagh suggests that men heed the siren call of the sugar baby with caution: “Be realistic, be honest, and be respectful about where the other person is coming from. People change in time, and that’s when things can get potentially tricky.”

For now, Amy’s search for the white knight continues apace. “My Dad always said, ‘meet someone older with a bag of cash’,” she says with a smile. “I’m sure if he knew I was on a site like this, he wouldn’t be best pleased, though.”

NOT ALL SWEET

Pros and cons of a sugar daddy relationship are:

PROS

It’s a two-way street: Both parties are up-front about their motivations.

No strings attached: The sugar daddy is rarely required to fulfil the obligations of a serious relationship, as long as the sugar baby gets the goodies.

It’s a time saver: Sugar-daddies are often cash-rich and time-poor so the sugar baby doesn’t beat about the bush.

CONS

People will talk: “The main problem that these couples face is the stereotypes,” says website founder Brandon Wade. “We think a sugar daddy is an old and lecherous man, but most of the men on our site are 40 years old.”

Short shelf life: “Most relationships are built on trust, friendship and other edifying qualities,” says relationship counsellor David Kavanagh. “If there isn’t a core friendship there, once the lust has died down, there’s a problem.”

Recession sensitive: One problem for a sugar-daddy is if your personal wealth dwindles, chances are your sugar baby’s attentions will, too.



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