LIFE: Su­gar­ing.

Fol­low­ing a break-up, writer Emmy Ley de­cided to en­ter the world of ‘su­gar­ing’. A year in, she is still look­ing for her ideal su­gar daddy.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Emmy Ley

I ex­pected it to be easy. I wasn’t a pro­fes­sional es­cort but I knew enough about brown liquor, push-up bras and blow jobs to play the role. The men scared me – my no­tion of them at least – and I liked that. I imag­ined them in tai­lored suits, slick like seals, ties loos­ened after work in dark cor­po­rate bars, swill­ing glasses of some­thing old and ex­pen­sive, gold rings glint­ing. I imag­ined my­self be­side them, in a noth­ing dress with the low­est neck­line, slightly on edge, know­ing I’d be fucked soon, given a fresh wad of cash and re­turned home.

It was a de­li­cious fan­tasy. But the re­al­ity of be­ing a su­gar baby is far re­moved from this ex­oti­cism. The men I’ve met while su­gar­ing are reg­u­lar men, liv­ing in the real world and not the one I’d in­vented for them.

Newly job­less and heart­bro­ken by the end of a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship, I took up su­gar­ing as a way to earn money and fuck men I wouldn’t be tempted to fall for. Sex work had in­ter­ested me in the past but I’d never had the nerve to be­come a full-blown es­cort or look for work in a brothel. I wasn’t even sure what my pol­i­tics about it were. But I loved go­ing on first dates and hav­ing sex, so it seemed like a good chance to dip my toe into that world.

For a month or so, it was my dirty lit­tle se­cret. I was en­ticed by the idea of liv­ing a dou­ble life. I started an ac­count on Seek­ing Ar­range­ment (SA), up­loaded my pho­tos, changed my age to 25 and re­named my­self Emmy. I cre­ated an ide­alised ver­sion of my­self, a ver­sion I thought would fit into that world but one I would also be ca­pa­ble of main­tain­ing con­vinc­ingly.

In the su­gar baby world, you are forced early to de­cide what your time is worth. Is it enough to have a man buy you a new dress and pay for your drinks all night in ex­change for a few hours of your life? Or do you want to con­duct a busi­ness, ap­ply an hourly rate to your time? Fail­ure to make this de­ci­sion puts you at risk of sell­ing your­self short, agree­ing to any old of­fer a man makes.

The mem­ory of my first meet-up still gives me the creeps. It was a work­day. I’d been on SA for a few weeks, try­ing to get the hang of it, when David mes­saged. I’d done my home­work and de­cided on my terms: a pub­lic meet­ing in a bar, cash up­front, my drinks paid for, and then back to a ho­tel. I wouldn’t make house calls on the first meet­ing, and I wouldn’t ac­cept less than $300. David looked good in his pics and was youngish, maybe 40. He told me he was hun­gover and needed some com­pany so I played along. He wanted to know how much. I said $300. He coun­tered with $100. Yes, it was in­sult­ing; but I was des­per­ately lonely, heart­bro­ken and horny. And I needed money. So I asked for $200. He re­sponded firmly with $100. I asked him to at least tack on $20 for my Uber. He agreed to do that.

Park­ing a lit­tle up the street so he wouldn’t see that I’d driven, I sent him a mes­sage, then perched on the doorstep of his build­ing to wait, in­cred­u­lous at my own gall. When he came out­side, he had a gut that was not vis­i­ble in his pic­tures and was car­ry­ing a bag of rub­bish. A real mul­ti­tasker. In­side, he said, “You wanna drink?” I grate­fully ac­cepted. He re­turned with a glass of water – there would be no eas­ing into this. I wanted him to be a banker or a doc­tor; he owned an elec­tri­cal con­tract­ing com­pany. I was there for an hour-and-a-half, lis­ten­ing to him talk spite­fully about the su­gar ba­bies he’d fucked be­fore me, the two-year-old daugh­ter he’d only just found out about, that time he’d been mis­tak­enly put un­der po­lice surveil­lance for be­ing as­so­ci­ated with a bikie gang. I kept think­ing: “What if I don’t want to fuck him and he forces me? What if he doesn’t pay me?”

He started telling me about a past em­ployee, a hir­ing mis­take, some­one who’d seemed like a good bloke but ended up mur­der­ing some­one, a no­to­ri­ous pub­lic fig­ure. I ven­tured to ask. David paused for dra­matic ef­fect then asked, “Do you know the name Adrian Bay­ley?”

That was it for me: I was out. There was no way in hell I’d be hav­ing sex with him now.

I wish I could say I es­caped when David went to take a shit. But I sat, paral­ysed with anx­i­ety, cer­tain that the mo­ment I stood up, he’d come out of the bath­room. He’d asked me to take off my shoes when I came in. I looked long­ingly at them by the door. He came back and sat su­per close to me, put his arm around me, started kiss­ing my neck. I wrig­gled away and told him I’d changed my mind. I couldn’t go through with it, fuck­ing for money. It wasn’t him, it was me. Lies, lies, lies. I lied to pro­tect his ego and to save my­self. He looked an­noyed, even tried say­ing, “You know I wasn’t putting a dol­lar value on you. I re­ally like you.” Bull­shit. Lies and bull­shit. I fled, burst­ing into tears on the way back to the car. David didn’t of­fer the $120. I shut my­self up safely in my room and cried while mas­tur­bat­ing to a photo of my ex.

I con­tin­ued with su­gar­ing but I’d learnt a valu­able les­son. Thank­fully, the ex­pe­ri­ences I had meet­ing up with men after David were more pos­i­tive, al­beit not all of them fi­nan­cially pro­duc­tive. Grad­u­ally, I opened up about su­gar­ing to some of my friends, made sure some­one knew when I was go­ing to meet a su­gar daddy. I also cam­paigned harder to have my terms met. I think this is partly why I’ve had such mar­ginal suc­cess in the whole thing. In the year that I’ve been su­gar­ing, on and off, I’ve made less than $1000 from it, but I’ve lost count­less hours in mes­sag­ing.

It turns out su­gar­ing takes a lot of work. It’s not that easy to get some­one to pay you for your time.

Trust me, I’m a free­lance writer. When you en­ter the su­gar­ing in­dus­try, you’re en­ter­ing into real work: it’s mar­ket­ing, it’s busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion, it’s stake­holder man­age­ment. It’s woman’s work ex­ag­ger­ated, bal­anc­ing two con­trast­ing roles: the sex­u­ally lib­er­ated, happy-golucky girl and the de­ter­mined busi­ness­woman. It’s try­ing to per­suade a man you are worth part­ing with his money for, and mak­ing it feel like his idea.

When I was in the United States last year for a writ­ing res­i­dency, I met Sally, a 24-year-old from Mis­souri who had used SA to buy shoes and fund hol­i­days. She saw one man reg­u­larly who would hap­pily trans­fer cash to her with­out nec­es­sar­ily need­ing to meet. I sus­pect that a su­gar baby’s suc­cess is due in large part to her lo­ca­tion. In the mod­est metropo­lis of Mel­bourne, your av­er­age su­gar daddy is just a true blue Aussie bloke: he’s an or­di­nary busi­ness­man or doc­tor, a tradie, a di­vorced dad who saves week­ends for his kids, a hus­band look­ing for a “dis­creet” ar­range­ment. Hon­estly, most mes­sages you re­ceive are from a bunch of tight-ar­ses who waste your time by never meet­ing up, or who hope pay­ing for your drinks will be en­tice­ment enough for you to sit on their dicks.

Which brings me to one of the most sur­pris­ing outcomes of my ca­reer: my change in at­ti­tude to­wards ca­sual sex. Like most peo­ple, I’ve re­lied heav­ily on dat­ing apps to find love and, gen­er­ally, just get laid. A funny con­se­quence of su­gar­ing for me was that when I started hav­ing paid sex, I lost in­ter­est in Tin­der and Bum­ble.

It’s easy to think of sex work in a purely trans­ac­tional way, money ex­changed for a ser­vice. And it’s easy to imag­ine that putting a dol­lar value on your time and body is a way of com­mod­i­fy­ing or de­valu­ing your­self. But it had the op­po­site ef­fect for me. Su­gar­ing made me re­flect on the bor­ing ca­sual sex I’d had. I started think­ing that if I was go­ing to do it with ran­dos, I might as well be paid for it. And if I was go­ing to do it free on dat­ing apps, I wanted to re­ally like the per­son. Run-of-the-mill ca­sual sex had lost its risqué ap­peal.

I’m sure that link­ing money and self-worth is a fun­da­men­tally flawed con­cept, but the fact re­mains that be­com­ing a su­gar baby has given me per­mis­sion to think of my time and my­self as be­ing weight­ier in value. This has been im­por­tant for me.

After a year of su­gar­ing, I’m still wait­ing for my fan­tasy su­gar daddy to ap­pear. But I know he’s out there: that wealthy, smoul­der­ing as­tro­physi­cist, pa­tiently sip­ping his 100-year-old Scotch in a leather arm­chair. I sup­pose I’d con­sider a doc­tor. Or a banker. Or a brickie. But the 100-year-old Scotch, well, that’s non-ne­go­tiable.

I’ll wait, be­cause I’m play­ing the long game here.

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