I do not know what was going on with our culture a few years ago, but we sure were obsessing over sex work. It was the era of Belle Knox being outed to the media and then having to explain, using maturity I have never possessed and certainly did not possess at 18, that college tuition is expensive and (at the time) porn paid well enough to manage it.
I don't know if this caused or coincided with the rise in faux-outrage stories about sugar babies, but there was certainly a lot of attention being heaped on women who used their sexuality to ride out the recession, usually with a moralizing end about how she was now broke and destitute, which is what she deserves for being young and dumb enough to fall for this arrangement.
I was young and dumb enough to fall for this arrangement.
That said, I do not have the personality to handle being a sugar baby. I am loud and abrasive at times, and I lean dominant on the spectrum between lifestyle slave and full-time mistress. I used to joke that my life goal was to be a cougar, and though I am not old enough to know for sure if I am, my dating history suggests I will be.
But the media outrage made it sound so easy, and being kind of broke had led me to this website where older dudes with money find younger girls who are willing to sleep with them for the money. It was not prostitution, somehow, but that was just a line drawn by the men's egos. I thought it was kind of gross but I also thought I might have a prostitution fetish and if I did, ca-ching! I had always been fascinated by the sex industry, and now that I had lost my job, it seemed like the time to do it. I was way too dumb to realize that desperation is the worst possible time to try one of these arrangements.
So I signed up for SeekingArrangement.com and posted a profile. I decided my persona would be the traveling hippie chick that you could take to Vermont or shower with gifts in the form of organic soap. Although I was a student at the time, I considered myself more of a student of life.
But the offers of yacht trips to Greece never came. Instead, I sifted through messages written by men who made less than six figures promising, well, nothing. They never discussed payment, and we never actually met up. I did not realize that many of them were just looking for sexting partners, and I was also naive enough not to realize that if a man from these websites sends you 15 sexual messages in a row, he is wasting your time. Promptly ask for payment in the form of an Amazon gift card and block him. Said payment is never coming.
However, once and only once was I able to meet up with a guy. He professed a love of marijuana and traveling that I found almost charming. Plus, I was out of weed.
We met at a park near both of our houses, and he did not look like his picture. There was no chemistry, but I was bored and fighting with my roommate, so I agreed to go back to his place and smoke. He didn't have anything to say, so I tried to make conversation, badly.
"I hate my roommate's cats," I said conspiratorially, as though this was some kind of secret. It's a gift I was trying to give him, a bridge I was trying to build. I wanted us to connect so that he would finance my lifestyle and I would never have to work again. The articles told me this was easy. I was starting to suspect the media outrage was wrong, just like it was about rainbow parties. Society really thinks women will do anything.
Of course, I was here, so maybe society was right.
He ignored me, sort of, so I rambled on, "I want to get a rabbit or a guinea pig. At this place I used to live, I would wake up almost every night to a rabbit running across my face. She was being chased by the cats that lived there, but she thought my room was the safest place. She even marked it by pooping there. It was sort of gross, but also sort of sweet, ya know?"
He was still mostly ignoring me, but he started rambling about not liking his neighbors and something about indoor/outdoor cats, and I figured he was finally stoned enough to be reasonable. As long as he kept talking, we were good. I looked around at my surroundings. Somehow I had found myself in a one-bedroom apartment about five minutes from my own. It was sparsely furnished, but expensively. The kind of place you would expect of a bachelor who travels a lot. There was a lot of personality, but most of it probably was not his, and you got the idea that he was just an amalgamation of his experiences, and not a real person. I wondered for a second how I got there. The situation felt weirder. I was getting high.
The weed wasn't that good, which was about my 15th tip-off that he was not a millionaire who just preferred a more modest lifestyle. Even at my most broke, I could find better stuff than this. He blamed it on being the end of the growing season, but it wasn't, and he couldn't even name the strain we were smoking, so his credibility was shot. He knew I only came over for his weed, to see what I could get from him, and not because I wanted to fuck him. I knew with total clarity that this was too high of a price to pay for something so plentiful.
I picked this guy specifically because he was like an older, more awkward, portly version of the guys I usually went home with and I figured that if all else failed I would know the script for appearing charming. Compliment the sub-par weed, giggle a lot, and leave early, claiming marijuana fatigue. Had this guy read the terms of the website more closely, he would have understood that I expected to talk about a future arrangement and I couldn't figure out why he wasn't, but the men on this site seemed to be seething with barely restrained misogyny, so I was tempering my expectations.
"That's the picture I took of the Galápagos" — he pointed to the screen, referencing a picture he was planning to send in for a contest, but chose not to because the winner of the contest only received a free trip to the Galápagos islands. No point in revisiting a place you'd already been. The traveler in me begged to differ, but it wasn't in character to argue with him.
"That's where Darwin came up with natural selection," I said, putting my anthropology degree to good use, attempting to charm a pudgy, socially awkward 45-year-old in his living room at 10 p.m. on a Saturday.
He nodded and fell silent. Darwin clearly wasn't his thing.
"I'd love to travel more," I said brightly.
"Do you have a passport?" he asked.
"Yeah, I lived in Sweden for six months. I traveled all over northern Europe," I enthused, ignoring the fact that I already mentioned this, and he clearly wasn't listening. I injected some extra chipperness to mask the fact that I was on no level attracted to him, nor did I want to continue our interaction. He was slumped on the couch as though his shoulders were too heavy for his spine. "I went to Moscow and went to the garden of the fallen communist statutes. It was very, um, mind-boggling, the way people in Russia live with this crazy history that is so recent, and so bloody, and then they just have to walk by it like it's normal while they buy iPads and smartphones and worship capitalism."
He stayed silent.
"I didn't get a passport until I was 35," he said after a few minutes of breathing.
Now it was my turn to be silent. I did not know what to do with this information. It was like the time earlier when he said he had been in this neighborhood since the mid-'80s, and it took every bit of my self-restraint not to blurt out, "That's the year before I was born!"
"But I guess you're a few years younger than that," he said quietly.
"Yeah," I muttered, wishing he would go to the bathroom so I could steal some of his weed. Being a sugar baby was not quite sex work, but going on a date for marijuana did seem to border uncomfortably on the prostituting for crack territory, and it occurred to me that I was not in a good mental place to do this. I attempted to discreetly check my phone, knowing that whatever time it says would be 15 minutes past my bedtime.
I yawned loudly and paid lip service to good smoking knocking me out, but added the caveat that I used to smoke top-shelf shit in California, so that he didn't think he gave me too great of a gift. As I stood, I tried very hard to look at him. His curly hair was streaked with gray, he had a double chin and pudgy lips and an overgrown nerd body. His eyes were slightly too wide and earnest, and I could almost like them, except that he seemed totally incapable of focusing during a conversation. His entire appearance was that of an overgrown 12-year-old, but one that is financially stable and able to travel the world without losing his job, so I reined in my pity. I had overdue bills to pay.
I made a last attempt to lock eyes with him for a second. "Umm it was really cool to meet you. If you wanted to hang out again," I failed at my pitiful attempt at eye contact and wound up staring at the floor, "that would, you know, be cool."
I peeked up and saw that his spine had stopped even trying to function. He was slouched back so far his ass hung off the couch. He reminded me of a 14-year-old with dyslexia and ADHD who just discovered thug life trying to look defiant. He was so dejected, like he tried his hardest and the world didn't give him the blonde 23-year-old he asked for. There is no justice in the world. He muttered something noncommittal in response and I thought, Oh well, I guess he's not going to pay me to date him either.
It was my turn to feel there was no justice in the world.
I sneaked out to my car, watching a group of attractive people at the pool. They looked to be about my age, and they were having a much better night than I was. I was supposed to be better than this. Not better than sex work, of course. That takes a sort of fortitude I do not have. I just should have been better than being scammed by a person who was too pathetic to realize he needed a sex worker. Sure I was young and entitled, bordering on total fucking brat territory. I routinely put myself in situations I was too stupid to handle, and I was lazy to boot. But I did not deserve this humiliation, and frankly he did not deserve what he had. We were both on that website because we needed something, but getting laid isn't a right, and it is not a necessity. I was trying to monetize my sexuality because I felt it was all I had. He did not have to monetize shit, and it would not have killed him to get over his self-loathing and have some clarity, or treat me like a human being. Being too awkward to sleep with someone who will do it if you pay them is ridiculous. Trying to scam someone who is clearly in over her head in such a personal way is a frankly just low. My excuse was inexperience, but he was the one who needed to grow the fuck up.
As I was leaving I paused. I remembered how sad he looked and I smiled. He thought I might fuck him for free, and knowing that I could crush that stupid dream a little gave me the best feeling in the world.