Dating Bradford: The Sugar Daddy Dynamic


In my very early 20s (just yesterday, right?), I had a rich older
boyfriend. He was the first love of my life, and we were happy for the
majority of our three-year relationship.

While it was true that
he paid for most big things, I was adamant about paying "my fair
share." Starving artist that I was, this meant that I would buy our
lunch at the sandwich shop and he would get our dinner at Le Cirque.

share of the rent was $400; his was $2,400. When we went on vacation
together, I paid for my airfare, and he paid for our hotel and rental

He allowed me to retain my dignity by contributing what I
could, and therefore I felt our relationship was built on love rather
than financial security.

The idea of rich -- or comparatively
rich -- older men paying for their younger boyfriends is hardly new.
Nor is it rare for two people the same age to date who earn vastly
different sums, but I was curious to see if the idea of saving face was
important to the dating world of today.

Mike and Mark have been
living together for three years in a happy monogamous relationship.
Mark is an electrical engineer for an aerospace company, and Mike is a
musician in their small rural town. One guess who makes more money.

12 years older," says Mark, "I don't want it to look like I'm keeping
Mike, so I allow him to pay at times. Mike works hard and I expect him
to contribute as equally as possible to our expenses."

"To be
honest," says Mike, "I care way too much about what other people think.
Maybe it's because I'm the younger one; I have to work harder to look
more independent. I can't stand being thought of as 'kept.' People only
see who pays for what when we are out, so if I haven't been to the ATM,
Mark will give me cash beforehand, just so I can seem as the one who

Mark elaborates: "The thing people don't see is how we
really operate as a couple. I make more money so I pay more, but
comparatively Mike pays a larger percentage of his income toward our
living expenses than I do."

"In the end, it's fruitless trying
to prove our equality to others," says Mike, "We just have to know
where we are as a couple, and let other people see us how they will."

a parallel universe of Manhattan socialites, my best friend, Baby Chic,
entertains a stream of what he calls "concubines" (young pretty boys
aged 18-23), and always picks up the check. He's forever telling me how
he got stuck with a $400 bar tab for a group of boys he'd never met
before. He doesn't really mind playing the part of sugar daddy, as long
as you don't call him one.

"Oh, PAHLEESE!" he exclaims, "The word 'daddy' is not in my
vocabulary. I'm too young for that darling-sweetie-darling, but I
always pay for my little concubines. It shows class."

By footing
the bill, he demonstrates who's in control. This is his way of saving
face. "They look pretty," he says, "That's their job. If they don't
like it, they can leave, and I'll go to the next one."

It's an
odd scene to witness, these pretty boys, blatantly taking advantage of
my best friend's generosity, who then disappear laughing without so
much as a "thank you." Perhaps this is their way of saving face while being objectified by Baby Chic's socialite crowd?

sugar daddies, my friend Keith says, "You let them pay and ignore it.
If you are the boy-toy, you never get the next round. Why even say it?
I think that if you are being taken care of, there's no respect lost.
You are what you are and everybody knows it. You just have to be OK
with it."

"Well," says Tennessee Dan, "If you are the boy, don't
be a greedy demanding little snot. Be grateful and productive. You are
being given an opportunity to better yourself; don't squander it.
Whether it's charity work, artistic endeavors or furthering your
education, don't just be a pretty face with no future."

from a Marine Corps family, I was raised to be proud and independent.
Letting someone treat gives me cold feet, unless it's a special
occasion or "their turn," as in the case with my last boyfriend, Dale.
We earned around the same amount and either took turns picking up the
check or just split it. If I was drinking vodka, like the fish I am,
and Dale -- who doesn't drink -- was swimming through tap water, I paid
more for my booze . . . else the boyfriend I might lose.

always worked for us because we were financially equal, but often one
partner is coughing up a bigger slice of the price. It got me wondering
how other people balance their financial differential.

So I have to ask:

When the spending isn't blending, how do you save face in a sugar-daddy dynamic?

(Photo: Bradford Noble)