Letter to a Young Baby

Don’t kid yourself, it’s a job

I write to you today with congratulations and cautions. The congratulations are for having the good sense to consider one of few professions where the wage gap actually gapes in your favor, even if you look no further than your search engine. The word of caution is because, despite the informality of even the most pleasant sugar daddy or the insistence of the most insufferable ones, you are thinking about entering a profession. The prospective daddies will resist this notion at every turn, incapable of understanding or willfully ignorant of the fact that spending time in their company is not only laborious and worthy of compensation, but that tolerating it requires rare and specific skills.

My hope is not to dissuade you from your search for a sugar daddy entirely. I will not try to entice you into a more explicit form of exchanging a sexual acts for a fee. I won’t even gently nudge you in the direction of identifying as a sex worker. Sex workers experience quite enough lateral disdain, and I wish neither to diminish nor elevate the particular experiences of sugar babies. I only ask that you always recognize sugar baby labor as such and value it accordingly.

The first thing to know is that billionaires do not find their sugar babies on the Internet. Securing a sugar daddy with truly exorbitant wealth is more likely to happen via mercenary personal assistants at a TechCrunch Disrupt gala or Fashion Week after-party. Anna Nicole Smith was the last and only exception. This does not mean that sugar daddies are not by and large wealthy. They are. But social and professional exposure to levels of wealth that seem merely hypothetical to most of the world has disfigured their sense of what constitutes “rich.” The resulting chip on their shoulder means they seek out sugar babies whose relative poverty will make him feel better about his own place in the world. This should not discourage prospective sugar babies, but it should help manage your expectations. 

When you embark on a search for a sugar daddy, the specification you’ll read most often in ads will be “No pros.” It is a vain hope that no professional sex workers will contact him because they frequent the same sites he browses. It is frankly foolish on his part. The most successful sugar babies I’ve known are not fresh-faced college girls but seasoned veterans of the sex trades who know just how much emotional labor the sugar daddy will require and can charge accordingly.

The sugar daddy, like any employer, would rather you not know what you’re worth. He relies on his sugar baby having no social circle where she can exchange experiences and learn the value of her labor (indeed, learn of the existence of her labor). The sugar daddy will remind you regularly that you are “not like them”: strippers, escorts, or even more experienced sugar babies. He does this not to compliment her, but to preserve his sense of himself as a man who does not need to pay for “actual prostitutes.”

For these reasons, the sugar daddy is unlikely to think or say the term “sex worker.” He is unlikely to grasp the idea of companionship, particularly his own, as work. He has similar difficulties understanding the value of time. In his advertisement he belabored the point that he is far too busy for a traditional relationship, but he is most likely inconsequential at his firm and lying to himself and others about how often he is needed in the office.

The sugar daddy has time, what he lacks is a willingness in listening to women for any meaningful length of time. The normal relationship expectation that he acknowledge his partner’s interior life positively beleaguers him. He will be similarly exhausted to learn that a sugar baby having to be on-call for him is, in fact, a form of labor. Other people’s needs are very hard for him.

A big red flag on any sugar daddy’s profile is an expressed predilection for acting as a “mentor.” He wants to be no such thing. Ask any mentoring program in any major metropolitan area in the United States and you will find them absolutely starved of male mentors. What this man wants is an audience that is compelled to listen to him pontificate on topics like evolutionary psychology and American exceptionalism. His opinions are offensive and reliably dull.

As sad as it makes him that he is not as rich as the CEO, he is even more profoundly wounded by the fact that he has not been recognized for his leadership skills, particularly his public speaking. The sugar daddy is an expert in one topic: his own tedious mythology. He wants to impart the wisdom he’s gathered on an automated career trajectory that is nearly indistinguishable from that of his peers, which he treats as though it has been an extraordinary, singular travail through true adversity. He dreams of delivering a TED talk about these toils and snares. In the meantime, the rapt attention of a young woman tethered to him by unpredictable cash dispensations will do just fine.

At some point in the arrangement, the sugar daddy might attempt to make a payment in the form of a handbag. It is possible that there is a cinematic origin to this bizarre custom of men trying to pass off portable storage as currency, but it is more likely because he wants your relationship to remain informal, a system of spontaneous gifts that cannot be priced and compared to labor-time expended. In any case, the bag he chooses will be reliably ugly and only moderately expensive.

A sugar baby can rely on few things under the capricious gaze of a sugar daddy, but he will ask why you didn’t choose to wear that handbag every time you appear without it. This handbag was never a gift. It was a measuring stick for the sugar baby’s care and attention and he will notice it waning around the same time he becomes preoccupied with your social media profiles. This preoccupation gives way to obsession that soon turns to possessiveness. He begins to quiz you on the exact plots of movies she claimed to be watching when she was unavailable. Your haircut becomes an act of aggression. He finally begins to think of you as a whore.

Maintaining your composure once it becomes clear that the sugar daddy’s most persisted need is to have his social and sexual value validated often ends up being the most difficult part of the sugar baby experience. Young women who were promised that they would be taken care of find themselves taking care of the sugar daddy’s sexual needs occasionally and his delicate ego constantly. The sugar baby’s youthful energy gives way to maternal exhaustion. Instead of accommodating her adult needs, he resorts to infantile whining disguised as fatherly disappointment. But by this point the jig is up. The sugar baby realizes she’s been the mother all along. And though that role doesn’t come with an allowance, it comes with a familiar cliché that the sugar daddy can’t abide: It’s the hardest job in the world.