March 31st, 2014

Sci + Tech | February 25th, 2013
Finding love (and tuition) online
How technology caters to the modern-day relationship
Written by | Visual by Julia Boshyk

The last decade has seen not only rapid advancements in technology, but also its increasing integration into almost every aspect of our lives. Ten years ago, almost no one owned a mobile phone. Today, not only do most people own one, but many cellphone users own smartphones, providing them with the power of the internet at their fingertips. Because of the ease of access to the internet, online dating has become an increasingly popular method of meeting people for dates, relationships, or even friendships. As popularity has bloomed, so has the number and variety of websites.

One particularly interesting online dating phenomenon is the development of websites designed to bring together sugar daddies  or mommies (‘generous benefactors’) and sugar babies (‘attractive’ young men or women). There are quite a number of these out there, with names such as: Myrichsugardaddy.com and Sugarbaby4u.com. Of these sites, one of the most popular is SeekingArrangement.com, a site founded in 2006 by Brandon Wade, an online dating entrepreneur.

As with any other dating site, the members fill out a generic profile questionnaire with their physical characteristics, personality traits, and interests. The only major difference is that sugar babies list their expected monthly allowance and sugar daddies the amount they are willing to spend.

In recent years, the number of users on college campuses has increased significantly; the average sugar baby is between the ages of 18 and 26, and the average sugar daddy between 35 and 45. (The site has sugar mommies as well, though much fewer in number.)

One might ask the question: is this exchange of money for a relationship a form of prostitution? Leroy Velasquez, public relations manager at SeekingArrangement, insisted that this was definitely not the case. “On SeekingArrangement, you need to have a relationship.  Money is involved, but it is not a necessity or a requirement.” Velasquez referred to various types of relationships facilitatd by this site. “People try to create relationships to cater to their individual needs, whether it’s monthly allowance in exchange for someone to travel with, go to events with, or spend time with once or twice a month. These are mutually beneficial relationships, and in no way prostitution, because it is not simply an exchange of money for sex.” In fact, the exchanges don’t necessarily need to involve any sexual component. Reportedly, one of the recent relationships developed on this website was established between a homosexual male agreeing to pay a heterosexual female for a mutually beneficial friendship. Elizabeth*, a University of Toronto student who is a sugar baby on the website, said, “it’s very much like any other kind of dating. I won’t do anything I don’t want to do. I’m very set on the limits I’m willing to put on the relationship.”

It may appear that this site is giving rise to otherwise unlikely interactions. However, Velasquez stated that “these types of exchanges always existed. We simply provide a forum to allow for this to happen….This website has helped these relationships to propagate, but we are just meeting the demand.” Indeed, the rich man seeking a younger woman is a trend that has existed throughout history. Although such relationships would be established regardless of the existence of sites like SeekingArrangement, these sites provide convenience and ease of access. Whereas previously, individuals would go out to a bar, a mixer, or some type of social event to meet someone to start a relationship, online dating sites allow individuals to meet people from the comfort of their homes.  It even allows a chance for the shy and soft-spoken introvert to more easily ask for what they want. In fact, Wade confesses on his personal website, AskBrandonWade.com, “My shyness and lack of a dating life during my teenage years is also the motivation to my current business, why I…spend so much of my time using technology to level the dating field.”

The site initially began to grow in popularity among young people in North America, and the number of users in the college student cohort has increased rapidly over recent years. According to Velasquez, there was a 58 per cent increase in enrollment from the college student demographic to the site from 2011 to 2012. The site’s statistics revealed that college students now make up more than 40 per cent of the population of users on this website. McGill is ranked fourth out of the top Canadian universities for site enrollment, with 148 students enrolled by the end of 2012. Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Montréal, and Université Laval all make the list of top twenty fastest growing “sugar baby schools” in Canada. And the site appears to be more popular for sugar babies than sugar daddies – sugar daddies are outnumbered 12 to one (and sugar mommies outnumbered 100 to one).

Could increasing tuition fees be a potential reason for the increasing popularity of this website for young people in North America? According to Velasquez, such statistics have not been collected as of yet, but he believes that the large influx in enrolment onto this website may be attributed to the recessive economy and resultant increases in tuition fees, which cause students to seek ways to make ends meet. Elizabeth stated, “I’m a starving student, so I decided to give it a try.  Although it’s not always money they give you – they give gifts, pay for trips and dinners – any extra allowance goes to tuition and living expenses.”

The online dating trend has exploded over the last couple of years, and at the peripheries, we see sites like SeekingArrangement appear. Technology is not only providing easier access to information, it is also providing easier access to people. This ease of contact will allow for unconventional relationships to occur at greater frequencies than were possible before. And it is likely that more of these trends will appear as relationships evolve with changing social and economic pressures.

 

*Name has been changed.

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