Girl Talk: Do Courting Rituals Make Us Whores?

I like to think that I’m reasonably independent. I’m a modern woman, following in the charming footsteps of Mary Tyler Moore (I even have a little beret, but I don’t throw it up in the air, because I’m afraid I’d lose it). I like my work tremendously. As a result, I’m inclined to regard myself as fairly different from Melissa Beech, who recently wrote on The Daily Beast about her sugar daddy who “pays for a killer wardrobe,” as well as her apartment, and about $5,000 worth of expenses per month. As readers decried her for being “a prostitute,” “selfish,” and “classless,” I congratulated myself on working for a living and not having to rely on an older man to cover all my expenses. Then I started thinking. When boyfriends show up with gifts, I don’t exactly get upset that they’re stealing my independence. I’m delighted. I’ve never turned down an extravagant present on the basis of the fact that I should work to earn it myself. Moreover, if someone invites me out on a date, I tend to assume that they’ll be picking up the tab. I’ll offer, of course, but no one’s ever taken me up on it. Good thing, too, as I do not budget for dinner at Nobu. If I were picking up the tab, we’d be eating at California Pizza Kitchen.

“But,” a friend pointed out, “that’s just courting behavior. You’re not going to sleep with someone just because they take you out to nice places.” No, but it probably raises their odds a bit. When does it stop being “courting behavior” and start being something like prostitution?

In order to get some perspective on the situation, I visited SeekingArrangement.com, the site Melissa Beech’s sugar daddy was on before she met him. Before doing so, I had two possible hunches about what I might find. The first was that the men on the site would all look and behave exactly like disenfranchised European aristocrats, and they would be so charming that I’d probably be swept off my feet and have no choice but to become someone’s mistress. The other possibility was that it would be completely sleazy, and they’d all demand sex for payment immediately. Both assumptions were wrong. These men do not look like depraved French barons. They look like your cardigan-wearing grandfather. They don’t write messages demanding sex immediately; they suggest lunch, coffee, drinks. The most horrifying thing about them seems to be the fact that most of them can’t spell or punctuate sentences properly. I wasn’t won over by any of them, but they did nothing to really offend me.

The prospective sugar babies struck me as more disturbing. While most of the men’s profiles seemed to read, “I’m just checking the waters a bit and seeing what’s out there,” many of the women listed their expenses, their bills, and gifts they wanted. Perhaps the difference between the “courting” behavior that normal working woman engage in and arrangements of this kind is that sugar daddy arrangements end immediately if the cash dries up and the gifts stop coming. I’m not inclined to believe that the sugar babies don’t like their sugar daddies, but I am inclined to believe that they would cut him loose the moment he went broke. If I were involved with a wealthy man who suddenly lost his job, I like to think I’d like him enough that it would never even cross my mind to break up with him. Hopefully, I’d even be able to help him out. After all, I kind of like California Pizza Kitchen.

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