One of our local universities appears to be on the cutting edge of a significant social trend.
Romance is dead. The populace wants to brush aside all of those time-consuming social niceties and get right down to the bottom line.
At least that’s the impression you get from an Internet “dating” site that claims well-heeled “sugar daddies” are swarming around Kent State coeds, many of whom are eagerly accepting offers of financial support.
The website SeekingArrangement.com says Kent State ranks fourth in the nation for “Top Sugar Baby Alma Maters.”
Now there’s a gem for the school’s recruiting brochures.
The international site claims that 44 percent of all its registered females are college students and that many of them are able to graduate debt-free thanks to the johns — er, benevolent benefactors — who are willing to pay an average of $3,000 per month for, ah, friendship.
When told this appears to be a thinly veiled front for upscale prostitution, the group’s spokeswoman, Angela Jacob Bermudo, responds, “That’s a common misconception. ...
“Sex is not part of the actual arrangement. We’re not saying these couples don’t have sex with each other. Just like any healthy, normal relationship, once they get more comfortable with each other, then sex comes naturally. ...
“This is a perfectly honest dating site that connects people who share the same core values, which is essentially valuing money or valuing having a partner who understands exactly what you’re looking for.”
Translation: Women want money. Men want sex. Let’s make a deal.
Bermudo says business among KSU students nearly doubled last year. In 2010, she claims, 43 KSU students said they had graduated debt-free because of folks they had met on the site. In 2011, the figure was 84.
Cynthia, a 21-year-old nursing student, is not among them.
That’s not her real name. I agreed not to use it in exchange for a candid interview on a sensitive subject. (I do know her real name and was able to confirm that she is enrolled at KSU.)
We met Wednesday afternoon at the Rockne’s restaurant adjacent to the campus, where Cynthia was wrapping up her junior year. After one more final exam, she was heading home to the East Coast for the summer.
Attractive and articulate, the young woman says she signed up several months ago after reading about the site in the campus newspaper.
“My friend and I went on as a joke, just to see what kind of people were on there,” she says. “We had heard professors were on it. So it was mainly out of curiosity. I didn’t think much would come of it.”
She didn’t uncover any professors. However, after wading through 10 offers in her first two days — most of which were unabashed proposals of money for sex — she did hook up with a 37-year-old Cleveland man who wined and dined her, off and on, for about two months.
She says she was initially attracted to him because he “seemed pretty normal.” After a few conversations, she accepted his offer to meet at a Cleveland bar (making sure to tell a couple of girlfriends where she was going).
Cynthia says she never had sex with him. She says things were developing almost like a normal dating relationship, starting with nice dinners and eventually a couple of shopping trips. She figures he spent about $2,000 on her.
Why did she break it off?
“I wanted something more normal,” she says. “I wanted someone I could introduce to my friends and not be a secret, and someone in my own age group.”
The parting was amicable: “It was very casual. I’m sure he was off to the next person.”
Short and shapely, with big brown eyes, Cynthia grew up in a middle-class household. Her father is a firefighter/paramedic; her mother has done everything from teaching preschool to owning a restaurant. Cynthia hasn’t told them about her online adventures, but doesn’t think they would be “judgmental.”
When I told her I was having a hard time believing that 84 KSU students graduated debt-free last year because of online sugar daddies — the average Kent State grad walks away owing $29,842 in student loans — she said she wouldn’t be surprised.
And maybe she’s right. As of last week, SeekingArrangement.com had nearly 1,700 listings for women in Northeast Ohio alone.
Anyone who doubts that SeekingArrangement.com is sex-driven need only look at the profiles posted by prospective sugar babies. The photos are dominated by plunging necklines and come-hither looks. Among the headlines:
“Redheads R More Erotic!”
“Sweet and tempting.”
“You want it, I got it.”
Some of the listings are unintentionally hilarious: “Looking for someone who complaints [sic] me.”
The top three sugar-baby schools are New York University, Temple and Georgia State. Ohio U cashes in at No. 15.
Cynthia may not be representative of the site’s clients. The Orlando Sentinel recently interviewed a woman who accepted $400 to meet a guy for a romp at a hotel, and another who collected $200 to go out to dinner and later perform the horizontal mambo.
Cynthia says the arrangements depend entirely on what an individual wants, and that most participants make their desires clear right up front.
“I was just really curious,” she says. “I’m just in general a very curious, inquisitive person. I also consider myself somewhat of a feminist, so I was intrigued by the whole website.
“I thought it was interesting there was so much hype about it when, to me, it was just, ‘If you want to, it’s your personal life. It’s no big deal.’ ”
She has a point.
We like to think these matters are all about love. But when you boil it down to the essentials, everyone involved in the search for a partner also is trying to cut his or her best deal. Most daters are constantly assessing whether the other person is worthy — whether he/she is, say, attractive enough, bright enough, funny enough, sexy enough and — very often — rich enough.
This method might be a little more honest.
And a lot more crass.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.