Are Sugar Daddies Just a Myth?

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A 16.2% youth unemployment rate doesn’t pay the bills. Rich older dudes might.

“I just want to cry,” says Celeste*, a member of sugar-daddy dating websites SeekingArrangement and MillionaireMatch. Currently working as a maître d’, freelance editor, and occasional actress, Celeste struggles to support herself in New York City. Despite her six months online with zero dates, not to mention four plus years toiling on the dating scene, she has yet to find her deep-pocketed prince. “I thought it would be much easier to find… [I’m] as disillusioned as a four year old who just found out there wasn’t a tooth fairy.”

In yet another reason to throw in the towel on this misanthropic joke we call life, a new study suggests that cougar mamas and sugar daddies don’t exist. That’s it, y’all. It’s been real.

The study, published by the Review of Economics and Statistics, found that older men and women married to younger spouses made significantly less money on average than couples of a similar age. This shatters that long held belief that marrying older meant marrying richer. It also means no more Christmas.

Though it can be tough to feel too much sympathy for Celeste and other aspiring sugar babies, their difficulties speak both to a cultural obsession with the “older, wealthy benefactor” trope and to the harsh realities of today’s stagnating economy.

No doubt this comes as a blow to hordes of young Americans raised on television shows like The Real Housewives of Every Damn City and Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire. In our cash-strapped generation, the myth of the “wealthy older spouse” reigned supreme, elevating gold digging to a national pastime. Finding our own personal benefactor seemed a real and tangible escape — a “golden ticket” out of a stagnant economy and college debt. Though this practice of seeking out an older, richer partner isn’t exactly entirely socially acceptable, perhaps as a culture we cherish the idea that it is possible.

And yet the numbers don’t lie. Marrying older provides less financial security than marrying your broke ass boyfriend, the one currently crashing on your parent’s daybed.

Women like Celeste have long been spoon-fed a lie, popularized in movies like Pretty Woman and Maid in Manhattan. For every financial hardship there are troves of wealthy suitors, waiting on fire escapes with bouquets of roses. As more of us work freelance or part-time jobs with little to no health insurance, we lose ourselves in fantasy. After all, a 16.2% youth unemployment rate doesn’t pay the bills. Rich older dudes might.

“I am hoping to find someone who is mature and experienced and successful and powerful, because that’s what women are looking for,” says a disillusioned Celeste. “I think that wealth is a good indication of success and power.” The problem, of course, is that no one has money. All the wealthy cashed in and got the hell out of Dodge.

For many on the outside, the lack of gold-digging opportunities for 20-somethings is hardly cause for alarm. While everyone struggles in this economy, there is little sympathy for whining Millennials, especially of the “Seeking Arrangement” variety. Our generation has long been known as the “slacker demographic;” our childhood bedrooms lined with participation “awards” speak to our inflated sense of our own worth, both figuratively and, in Celeste’s case, literally. Still, the economy has spared no one — especially recent graduates — and our fall from the top has perhaps been the hardest.

“We’ve always been treated like we’re the best, we’re wonderful, we’re this, we’re that. So to live up to how our parents view us is incredibly difficult, because none of us are nearly as special as we think we are," says Celeste.

Perhaps it’s this rude awakening that makes us long for an older caregiver. It’s hard to reconcile the fact that our parents' generation coddled us and then threw us to the wolves. While they retire on the Social Security pensions they’ve been promised, we seem destined to work until we drop. The very notion that sugar daddies and cougar mommies don’t exist is just the latest in the growing number hard financial truths our generation has encountered.

I doubt it’s the actual loss of a sugar daddy or cougar mommy that might distress people — most of us won’t ever actually try to enter this kind of relationship. It’s more the loss of the idea–the knowledge that if the going gets really tough, there’s not even a fantasy to lean on. Whatever

“I feel like we’ve been put into a very bad position because of the economic decisions of our parents,” Celeste continues. “I know that we’ll work to support ourselves, and that when thrown in the trenches we will float somehow. But it would just be so much nicer if I could rely on someone who has already succeeded.”

For better or for worse, those who might have expected an expedited climb to the financial top will now have to trudge alongside the rest of us.

*name has been changed to protect the gold digging