Staff Writer, Lake Worth Campus
South Florida has long been known for the affluence of places like Palm Beach, Jupiter Island, and Delray Beach. It is also densely populated by college and university students, many who are living the reality of the “struggling coed” stereotype. Now, with tuition costs higher than ever and the online dating revolution at a peak, the two groups have found a way to benefit from each other.
It is a phenomenon known as “sugar daddy dating,” and for all its controversy, SeekingArrangement.com reports that student membership has increased by 54 percent in the past year. The site promotes match-making between wealthy, often-older suitors and attractive young people seeking generous benefactors that are willing to support them financially.
For Florida college students, 51 percent of who carry significant student loan debt according to the Project on Student Debt, such an arrangement can be tempting. University of Central Florida currently leads the nation in “fastest growing ‘sugarbaby’ schools. Florida International University is ranked #12 and University of South Florida is #13.
Mike Francois, a Lake Worth campus student, laughs. “If I was a girl, I’d do it!” But while a large number of students have heard of sugar dating, some, like Lake Worth student Stephanie Belizaire, insist they would never use the sites themselves. “I understand it, because college costs are crazy. But there are better ways.” says Belizaire.
At least one student at Palm Beach State acknowledges using the site. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the 22-year-old said she and a friend joined the site last summer out of curiosity. “I went on a date, but it was really awkward. My friend still meets men from the site, and she loves it, but I guess I don’t have the personality for it.”
Many in the media have criticized the site – and its creator, MIT grad Brandon Wade – since its inception in 2006. Some say that the site is facilitating arrangements that are likened to prostitution.
Wade addresses such opinions on his personal site, AskBrandonWade.com, and acknowledges that “there will always be those who try to misuse the system or break the rules”. He has said that “escorts” are not welcome on the site and that there is no tolerance for those who cross the line.
But he has also made a statement that many agree is realistic. “The truth the media seem willing to conveniently ignore is that ‘sex’ and ‘money’ are always involved in all romantic relationships.”
Currently, college students account for more than 42 percent of SeekingArrangement’s ‘sugarbaby’ memberships. The site also reports that over one million students logged on in 2013. With the student population as its target demographic, SeekingArrangement.com offers free premium memberships to those who use an .edu email address at signup.
While SeekingArrangement.com has gotten much acclaim as being the most reputable, copycat sites began showing up in search results soon after its launch, proving there is a large, enthusiastic market for the idea. Similar sites include Sugardaddie.com and SugarSugar.com.