It's an odd sight for a Sunday night - a sea of women in cocktail dresses and vertiginous heels sipping champagne in a boutique hotel bar dipping marshmallows into a chocolate fountain.
But that was the scene last Sunday at the Gore Hotel in Knightsbridge for the European launch of SeekingArrangment.com - a dating site for 'mutually beneficial' relationships.
From the likes of me to the Evening Standard to the Telegraph, the media loved the story, but no one really liked the concept.
The dating website matches older, wealthy men with younger girls on the understanding that any relationship will be a negotiated with the aid of an 'arrangement.'
Sound clinical? Sound a sad sacrifice for the more nourishing qualities of love and commitment?
It does to me too now. But there was once a time when these relationships made perfect sense both to me and to the men. They provided an adventure-thirsty younger version of myself with a fascinating insight into a world and class of men that I otherwise wouldn't have had access to.
Older, wiser, worldlier - that's what I wanted. And for the men, there are plenty of situations where it might make sense for them too.
Imagine, a single man of 45, who would quite like a regular girlfriend, but he travels abroad with work at least once a week. Or he is at a pivotal stage of his career which requires him to work 12 or 13 hour days. Or he has children from a previous relationship whom he sees on weekends. Or perhaps he likes to go BASE jumping on Sundays and he's tired of sulking girlfriends who want him all to themselves.
He's probably good-looking, successful and has perfectly likable friends. He'd have no problems attracting one of the many single willing females of fertile age on the mating market.
He could woo her. He could imply he is more committed than he is, he could thrash out the dating phase for as long as he could get away with avoiding the topic of longevity. But as one site member said to me: "I just don't want to be that bastard."
It's for these sorts of reasons that they join SeekingArrangment.com. These men are looking for what I coined in my book, Sugar Daddy Diaries, a "low maintenance relationship." And it is indeed that - a relationship. It isn't about sex. There are plenty of other sites if they wanted that.
Both sides want chemistry, quality conversation and the regularity that goes with a conventional relationship but they don't want the obligations to meet friends and family or check in by phone everyday.
These models of relationships are an honest way of withholding commitment. These websites allow men to substitute an emotional investment for a financial one. That may not be appealing to everyone. It certainly isn't the route to finding a soul mate. But not everyone wants one of those at every stage in their life.
Is it so wrong to underpin the foundations of a relationship with something other than 100% devotion and exclusivity? There's thrills to be had too from temporary companionship, new experiences, interesting strangers.
Of course we should be able to enjoy casual love affairs without the need for an exchange of gifts or allowances. But, evolution has - whether we like it or not - put a price on the qualities of feminine youth and beauty. Our prehistoric ancestors sought out the qualities in a mate which would maximise reproductive success. That was feminine youth and beauty for men and access to resources for women. This is so engrained into our psyche, that even now, millenia on, we get men who buy sports cars because voices in their primal head tells them it will impress chics.
And this is why men who are seeking relationships like those on sugar daddy dating sites consider it good form to offer something in exchange for the company of a youthful glamorous mate. It's like payment in lieu of commitment. The exchange doesn't necessarily have to exclude affection. The Daily Mail's favorite writer Samantha Brick alluded to last week when she wrote that just because she's a trophy wife, her marriage is still very much love-based.
These 'compensated relationships' are far more honorable and rewarding than meaningless, vulgar, no-strings sex encounters. Yet we give more respect to the latter. These days relationships can only be rubber stamped if they are all encompassing, full-time, cohabiting and long-term. Or, for the rebels who aren't looking for long-term commitment, there is the increasingly fashionable casual sex, free from any emotional attachment at all. It has become a symbol of female empowerment to build up notches on the bed posts without so much as collecting a phone number. Pillow talk with a one-night stand is sneered at. Romance is considered weak.
What happened to good old-fashioned lovers? As Natasha Walters said in Living Dolls, free love has become free sex. Modern female icons of sexual freedom have become emotionally detached nymphomaniacs like the man-eaters in Sex and the City or the highly sexed but iron-hearted authors of memoirs like Sleeping Around, A Round Heeled Woman or From the Kisses of his Mouth. More respect is given to the 'zipless fuck' than it is to a meaningful, respectful, albeit non-committal affair. I know which one I would prefer.
What has happened to good old-fashioned passionate love affairs like those expressed by the writer Anais Nin in the 30s and 40s. She was considered promiscuous in her time, but she always talked about love and intimacy. As did the radical feminist Wollstonecraft.
All these SeekingArrangment type of relationships are trying to do is hit the spot for those that are looking for a meaningful lover outside the framework of full-time commitment. No, money shouldn't be a prerequisite. I was happy with the thrill of the romance alone. But honestly, if someone offered to pay you for something you were doing for fun, would you really say no?
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