Welcome to the sugar bowl

Citizen columnist Kathy Nadalin has a line she uses to describe longtime single men in their retirement years who are anxiously trying to find a new lady friend. She says they're almost always "boozers and losers" looking for nothing more than "nurses and purses."

But for the rest of the older men, they're probably living in a sugar bowl.

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An email arrived at The Citizen this week from Seeking.com, the self-proclaimed world's largest "Sugar" dating site, looking for some free press coverage. According to the website, there are more than a million "Sugar Babies" in Canada, including more than 200,000 "Sugar Daddies" and 30,000 "Sugar Mommas."

There's nothing new about these kind of relationships, of course. In particular, older men and younger women have gravitated to one another for many years, in many cultures and for many reasons, with sex (in many forms) being only one.

Wealth, power and status are often a factor for both parties. Look no further than the current president of the United States, who is 24 years older than his (current) wife.

The prevalence of these relationships, along with the increasing number of mature, successful women eager to project their stature by having a much younger man on their arm in public, has led to the specialization of dating websites like Seeking to help foster these sugar connections.

In past times, the older person in the relationship dictated terms, holding all the cards on money and experience while the younger person offered beauty and vitality but mostly had to go along with whatever their older partner wanted.

At least on the surface, dating websites have levelled the playing field, paving the way for "mutually beneficial relationships." Both men and women get to say in their online profiles exactly what they want and what they're prepared to offer, in the hopes of connecting with like-minded partners.

For example, a young, handsome 25-year-old university graduate can say he's interested in up to three dates per month with a Sugar Momma between the ages of 45 and 60. She will provide a clothing allowance (and he will dress as she instructs to suit the social occasion) and pay for everything on the date. He is open to dates that involve national and international travel for up to two weeks at a time. No dates without at least one week's notice and all communication between dates is by text only. Sex during (and between) dates is optional and by mutual agreement. There is no expectation of exclusivity.

In other words, the arrangement is purely transactional (I give this, you take that, I take this, you give that) but carefully steers clear of anything that implies prostitution.

It sounds so cold and modern, stripped of romance, treating people as if they were mere objects of clothing - something that fits, feels comfortable and looks good out in public.

Yet this kind of affair is actually far older than today's typical monogamous romantic relationships.

Most cultures arranged marriages at a suitable age for young men and women, where parents shopped around their children shamelessly as desirable mates who could provide children and economic security. Dowries - payment from one family to another, usually but not always from the family of the bride to the family of the groom - remain common in numerous societies. Families, from a country's royalty to the trades specialists in a small village, would form alliances, make peace and consolidate wealth and power by exchanging sons and daughters.

For example, Queen Elizabeth's husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, was born on the Greek island of Corfu as Prince Phillip of Greece and Denmark, the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. As is the case with much of European royalty, Phillip and Elizabeth are distantly related as Princess Alice was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

In the modern setting, however, the adult participants, rather than their parents, set the terms. As a result, relationships can be as traditional or non-traditional as the two parties desire. Sex, romance, money, time and the quantity of each - in the sugar bowl, it's all negotiable up front, even before the two sides meet face-to-face.

To borrow Nadalin's phrase, the boozer, loser and nurse parts of the equation are all in play, depending on the purse and the individual preferences at play.

It may sound sweet but too much sugar isn't good for anyone, whether it's nutrition or in relationships.

Personal relationships - romantic partners, family, friends, colleagues - thrive with ample helpings of respect, loyalty and trust from all parties. A transactional arrangement, even with the spiciness and thrill of a sugary scenario, puts all of these relationship essentials aside in favour of the terms of the deal.

For some, that's perfect. After too many unwanted surprises, unreasonable expectations and disappointments, a mutually beneficial relationship makes perfect sense.

For others, relationships need to be more organic, more spontaneous and far less formal than renting an apartment or leasing a car.

Fortunately, there's plenty of sweetness to go around and in enough forms and variety to suit most everyone.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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