For the past four months, I’ve been the anonymous blogger behind a blog called “Confessions of a Texas Sugar Baby.” My blog has attracted nearly 8,000 followers from all over the world, and although it’s fictional, almost everything in it is based on a true story from my time as a sorority girl sugar baby.
Before joining a sorority at the University of Texas-Austin at the beginning of my freshman year, I’d been a cheerleader in high school, so I wasn’t completely naïve about the stereotypes and social dynamics that define the Greek system. In many ways, pledging my sorority felt like an extension of the cheer squad - you automatically had a set group of awesome girlfriends, and by extension, a prescribed group of guys to date. Cheerleaders dated the football players; sorority girls dated fraternity boys.
I was also unfortunately familiar with date rape culture that is prevalent on college campuses. I’d had been raped myself at the end of my senior year in high school by a guy who’d spiked my drink. I was incapable of saying no at the time, and I was also incapable of saying yes. Most of the people I mentioned it to seemed blow it off, suggesting that it had been my fault for drinking in the first place. I decided at the time to just try and let it go.
After that experience in high school, I’d learned not to drink at parties, so I spent all four years of sorority life in college completely sober. Still, I was assaulted twice. The first occurred after a late-night party at a frat house, when a guy I’d been talking to on a couch assumed that my sitting implied my consent. After he pinned me to the couch and wouldn’t let me up, I bit him on the arm hard enough to draw blood, which worked. My bite freaked him out enough that he jumped back, but not before back-handing me in the face and calling me a “fucking crazy bitch.” The next time occurred after a Halloween party, when I let a frat bro, whom I’d considered a friend, come back to my room to pick up a jacket before going back out again. He kissed me once, and I politely told him no. After he kept trying and attempted to forcefully pull me down onto the bed with him, I ran away, leaving him by himself in the girls’ dorm. I’d decided at that point that I hated sex and had no interest in dating at all, and spent my sophomore year focusing on my academics.
I was in the honors program at UT, so I was taking graduate-level courses during my sophomore year and started doing some work with a 35-year-old mentor of mine, who I found very attractive. What initially began as a mentorship quickly developed into a friendship, until one day he kissed me. At first, I was hesitant to enter a relationship with him because of our 15-year age difference. But he was kind and interesting, and let me define the relationship, both in how much I wanted to be involved emotionally, as well as physically. He’d already heard my stories of how I’d been treated by frat guys, and he let me take the lead on everything. After a few weeks of debating, I decided to go for it. I never had to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with, whether it was trying a new food or something sexual in bed. While he paid for everything we did together, what I valued more was his patience, his perspective on life, his help on my essays, as well as his instruction on how to properly shoot vodka and the coffee he made me in the morning. Our relationship was far deeper and more respectful than any of the relationships I’d had with guys in the Greek system.
The frat bros I dated were never what I would call real relationships. Everything revolved around drinking and hooking up. There was no real connection, no substantial conversation, and everything required me having to meet them at their frat house. I had a few friends who were in fraternities, so I’m not saying all of them were bad. But once I started dating the mentor, I knew I’d never go back to dating Greek.
After my relationship with the mentor ended (amicably), I continued dating men 10 to 20 years older than myself. I met some through friends and others in the most random places - at the airport in Prague, or at a random Starbucks. I began to consider these older men my peers. I wasn’t intimidated by their age, as much as I was drawn to it. I really enjoyed talking to them, since they all had such interesting stories and life experiences. I dated doctors, lawyers, bankers, and other artists, who were, for the most part all kind, fascinating guys. I never asked them to pay for anything, but they always wanted to, and I never protested. It made me feel loved, and safe. I didn’t know the term “sugar baby” at the time, but now that I do I know that I was one, and I have no problem with that. It certainly made me happier than the alternative.
I started writing “Confessions of a Texas Sugar Baby,” and a related novel, in part as a way to tell some of my own stories; I think sometimes it’s easier to make a point by letting the people and events speak for themselves. But I also wanted to offer an alternative narrative to the one that the media seems fixated on, which is that college girls are joining sugar baby dating sites just for the money.
The University of Texas-Austin is now the “home of the sugar babies.” Texas Monthly points out this is curious because there are much more expensive schools where you’d expect to see more young women looking for rich older men to pay their tuition. But I think UT’s no. 1 sugar baby ranking reflects an emotional deficit rather than a financial one. As highlighted by the viral #SororityRevamp campaign started by a Syracuse University senior, Greek life fosters immaturity and judgment, and Greek life is huge at UT. You can’t have a healthy relationship with immature. You can’t have a healthy relationship with judgmental. Some people like that, but I imagine there are at least a few sorority girls who have experienced some version of what I went through, who go looking for an alternative. Becoming a sugar baby doesn’t necessarily make you a gold-digger. It gives you a chance at having a loving relationship - well, that’s what it gave me.
Sara Bailey Nagorski is the author of a forthcoming novel about UT students’ adventures in sugar baby dating and has taught writing at Columbia University. She currently tweets as one of her book’s characters at @ATXsugarbaby.