Photo: Andrea De Martin /123rf.com
If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, then becoming a bona fide sugar mummy was certainly what the doctor ordered. I had just turned 42, which, for you pop-culture nerds out there, is the meaning of life, according to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
However, instead of finding “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything”, my life was in danger of become a meaningless cliche called mid-life crisis. My ex and I had finally settled our divorce and I was a free woman, so to speak. But how, I wondered, was I to get back into the dating jungle after 10 years of monogamous lockdown? Helpful girlfriends instantly came to my aid, whipping out their mobile phones and introducing me to a whole new world of dating apps, fingers flying across the screen in dizzying swipes.
I quickly got into the game and was hooked. I put up a couple of photos and set my search criteria to men between the ages of 35 and 55. Guys started messaging me – lots of guys. I noticed, though, that many of them had baggage and a certain Neanderthal approach. Their caveman demeanour, however, was sheathed in the thinnest skin; they took cheeky banter as criticism and were quick to go on the defensive when asked… well, just about anything. A common refrain after asking what I thought was a seeming innocuous question: “Why are women always…?’’
After a couple of lacklustre dates, I decided I was going to pack it in with the online dating thing. Then one night, just before bed, my phone buzzed. The message: “Mr Grey will see you now.” The sender? Twenty-nine-year-old Jack* – clearly, the app’s age filter wasn’t working – who had no photo on his profile page.
I laughed and texted back: “Great line. Does it actually work?”
His response was quick: “I managed to get a reply from you, didn’t I? Even though I don’t have a photo ;)’’
Lust and Affection
And that was how it started. Finally, I met someone who could banter and flirt intelligently (and who could actually spell). We met up soon after for coffee. I was a bit nervous that he would turn out looking like Jabba the Hut or Jar Jar Binks or any of the creatures from the Star Wars films, but to my delight, Jack was more like a young and handsome Kylo Ren. I liked what I saw, and he had already seen and liked my photos on my profile. The chemistry was instant. We chatted for awhile, but we both knew it was a polite prelude to the main event. I quickly paid the bill and we headed back to my car, where the real date began.
Let’s just say that Jack made me feel like a woman again. In bed and in our little talks, he treated me like a goddess, with the kind of respect and devotion that was a cross between lust and affection for a senior aunt. Yes, it was weird, but it didn’t make it any less amazing.
As it turned out, Jack was a lot younger than he said he was; his real age was 24. He had lied because he was afraid older women wouldn’t respond to him if they knew he was so young. He said girls his age were silly and frivolous, and wanted to settle down too quickly. He had a girlfriend – a sweet young thing he would eventually marry – but she didn’t excite him the way older women did. And she certainly couldn’t buy him nice things like I could, or take him to fancy restaurants, like I did.
Actually, we only dined once at a proper restaurant. It was awkward because I felt like people were staring at us and wondering if I was a mother buying her son a nice meal to celebrate his graduation. Except we laughed just a bit too loudly and our eyes were just a little too shiny, thanks to the heady effects of the copious amount of champagne we were quaffing.
Did I have second thoughts after realising that he was young enough to be my son? Yes, but they were fleeting. Jack didn’t behave like a spoilt brat. He was handsome, funny and charming. And he was a whole lot more mature than many older men I knew.
Was I a sugar mummy? I guess I was. We never clearly established that I would be the one paying for things all the time, but it somehow became the norm and I didn’t mind. I was earning enough as a senior bank executive and he was still waiting to start his first job – also at a bank.
What was explicitly clear though, was that we were not an item. Nor were we exclusive. Jack had his girlfriend and, I assume, other sugar mummies, while I wasn’t ready to enter into anything serious with any man. Nor was I bold enough to flaunt my new toy boy in public, or introduce him to my friends and acquaintances. Our encounters were usually at my apartment, fuelled by champagne and single malts, and culminating in silk sheets and happy smiles.
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We lived in a blissful bubble and established a nice rhythm of conditional intimacy. We met regularly and were very focused about what we were meeting for. Most of the time, there was little conversation apart from the usual small talk.
When we became a little more comfortable with each other, we’d occasionally talk about movies, books and the state of the world in general. We also discussed the latest watches – he was a watch enthusiast and sported a Panerai Luminor; I didn’t ask if it was a gift from one of his other lady friends. Indeed, we steered clear of personal topics. I didn’t ask about his girlfriend, he didn’t ask about my personal life. By then, I had started dating properly again and was seeing a few men.
I don’t know exactly how it happened, but gradually, we met up less often. I was busy with work and with my dates; he had started his first job and was caught up with making new friends at his workplace. One day, after about six months, we stopped becoming a regular thing. There was no drama. I didn’t even notice it had ended.
It’s been a year since and I now have a boyfriend. Things are looking good at work and I’ve just been promoted.
Then, late one night, my phone buzzes. I’m at home, ready to go through a pile of spreadsheets. I glance down at the screen: “Mr Grey would like to see you now.’’
My hands are shaking so much, I drop the phone. I stare at it, lying there on the carpet, as the screen fades to black. Then, it buzzes again. “Mr Grey would REALLY like to see you now.’’ I switch off my phone and go back to work.
I have not replied to Jack. My boyfriend and I are still a fairly new thing, and I don’t want to jeopardise it with a dalliance, no matter how delicious the thought. But I still glance at those messages now and then. Honestly, I can’t say for sure that I won’t reply one day.
*Names have been changed.