A single mum ditched conventional romance to become a 'sugar baby' in her forties and is treated to cash gifts and a Sh293,000 (£2,000) monthly allowance.
Stella Smith, 44, is keen to stress that she is not exchanging sex for money and that what she does is entirely different to escorting.
“There are other sites you can go to for that, but that’s not what I’m doing,” she said.
“This isn’t about sex – it’s about company and finding someone who shares my values. The financial support is just an aside.
“I’ve never felt pressure to sleep with the men I’ve met. They don’t expect it, either – they don’t even expect a kiss.
“I’m a very friendly and warm person, but I’ve also been careful to make my boundaries very clear.”
Stella joined Seeking Arrangement – a network 'connecting attractive, ambitious women with wealthy suitors' – when she was furloughed from her job in events planning in March.
She received more than 100 messages within a few days of setting up her profile.
Stella, of Brent, north west London, arranged 58 dates and has been on about 20 so far – often with younger men.
She said: “Previously, if I thought of a sugar daddy, I’d picture a rich old man surrounded by beautiful young girls.”
She continued: “But it’s surprised me that most of the men I’ve met through the site have been younger than me – some by up to 10 years.
“They are established, handsome guys, who want a drama-free life and are willing to pay any money for that.
"They don’t want demands or pressures, but they are willing to support me and share what they have.”
Born in Hungary, Stella split from the father of her children, who she does not wish to name, when they were young.
She has lived all over the world, including New York before settling in London six years ago.
Between raising her kids and exploring the globe, she had little time for dating, saying: “I only ever had relationships lasting around a year or so and I’ve never had a one night stand in my life.
“I didn’t have a type, either. Whenever I had a break-up, I’d want to go with somebody totally different the next time. I kept trying to find that perfect match.
“I was protective of my children and didn’t want them to feel like I was looking for a replacement father for them, so I kept my mum life and my dating life very separate.”
Moving to London in 2014, Stella threw herself into work, juggling her day job with teaching dance and gymnastics on the side.
Then in March when a national lockdown was imposed to slow the spread of Covid-19 and she was furloughed, she started examining her love life history to work out where she was going wrong.
“I thought over my past relationships, what had been missing and how I could have made them better,” she said.
“It wasn’t necessarily about money. I realised I wanted to be with someone more successful.
"I thought a more established man may be more relaxed and fun to be around.”
Armed with a plan, Stella began to search for a more “exclusive” dating site.
She stumbled upon Seeking Arrangement – matching women, known as sugar babes, with well-heeled men, known as sugar daddies, who give them material benefits in return for a dating-style relationship.
“I was curious and wanted to give it a go,” she said. “I thought there was no harm in trying to find a different type of relationship to the ones I’d had before.”
In early April, Stella set up a profile explaining who she was and what she was looking for in a man.
She added: “I didn’t name an exact amount of money I wanted or anything like that. I just said connection was a must, but that I was also looking for financial support.
“It was quite embarrassing to put all my cards on the table like that.”
Within a few days, she had received over 100 messages from interested suitors.
“I’ve been on dating sites long enough that I’ve had some real horror stories,” she said. “But everyone on Seeking Arrangement was nice and normal. I felt very welcome.
“Even those I wasn’t interested in were courteous and kind, whereas on other sites I’ve been sworn at for rejecting men, as if their attention was a gift that I should’ve been grateful for.”
During lockdown, Stella would not meet any of her matches in person, so instead began to get to know some of them virtually, chatting over video calls.
When lockdown restrictions eased to allow two households to meet in June, she had been talking to some for two months.
“Not being able to meet in real life meant we had no choice but to take it slow and get to know one another on a deeper level,” she said.
“It was really nice to have that company and connection during lockdown.”
Stella liked 58 of her matches enough to arrange real-life dates, but only ended up going on around 20.
At first, she would meet them for socially-distanced park walks.
Then when pubs and restaurants reopened at the beginning of July, she switched to dining at some of London’s swankiest Michelin-starred eateries instead.
As well as paying for dinner, men would also offer her cash gifts.
She said: “They would give me Sh14, 000 (£100) as a thank you for dinner or Sh21, 000 (£150) to make sure I got home safe. One man just slipped a bundle of cash into my pocket when I wasn’t looking.
“Because I wasn’t used to that sort of thing, I had to force myself to take it. It did feel loving, though, not transactional.”
She added: “Just like traditional dating, some men that I met weren’t as tempting in real life and I had no connection with them, but others, I got on great with and continued to see.”
So far, Stella has been out with two men in their sixties and the rest have been her age or younger – with the youngest 10 years her junior.
“I never considered younger men as an option, but 80 percent of those I’ve spoken to and met have been younger than me,” she said.
“I’m more attracted to them than I thought I’d be. They’re all extremely handsome, but also mature.
"You’d never know they were younger than me and I find myself asking them for advice,” Stella continued.
“That’s what life is all about though – changes and surprises.”
To date, Stella estimates she has received around Sh293, 000 (£2,000) in cash gifts, plus a regular Sh293, 000 (£2,000) a month allowance from one sugar daddy.
After years of struggling as a single mum, Stella, who prefers the word “arrangement” to “relationship” when describing what she is doing, now says that finding the site has been “life-changing.”
Thankfully, she has not experienced any negativity so far and hopes that by sharing her story she will encourage others to be less judgemental about unconventional forms of dating.
She concluded: “I’ve met exceptional men that I wouldn’t otherwise have crossed paths with.”
“The good thing about Seeking Arrangement is that you put all your cards on the table and talk about exactly what you want from a relationship early on,” she added.
“There are couples who’ve been married for years and haven’t had that conversation.
“I found traditional dating almost like a big shopping mall, with so much on offer that you don’t know where to look. This is much more exclusive.”