Nina Peterson
New York Post screenshot

Earlier this week, the New York Post ran one of those “news” stories that come either on slow-news days or shortly after big-news tragedies that have left folks emotionally spent. Sometimes you need some “fluff” as a distraction.

Enter the story of Nina Peterson, a 37-year-old, self-described “sugar baby”— i.e., a woman who dates wealthy men in exchange for “money, homes, gifts and luxurious vacations.” Peterson says she has amassed more than $1 million in goods and services simply for being a companion. But she is not a prostitute.

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“A sugar daddy invests in a woman that he feels has the potential to be an asset in his life,” she says. “A prostitute is not an asset.”

Since becoming a sugar baby, Peterson has been given a home with an outdoor pool, school tuition for her two daughters, $100,000 worth of plastic surgery (three nose jobs and several breast augmentations) and a $200,000 Maserati.

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Women who earn their living on their back or knees—and let’s not pretend that isn’t a requirement for the “sugar baby” job—usually take a lot of heat, from women and men alike, for doing so. There’s an unwritten rule that women who expect material goods from relationships are bad. Love from their partner is supposed to be enough for them, and any gifts are a bonus, not a requirement.

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This is perhaps a nonfeminist thing to say, but I have a hard time finding fault with the dating philosophy of Peterson and other sugar babies like her. They’re about the money, and it’s not as if they’re trying to fool anyone about their intentions. The older men, the sugar daddies, know what it is about. They want a young thang. They use “sugar babies” for their looks and their comparative youth and to make them feel young and sexy again. In exchange, the woman overlooks the generation-gap jokes, the geriatric sex, and the man's wrinkles and bald spots to play along like she’s physically interested in him. Should women be expected to keep up that performance—because it is undoubtedly work—for free?

Even for women not like Peterson, the so-called regular girls who are out here dating. You can hardly sit down with a new man these days without him prattling off his résumé and implying that he’s balling. From Rolexes and tailored suits to fresh Jordans and crisp tees, guys spend an undue amount of time presenting themselves as having money, both because it is a superficial boost to their self-worth and it attracts women. But how is it OK for men to give the impression that “money ain’t a thang,” and use money to attract women, but when the women they attract then expect something that costs money, it becomes problematic? How, Sway?

Peterson and others like her have also made another startling observation: The emotional work of dating and maintaining is not free. Still, it’s expected that women, who often carry the emotional burden of maintaining relationships, should happily give it all away. I spend an undue amount of my workday listening to women talk about dating and relationships. In general, guys—sugar daddies and regular guys, alike—have a lot of expectations from women. They expect to be cooked for, cleaned for, listened to, emotionally propped up and sexed down practically on demand. And these are the expectations that come without a real commitment: i.e., marriage. It’s all expected to be performed as some sort of audition for the role of wife, when you then are expected to do it forever.

By their early 30s, unmarried women are spent from all the emotional tap dancing they do for relationships that have not panned out. And what do they have to show for it? Experience? Insight? Memories? Cute and great for personal development, but none of that pays the mortgage.

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To be clear: I’m not suggesting that women go the full throttle route of Peterson and just use old men for money. What I am suggesting is that women better recognize the value of their resources—their looks, their cooking, their praying hands and listening ears, good credit, etc.—and not give them away without knowing that they’re getting an acceptable return on investment. Reciprocity is suitable payment for love labor and emotional transactions. But if a man can’t offer that—and many won’t or don’t—it’s fair that appreciating assets should be offered or a hasty exit should be made.

Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She is also a blogger at SeeSomeWorld.com, where she covers pop culture and travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.