On a rainy night in May of 2016, a friend sent me a very ominous text message. She said she was going to Asheville to meet someone. She sounded frightened and sent, “I love you.” I flipped, but I knew there was nothing I could do to change her mind. I asked her to text me that she was safe. Three hours later, I got a message from her asking if she could come to my house, and she explained what happened.

She told me that she had joined a dating site called seekingarrangement.com It was a “sugar daddy” dating site where people made mutual arrangements. I was extremely confused, but I kept listening.

She told me that she met a man in Asheville who was very sweet, very fat and probably in extreme need of therapy. She said that he took her out to dinner, took her to his place, began crying about his terrible life and gave her $500 as he asked her to leave.

“I thought I was going to have to have sex with him, Candice, but oh my God. You have to try this site. You need it!” She exclaimed. She knew all too well of my financial struggles and for a minute I really thought about it.

I asked, “Isn’t that kind of like a dating site for prostitutes?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

The day after that, I joined up. I received messages from men who wanted sex for money, I received messages from men who wanted to pamper me with trips to various beaches. I even heard from a guy who offered $200 to smoke a joint—that one I thought about but I thought better of it and ultimately deactivated the account (it’s impossible to fully delete).

For about two weeks, I deactivated and reactivated the account, fueled by the idea of receiving a good amount of cash, which I desperately needed.

Two months went by and I realized that I had not kept a steady job all summer. I committed to a $600/month apartment and had no idea how to pay for it. These were desperate times…

The next time around, I called myself “MarcyElena”—“Marcy,” after a character from the musical "Dogfight," which my school had recently performed. Marcy worked as a prostitute and sang a kickass song about the horridness of men and their need to get their dicks wet. With lines such as “Boys are the same and they’ve all got a game—so full of shit, their eyes turn brown,” and “If I’m getting screwed, I’m at least getting paid,” how could I resist? The pseudonym, “Elena” came from Elena Gilbert from “The Vampire Diaries,” or as most haters know her as—golden vagina. It was perfect.

If only they could understand my sardonic sense of humor.

The day I reactivated the account, a man named Chris messaged me. He asked if I wanted to see him sometime and even though he didn’t have a profile picture and called himself “middleageddaddy,” I was feeling especially desperate that day and I said yes. I began texting with him, all without knowing how he looked or who he was.

He finally sent me a photo and damn, was that a nice looking 45-year-old. I got lucky.

I told him I live about 30 miles from where I actually live, but it turns out he lived in my town. He asked if we could go on a date that night. I was about to heave when I agreed. I didn’t think I would start this so soon, but I needed money, and I thought, "Hey, why not?" A friend of mine got $500 for a date with no sex. Let’s see what happens. That weekend was already a fairly manic weekend for me due to lack of meds, and I said, “Screw it.”

On the car ride, I was beginning to dissociate. I held myself together with cigarettes and spoke to the universe: “Fine. If you want patriarchy, here it is. I am your object. This is exactly what you wanted,” justifying to myself what I was doing even though as a feminist and a rational human being, I knew better. As a woman with bipolar disorder who desperately needed money and also desperately wanted a drink, I had to do what I had to do, or so I told myself.

When I got downtown, he asked for me to text him immediately as I parked. I found it a bit off-putting but I was still naive to how deeply men believe they should control everything. I parked near the police station, far from the restaurant. I passed a younger man who seemed to smirk and check me out. My paranoia hit and I figured he knew exactly what I was doing, but I brushed it off with another anti-feminist justification and kept walking. I was only halfway down the street when the man from the pictures waved at me. I smiled and waved back, hoping I looked excited enough for it to be believable that I truly desired to go out with him.

The date went fairly well. I was a bit nervous about the bartenders hearing our conversation and seeing me with an older man, but before the end of the night, both of us made jokes with the bartenders and I relaxed. I thought to myself, “Some women do this because they want to, and who is anyone to judge that?”

As Marcy says, “Own it. And don’t back down.”

When we walked outside for a cigarette, he made fun of my ordering a Corona as a first drink—“a basic white girl drink,” he called it.

“Yes, yes it is. I like to play it safe at first," I replied. I found aspects of my personality coming out when I didn’t intend for them to. It worried me a little, I didn’t want to get stuck in a game with a mindfreak, because hey man, you never know.

“Oh, well,” I thought. “At least he doesn’t know my real name.”

As the night went on, we talked about politics, and he cut me off multiple times during the conversation with a look on his face that seemed as if he was trying to teach me a lesson. Many times, he didn’t want to hear what I had to say. I was allowed to speak when he felt it polite to move the conversation to me.

He made comments such as “Liberals are so emotional. When people don’t have facts, they get emotional.” I tried to mention a study I read about how liberals and conservatives react to the world differently. He said, “I will definitely look up that study,” not with a smile on his face but with a look in his eye that said, “I will prove you wrong.”

After we left, he walked me to my car in “true gentleman fashion.” He asked me what I wanted out of this, reiterating that he wasn’t made of money, but questioning the fairness of a sexual relationship without financial benefits for the female. I told him that I would like to take my time, and though his facial expression spoke differently, his words were kind and understanding. “So this may take a while,” he asked.

“No kidding,” I thought to myself. I already refused to go to your house even though “your dog was upset that he didn’t meet me.” Who thinks that’s funny anyway?

I said good night with a kiss on the cheek, and left.

The next day, he wouldn’t stop texting me even when I said that I was working. “Quiet compared to yesterday,” he texted for the fifth time that evening. Later, he said, “I think you may be changing your mind.”

“I will if you don’t chill” was my response, and his message back was “point taken.”

I never texted him again.

“You learn to bite,” said Marcy. And I did learn to bite—very quickly.

Monday night, I received a message from an older man in Greenville. His profile stated that he was quite wealthy. We chatted for a bit and he asked me out to Carolina Ale House for Wednesday of that week. I agreed, and we began texting back and forth. From the way he responded to my messages it seems that he wanted a sensual relationship, but maybe not a sexual one, which I was way more comfortable with anyway, and also wasn’t illegal. Professional cuddlers are a thing, right? So I decided to see if it would be a success.

The night of the date, I panicked. I didn’t go to work. I went over to a friend’s house to daydrink instead. I had a horrible feeling and wanted to back out, block his number and deactivate the account again.

Even though everything in me was telling me to run, I went on the second date anyway. “Don’t be a little bitch,” I told myself. “You never do anything remotely dangerous. Now’s your time.”

I sat on the bench in front of Carolina Ale House for about 10 minutes, waiting. My legs were shaking not out of excitement, but fear. I wanted to smoke a cigarette while I was waiting but I didn’t want to seem too “un-ladylike." I tried to remind myself that I was playing a character here. I’m an actress, right? I can do this.

When he walked up, he was smoking a cigarette and he sat on the bench beside me. He apologized for his bad habit and so I pulled out my pack, too. We chuckled and everything seemed fine. Once we were inside, I dropped the “ladylike” pretenses and ordered a beer. We got to talking and I learned that he had two jobs—one of which was merely to get out of his house, that he previously worked for a strip club, and would “pop his children on the mouth” when he got too angry.

He explained that he would eventually talk with his children and that an understanding would be reached, but what I understood is that he was an abusive, cheating partner because, oh, by the way, he was married.

All of his talk about not wanting a sexual relationship was a lie. When we went outside for a cigarette again, he kissed me. I felt extremely uncomfortable but tried to keep my cool, and when the date was over, he did it again, only harder. He used tongue and asked, “What’s wrong?” without waiting for my answer and continued. Once I finally broke free and got into my car, he discretely sat $60 on my lap. As I drove away, I realized that I had never felt like this before.

Did he just pay to sexually assault me?

Yes. Yes, he did.

I was dying a little inside every second I drove. I finally reached a gas station and bought a Dr. Pepper and a stronger pack of cigarettes to try and get the awful taste of him out of my mouth. I spat multiple times on the way in and out of the station. When I got home I couldn’t sleep because of the awful memories.

Once it was finally 8:00 a.m., I drove to Sally Beauty Supply, bought bleach, hair dye and toner, because even though I had dyed my hair dark red a few days before, I panicked. I never wanted him to recognize me again. It felt disgusting to have that money so I spent it as quickly as I could.

The entire day, there was a look of disgust on my face that I couldn’t control. I blamed myself for getting into this situation. It wasn’t until that evening after I had blocked his number that I texted him and told him how badly he had violated my boundaries. We hadn’t reached any sort of agreement and he also didn’t seem to care that I was new at this. He talked so much about getting to know someone before anything sexual happened and went against his word in the span of an hour. I had never told anyone off like that before, and I finally felt better and little more safe. I’m just hoping I never see him again and that his wife figures out what he’s doing—very, very quickly.

My third date was canceled after the second. He was a very sweet man and very understanding after I told him how violated I felt the previous night, but he didn’t stop trying to text me and I wondered when nice men would start to understand that “no means no.”

Before even going on the second date, I was messaged by a man who told me that I looked “easily trainable” and that a woman should know her place is to make a man happy. “I will treat you like a princess in the streets, a whore in the sheets and spoil you afterward.” I was completely disgusted but intrigued by his candor, and still feeling desperate, I messaged him back, but of course, after that second date, I deactivated the account. Sorry, buddy. No threesome for you.

Before that experience, I wondered how easily I could easily slip into a submissive role. After all, it was beaten into my head that the man is the head of the household and that a woman should do anything she has to do please her man, including being raped every now and then, though of course they weren’t put into those words. I remember asking my mother “Did you ever not want to?” and she said “Oh yeah, but sometimes you’ve gotta do things to keep your man.” If that’s not the saddest thing I’ve ever heard about sex, I’m not sure what is.

After the second date, I realized that I could never let myself do anything like that. How could I have not felt violated and traumatized? I am demisexual, which is on the asexual side of the spectrum. I rarely find myself sexually attracted to anyone at all. What the hell was I thinking?

Oh yeah, that I needed money.

I only went on two dates from seekingarrangement.com, but the experience has taught me a lifetime's worth of lessons. It taught me that there was a part of me that didn’t care for my own safety. Something inside me craved danger for myself. A bipolar disorder mixed with the desperate need for money is a very dangerous mix.

It was certainly flattering being called cute and beautiful by various men. I think there was also something inside me that needed to feel that way. As a female, my entire life I have been given both conscious and subconscious messages that I need to be desirable to be the best type of person I can be, but after these experiences, I can say with complete confidence, “Forget gender roles. Forget men who think they can own me. And forget being silent." I’m tempted to release all of their usernames but, as per usual, I like to play it safe.

As I listen to the song that titled, "Dogfight," I hear my present and past self, battling it out. “And they only pay when a load is blown, so you sit and stay till you get your bone” is felt in my bones, but Rose’s “and you don’t need some worthless dime," is what I feel in my heart.

“Cause we’re all getting [expletive], so we better get paid,” was a line that seemed so empowering and tough. Now it feels incredibly weak.

I learned how easily women can be subjected to violence, and how some men believe throwing money at someone allows them to do whatever they choose. It’s an abusive world out there, and you can be damn sure that I will never subject myself to that type of abuse again.

Since then, I have found a well-paying position that will keep me housed as I finish college, and you can also be damn sure I will never take honest work for granted again.