Lisa Ling describes herself as "fiercely independent" and "a die-hard feminist"
While dating an older, richer man, she became "seduced by a lifestyle"
Ling explores the world of "sugaring" in the premiere of her new CNN show
Watch "This is Life with Lisa Ling" Sundays at 10p
I have always been a fiercely independent woman. I learned from my grandmother – the breadwinner in her marriage – that there was nothing that a woman couldn’t do as well as a man.
I started working when I was 16 years old and, by all accounts, I had achieved a fairly high degree of success as a young journalist in my early 20s.
A die-hard feminist, my desire for self-sufficiency didn’t stem from a movement: It was personal. A child of divorced parents who always fought about money-related issues, and with my grandmother’s words etched in my mind, I told myself at a young age that I would never rely on a man or anyone to take care of me.
I became so defiant about being able to do things on my own that I would rarely even let people buy me meals. That still holds true today.
Then, I met “Tom,” who was much older and more successful than me. We started dating in my early 30s at a time when my career had me traveling all over the world to report stories. I was neither looking for a relationship nor cared to be in one.
A lot of my friends, however, were beginning to settle down and I started to feel like something was wrong with me for not being able to even fathom doing the same.
That’s not to say I wasn’t happy with where I was: I loved my work and I loved the woman I had become.
Tom was a nice man who seemed to take a liking to me quite quickly. Like many men of similar ilk, Tom could be aggressive about acquiring things he wanted. Before I knew it, I was being sucked into his vortex.
One week we’d be cruising the Mediterranean in a massive full-service yacht, the next we’d be on a shopping excursion in Rome. It all happened so fast and I was being exposed to a part of the world that – despite being well-traveled – I had never experienced.
It started to become glaringly apparent that I was being seduced by a lifestyle.
I was becoming a sugar baby. Or at least, that’s how I felt.
We all know what sugar daddies are: Wealthy older men have throughout history sought out much younger women – “sugar babies” – to date, even marry and take care of.
Despite the women’s liberation movement, our culture is always reminding us of gender roles. Today, websites like SeekingArrangement.com are making it that much easier for men and women to connect by waving the carrot of support and financial security to attract youth and beauty.
While I think Tom liked me because of my independent spirit, I’m quite sure he hoped that the longer we were in a relationship together, the more likely it would be that I would eventually give up my career and let him support me.
He was not at all a bad person, but increasingly, I was starting to feel owned and that I was losing myself.
Now there’s nothing wrong with being in a relationship in which one person financially supports the other. We all contribute to our relationships in different ways and in no way should any contribution be trivialized.
I just knew that I was in mine for the wrong reasons and that I had compromised the woman I had worked so hard to become.
I am now married and have a child with a man who is quite successful in his own right. I know that if I fall onto hard times, he’ll support me, and I will do the same.
Even though we’re equal partners in our marriage, it’s important for me to maintain my own identity, career and finances. “No matter what,” my grandma always said, “have your own money.”
In a span of a lifetime, my relationship with Tom was a mere blip. But, it serves as a constant reminder of a time when I didn’t recognize myself, and that didn’t feel very good.