Saturday, 21 February 2009

A A Gill on Gold-diggers: Wealth, sex and money vampires

http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/relationships/article5661019.ece

I know a man who never married. He’s not gay, hideous or furious, he doesn’t have eczema, halitosis, a twitch, a stammer or deformed genitalia. He doesn’t live with his mother or in Bolton, he isn’t a Scientologist or a plane-spotter or an amateur taxidermist, and I’ve never heard him play the harmonica. He is independently wealthy, attractive, cultured, amusing, kind and popular. He always has a girlfriend. Each of these relationships trundles along, as relationships will, to that point where commitments have to be undertaken, irrevocable decisions made, a collective future mapped and fenced, questions must be asked that involve diamonds, placement cards and singing Love Divine All Love Excelling. And at that point, he shies. Invariably, inevitably, they are gently dumped and depart, and he will wax sentimental about the sadness of the split, the fatal flaws in the relationship, the tiny cracks that might have grown to marital fissures. They will, he says blandly, always remain friends. Just as some women are born bolters, so some men are destined to be refusers.

The truth is, his objections are excuses and a smoke screen. The real reason he can’t sign up to Darby and Joandom is because he fears that all women are only really after his wealth and the family silver, the frugally milked blue-chip portfolio and his handmade shirts. Any woman he fancies must, as heads follow tails, be out to pick his pocket and empty the safe. He knows that the evolutionary purpose of every woman is to find a male, steal his sperm, fleece him, skin him and throw him back, a broken and shivering pauper. My friend is extreme, but he’s not alone.

Along with all the unflattering binary stereotypes that men (and a good many women) still secretly have of women — madonna and harlot, slag and cock-teaser, bluestocking dyke and knickerless bimbo — the gold-digger is the most abiding of all the fearful harpies of feverish male fantasies. Only the gold-digger doesn’t seem like a prejudice, more a living myth: the undead money vampire without a shadow, stalking the unwary and the unworldly. It’s not just men who believe this; women collude in the gothic story of stone-hearted, calculator-souled asset-strippers who will pump their bodies and your assets.

But there are women equally as scheming and single-minded who see it as their calling to train rich and vulnerable men in how to avoid being taken to the financial cleaners by dirty girls. They have a company called Seventy Thirty.

With my dyslexic innumeracy, I Googled 7:30 and was told that this is the time that medication is dispensed in American prisons and has become slang for a nutter. Seventy Thirty, on the other hand, is a dating agency, and apparently means “the ideal work-pleasure balance”, though I would have said, as a rank amateur, that that’s probably the wrong way round.

I took some of my downtime and spent it on a visit to Seventy Thirty’s Victorian offices in a block that houses intimate hedge funds and bijou Arab investors. Their suite is anonymous and sparse, decorated with photographs of Rhodesian ridgebacks (dogs, not women). The telephone never rang. I was confronted by three women, like the witches of Mayfair. They had the polished, gimlet expression and maquillage of postfeminist middle management, each dressed in what you might call Swiss Army black, outfits that can be taken out in any social commercial setting while still flaunting just enough slit cleavage and struggling buttock to imply that there was plenty of 30 to get to know after the 70. They were women who’d made the most of themselves.

The company was started by Susie Ambrose (not the name she was given at birth). She’s a Serb with an accent that, despite what it’s saying, is really telling you to dig your own shallow grave. And there was another girl from Northern Ireland whose accent said much the same, and a psychologist from Portsmouth. Tellingly, all were single, and all the children of happy marriages whose parents had managed to meet each other without calling in the professionals.

This is a very expensive dating agency: “We find partners for high-net-worth individuals.” High-net-worth sounds so much wealthier than just plain stinking rich. “Over a million.” Not including your house, I offer helpfully. “Of course, liquid assets, we do thorough check.” How? “On Google, in Sunday Times Rich List.”

“I’m in that.” (Not actually in the list, just hanging round the edges.)
“We ask for bank balance, we always visit at home.” Really? Your self-made multimillionaire or lonely oligarch invites you round to his so that you can cast a bailiff’s eye over the fixtures and fittings and rummage through his utilities and offshore accounts? She shrugs in a Serbian way. “We provide very important service.”

And how much would that cost exactly? “Depending on the extras, life coaching etc, etc, and your package, between £10,000 and £60,000 a year.” That is a lot.

“I have client who says, ‘This is bargain compared to 50% of all I own that gold-digging bitch might take off me in a divorce.’ We work for men that have very little time.

"And we have a wide network of people who look for suitable girls. We vet them, check their background, qualification, school, friends, family, health, and interview them to make sure they’re not gold-digger.”

Don’t they mind you being so intrusive, after some stranger’s just met them at the Chelsea Flower Show or Henley? “Of course not!” gasps Susie Ambrose with astonishment. “They might meet a great, wealthy man — of course they don’t mind,” which I thought rather contradicted the emphasis on not employing gold-diggers.

What do most men want? This is apparently a redundant question. They all roll their eyes — all men want the same thing, of course. The purpose of these women here is to redirect them to want what’s good for them, or what they can get. The most important thing, I’m told, is shared goals and morality, and not too big an age difference — no 50-year-old men who just want 25-year-old girls, “We tell them this is not going to work.”

Okay, pretend I’m a client. How old do you think I am? She examines me through slitted eyes.

“You’re about my age: 42, 44. You’re looking at maximum 10 years’ difference for life partner.” So, 32, then. A pretty, smart sensualist who’ll eat anything and never get headaches. “We could find suitable, yes.

Most of our clients get engaged after two or three introductions.”
Really? “Yes.” Really and truly? “Yes.”

So how do I identify a gold-digger? I rather want them to say, “That will be £6,000,” and after I’ve signed the cheque wave a finger at me and say, “Let that be a lesson to you.” Instead Trudy Hill, the psychologist from Portsmouth, runs me through mercenary-spotting, which is a bit like a cross between the 1970s Cosmo quiz and the KGB service manual.

"Beware of girls who are overly flirtatious, who are overtly sexual, who are underdressed and have a lot of labels. Beware of girls who have discovered what you do and what you own within 10 minutes. Beware of girls who apparently have no ambition or goals beyond being with you, who flirt without knowing you or discovering if you’re single. Beware of girls who may try to get you to pay for something small but generous.”

I’m sorry, but you have just described every lap dancer in the world. What should I do to avoid attracting the undead? “Don’t flash your wealth — no Ferrari keys on the table. Don’t boast about the boat or the Bentley, don’t offer absurdly extravagant things on first dates, like flying to Rome or picking her up in a Rolls-Royce.” (I feel bad about this. I once had a Rolls-Royce and if I hadn’t picked her up in that, it would have been the bus. The bus was faster.)

As they say, you can’t cheat an honest man and you can’t fleece a modest one. The one thing the gold-digger and the gold-dug have in common is that they are both unhealthily obsessed with worldly possessions and money. They both think happiness can be bought and that everything has a price. “These girls often are sad and have psychological problems — money is medication and compensation.”

Next I’m given a quick run-through on body language — how to spot liars and frauds through hand movements, face-touching, space-invading and eye contact. This is complicated and about as accurate as horoscopes. Lack of eye contact may indicate fibs, but then so can intense eye contact.

There is a more sophisticated and arcane runic code in eye positioning. Apparently, you can’t get your eyeballs to lie for you. So, mostly people remembering something will look up to the left — or maybe it’s up to the right — while if they’re making something up, they’ll look down to the right, or maybe it’s over to the left.

But to ascertain this you need to ask test questions, like the default setting for a lie detector. I imagine the insecure, socially inept, time-strapped hedge-fund geek, with an erection like a frozen Mars bar, getting some half-naked Ukrainian lingerie model he’s just met at Mahiki, shining a torch in her face and saying, “What colour underwear are you wearing? Can you remember your first pet? Is your mother still alive?” before getting on with his chat-up, along the lines of “Have you ever had sex in a Lear jet?”

Seventy Thirty say they do this for women as well, but it’s plainly a male deal. As the therapist gives me the body-language chat, she starts practising mirroring. This is imitating the body language of the person you’re talking to. It can be an unconscious ploy to increase empathy and feelings of warmth and attraction. I stop listening, and slowly organise my arms and legs into an ever-more-elaborate origami. Eventually she comes to a stop and we face each other across the table, looking like a Soviet- realist statue to the joys of peasant dancing.

“You’re quite a hard man to read,” she says.

Isn’t there, I ask, a natural fairness in a girl with a marketable personal value bartering it to her best advantage? She is, after all, sitting quite literally on a decreasing asset. Don’t absurd wealth and fantasy nubility deserve each other? Young, fungible girls who marry ancient Croesuses are regularly, collectively and publicly branded merciless hookers and no better than they should be. But nobody ever castigates the English aristocracy, who for generations made unseemly forays to America to carry off heiresses and marry them to their feckless, chinless, sexually incontinent elder sons. Nobody, particularly no woman, ever spares a smidgen of sympathy for the young girl, over-endowed with all the sensual bait, who can’t be employed or taken seriously as anything other than a sexual functionary.

Recently, someone in China asked 1,000 women how their sex lives were. Turns out, the girls sleeping with rich men had more orgasms. The implication was that the richer they were, the bigger, fuller, deeper and more extravagant their comings became. In fact, anyone considering sharing a knee-trembler with Lakshmi Mittal might take the precaution of having their heart checked out first.

I had to ask: wouldn’t a very, very rich man be pissed off by a girl who took no interest in his financial achievement or thought that the fruit of 70% of his life was unimportant and boring? If you claim that shared values are the secret of a happy marriage, an unswerving belief in the goodness of cash and faith in luxury labels and entitlement can lead to a long, happy and vacuous relationship. Isn’t this, after all, what’s kept Europe’s royal families so entranced with each other for 1,000 years?

So, on balance, is money a help or a hindrance to a happy life? “Well?,” Trudy Hill started to say, “it depends on the person and the circumstances.” No, no, this is the crux of Seventy Thirty. Tell me, in your experience. She looked down and to the right. “Mostly it’s a hindrance. It doesn’t do what it promises.”

Money’s promise is that it will do everything, make everything better and best. And apparently all it does is give her noisier orgasms. Most very rich men mind women taking half their cash in divorce settlements because it makes them look like fools. It makes them look like McCartney mugs. I bet most of them would pay far more to be made to look like Ubermenschen.

There was once a very rich celebrity who was caught tupping a tart by the News of the World. They confronted him with the snaps and the cash-hungry girl’s kiss-and-tell. It would probably end his marriage and certainly make lunch with the in-laws uncomfortable. But he said he wouldn’t go to court as long as the slapper’s story emphatically and breathlessly stated that he was a seven-times-a-night man, hung like a deformed carthorse, with a technique that induced hallucinations of ecstasy and visions of God.

Ever since his first paper round at 13, he’d worked relentlessly to pile up fame and cash. And this was precisely the reputation he wanted it to buy for him.

Rich men get gold-diggers because gold-diggers are the hallmark of their value. A high-net-worth personal dating service is another thing rich men like — a label with expensive packaging.

AA Gill is 54.

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