For Camila Mendes, the key to a successful relationship is simple. “I think communication is everything, and not feeling ashamed of your feelings,” she told MTV News. “The more you share with your partner about where you’re at emotionally, the better it is for the relationship and the more the other person will feel comfortable to share their feelings.”
This position holds true for any type of relationship, be it romantic, platonic, or even transactional — like those she partakes in in her latest movie, The New Romantic.
In the indie flick, on iTunes and VOD now, Mendes plays Morgan, a sugar baby who introduces student journalist Blake (Jessica Barden) to the plush lifestyle. For the uninitiated, a sugar relationship is one in which a younger person (sugar baby) enters a relationship with an older, wealthy person (sugar daddy/momma) — complete with whatever relationship benefits both parties agree upon, from platonic hangouts to sex — in exchange for gifts or money.
It’s an arrangement that sounds pretty far from the romance we’re used to championing onscreen. Although, the way the actress sees it, sugaring isn’t so different from traditional relationships, and her passionate reasoning in support of the pay-to-play arrangement is actually pretty feminist.
“I think if anything all we need to do is just accept the fact that these women have the right to decide for themselves what they want to do,” she said. (For the record, Mendes does identify as a feminist — “Of course, absolutely I do” — particularly when it comes to “being fully comfortable with my sexuality and not feeling any shame about it.”)
It’s a stance Mendes has been developing for years. In college, long before she ever saw a script for The New Romantic, her social circle provided her with a wealth of second-hand knowledge. “There was one girl who I was better friends with, she would share her stories,” Mendes recalled. “She had no shame about it whatsoever. For her, it was kind of empowering. She used to always say it’s taking advantage of a flawed system or turning the situation on its head.”
To illustrate the similarities between a sugar relationship and a traditional courtship, let’s start with what matters to Mendes: communication. Creating an open and honest dialogue comes into play right at the onset of any sugar daddy/baby bond, when both sides establish what they are willing to contribute to the relationship. “If anything, the difference is that the sugar-baby date is way more definitive and clear about what the relationship is,” she said.
In terms of the actual dating of it all, much like any relationship, Mendes deemed sugaring a “case-by-case situation,” noting that a sugar baby is in complete control of who she sees, when she sees them, what she does with them, and how much she’s compensated — or, to put it another way, her worth.
“I learned that a lot with my friend who was a sugar baby,” Mendes said. “She’d talk about certain situations … like she’ll immediately recognize when she’s not comfortable with a person … and then she would cut off that connection immediately. But then there were people that she actually was attracted to and that she wanted to go on dates with, you know?”
As the movie also points out, it’s not like sugar babies are creating entirely new dating decorum. “There already is this kind of inherent cultural dynamic where men seem to feel like they need to provide for a woman and they pay for all the dinners and blah blah blah,” Mendes argued. “I’m not saying that that’s how it should be, but given that that is a pretty normal dynamic that people want to adhere to, it’s like, well, then what difference does it make if it’s a sugar baby going on a date?”
So essentially, a sugar baby/daddy relationship complies with long-established social conventions, using mutually agreed-upon relationship guidelines so that both consenting parties feel their value is fully appreciated and are, thus, happy in their dynamic. Sure, it requires assigning a price to every action, but all relationships require some kind of give-and-take.
As Mendes noted, “It’s redefining the romance.”