Reality TV has always been mindless fun for me. From Blind Date, to Rock of Love, to The Bachelor, I remember some of my earliest ideas of relationships, unfortunately, came from reality television. Imagine my heartbreak when I’d learn that most of these shows weren’t reality at all, but heavily edited shows where good-looking actors would pantomime tableaus of idealized or salacious relationships. I fell out of love with Reality TV for years, but more recently became obsessed with a show, which is slightly more based in reality, called 90 Day Fiancé. A particular couple on the most recent season of the spin off, Before the 90 Days, has me thinking about some of my very real experiences with dating as a former sex worker.
The story of Mike and Ximena starts just like most of the couples on the show. 34-year-old Mike met 24-year-old Ximena on a dating app by changing his location from New York City to Colombia. The couple dated virtually for over a year before he decided to finally visit her in her hometown of Pereira, Colombia. When they first met, things seemed to go well. Mike had been supporting her, her two children from a previous relationship, and her family in the small home they shared for much of their relationship. Ximena’s father is protective of her, but it’s clear that Mike is a trade up from her previous spouse who was a hitman. In the situation she’s in, it’s clear that Mike can provide Ximena with much-needed stability.
When we first meet Mike, he’s presented to us as a bumbling fool with extremely limited relationship experience. He lives in New York City taking care of his father and grandfather and it’s clear that he’s ready to move beyond this phase and settle down with a wife and children. In Ximena, he finds an instant family; so, when her father gives his approval for their marriage, we’re excited to see things trending in a positive direction. However, cracks start to form in the relationship when Ximena notices habits that she isn’t too fond of. Namely his cleanliness and how frequently he passes gas in front of and sometimes even on top of her. Mike begs Ximena several times for sex and while she doesn’t’ seem enthusiastic about it, she eventually relents, and they have sex a few times on his visit. The first visit ends on a positive, yet unclear note. When he returns to New York City, Mike hears less and less from Ximena and the passion between them seems to have waned. When he returns, she seems less interested in being around him; even telling him to stop following her around, at some point. This confuses Mike, and as the audience, we become frustrated with the fact that Ximena seems to have taken his money but didn’t want to be around him. She becomes, like many other cast members before her, simply a gold digger looking to use him for a green card. Quite abnormally, he takes her shopping for a wedding dress. While she enjoys trying on the dresses, she says that the money he wants to spend on the wedding should instead be spent on her $5,000 breast implants. Mike refuses and starts to feel used, and as the audience, we feel bad for him because he was presented as a decent, innocent guy who was naively swindled by his international bride. But this wasn’t exactly the case.
When Mike and Ximena break up for the first time, we discover a truth about their relationship. For many audience members, this revelation would completely shift the narrative around the relationship. Before the breakup, we heard that Ximena stopped working when they became official, but we don’t really know what her job was. Tempers flare when Ximena clearly communicates that she wants absolutely nothing to do with him and that she’d like for him to leave her home. This is when Mike’s mask really starts slipping. He tells her that she’s making the biggest mistake in her life. He could have helped her learn English, move to America, have a better life for her children, etc., but she’s walking away from it all. He threatens to take away everything he’s ever given her, including the things he’s purchased for her children. Ximena does not seem phased by these threats at all, so he tries to twist the knife deeper by outing her on the show as a cam girl and saying to her “so are you going to go back to that adult modeling job?”. This was, of course constructed to upset and hurt Ximena, but she has absolutely no shame in her game and responds back with “That’s how you met me. What’s wrong with that?”.
See, Mike didn’t meet Ximena on a dating site like he had said. He met her on a cam girl website where he was her top doner. When they decided to become serious, he told her that the condition of him paying for all her things was that she stopped camming and remained exclusive to him. For me, this completely recontextualized their entire relationship. It explains why she was hesitant to have sex with him; he believed he was entitled to it because he was paying her rent. It explains why she expected him to pay for her breast implants; he told her to stop working, so she could not pay for them herself. It explains why she was so willing to maintain the fantasy of a person who wanted marriage, when, she didn’t. On the recent tell-all, she was bombarded with insults from other cast members; some of whom have relationships worse than hers. It’s clear to me that many people do not understand their dynamic, nor the complexities of being a cam girl so I figured I’d give a bit of insight into what can frequently be a very confusing world.
I’ll preface everything I’m saying with the acknowledgement that I only did sex work for a very short period; 3 months. I didn’t last very long because the job was far more than I could handle. It really taught me just how much sex work was work. Contrary to what a lot of people would like to believe, camming is not easy, and it is not as simple as sitting in front of a camera, looking cute and getting paid. When you’re a cam girl, your job is about 20% looking good and I’d say 80% maintaining relationships with members of your audience. For many cam girls that often means having to really engage in these deep parasocial relationships with men who need to feel as though they are truly in a relationship with you. The audience of cam girl sites have very short attention spans so being a cam girl also means constantly having to change your appearance or aesthetic to either keep your current audience engaged or to find a newer one. In that way, your body can sometimes feel like it’s not exactly yours. A lot of girls will go as far as to getting plastic surgery to change their image and to have a new gimmick for their customers. The goal for most cam girls is to find a few dedicated clients they can regularly do private shows with, and those clients often pay them enough that they no longer have to do public facing shows on websites like Chaturbate. Those types of clients are also more appealing because these days, there are websites that automatically record and repost public cam shows, which tend to satisfy the casual browser who isn’t looking for the interaction some other clients seem to need. Those clients are frequently very lonely men who want to feel like the girl they’re paying has some sort of true investment in them. You learn quickly that some of these guys just want someone to talk to, and I remember some of my private shows felt more like therapy sessions than actual cam girl encounters. I didn’t last long because I couldn’t maintain the façade of a woman trying to date these men and frankly everything, they wanted from me, made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and camming drastically altered my sexuality to the point where I didn’t enjoy what I once enjoyed sexually. However, the girls that accelerate at this job are great at compartmentalizing and I believe what we saw on this season of Before the 90 days was someone no longer being able to do that and trying to “fire” her client.
Clients like Mike are fascinating in a way because they end up in this position because they want to believe that they aren’t like the other men in the audience. They’ve convinced themselves that somehow the girl on the other side of the computer doesn’t want their money, but their companionship. While there are plenty of cam girls who enjoy exhibitionism, you usually don’t end up working as a cam girl just because you enjoy being looked at. Frankly, there are easier jobs that are far more enjoyable if that’s your desire. I started camming at 19 because I was desperate. A man approached me at a party and offered me the job. I meditated on it for a while before deciding that it was the easiest way for me to make money without leaving my dorm. I would still be able to keep up with my studies and I could finally afford books for school. My family stopped supporting me after I came out to them as transgender, and I needed money; I was desperate. Not every cam girl is like that, but that’s not all too uncommon. Often, these men are also desperate, but they have what these girls usually want: money. This places them in a position of power and for some men, that’s why cam girls appeal to them. They enjoy feeling needed and desired and most men are socialized to believe that providing financially for a woman makes them more masculine. When you mix all of that together and add the numerous intimate conversations they have over an extended period, these men can very quickly feel like they are in an actual relationship. And of course, this is the goal of most cam girls. With little exception, cam girls cannot just sit and demand money without being seen as money hungry and these men, paradoxically, don’t want to feel as though they are being used for their money. It’s in a cam girl’s best interest to maintain ongoing relationships with their clients that feel like an actual romantic relationship. These men are more likely to become personally invested when they get the impression that they are needed and desired by their favorite cam girl. Mike wanted Ximena to become exclusive to him because he felt emasculated by other men paying to see “his woman.” Partners of sex workers usually must accept that their partners are working and what they do isn’t connected to their sexuality in a way that impacts their personal relationships. As I said, sex workers usually compartmentalize in this way, but that’s hard for most people to understand.
I understand how this is all seen as very manipulative because, in a way, it is. However, cam girls provide a service to men who tend to struggle finding relationships that many would consider to be “normal”. You see in the way Mike approaches Ximena that he believed his money would buy intimacy and closeness. He very uncritically accepts the responsibility of being a father, but then expresses callousness at the idea of tossing Ximena’s children on the street if she doesn’t comply. That isn’t the mindset of someone who wants to form a deep, meaningful, loving relationship where he knows and understands his partner. These are the actions of a man who simply wants to exchange his money for intimacy, not truly build it. On top of that, the unfortunate reality is that cam girls very rarely show you the reality of who they are because they are selling a fantasy to their audience. I failed as a cam girl because I couldn’t simply come on camera, be myself and do what I wanted to do and nothing else. That’s boring to these men, and I made very little money doing what I did, which of course made me feel very exploited and terrible about myself. Being a cam girl often means taking on a character and this character just happens to be complimentary to whichever client is willing to pay consistently and the most. So, while these men certainly feel like they’re making a connection, they aren’t really. It’s clear that Mike has a very hard time comprehending this and most people do, but at the end of the day, Ximena didn’t join a cam site to find a boyfriend, she joined it to make money. Assuming otherwise is naive.
Mike using Ximena’s sex work history against her is a clear sign that he doesn’t truly accept her as a sex worker and it’s obvious that he would have preferred for that to have remained a secret because he was ashamed of how they met. Mike demonstrates the very bizarre way that many men who pursue sex workers romantically live within this dichotomy where on one hand, they appreciate and utilize sex work, but truly look down on those who do it. Mike couldn’t believe It when Ximena seemed completely comfortable going back to sex work and frankly, I see her desire to have breast implants as a sign that she may have already been planning to do so. From what I can tell, Ximena enjoys doing sex work and its sex work that has helped her provide for her family and children for so long. It’s what she knows and she’s comfortable doing it. A lot of men, like Mike pursue sex workers and international relationships because they enjoy being in relationships with women whom they assume will need them because of how financially destitute they are. It’s clear to me that Mike struggled to process that someone like Ximena could have the audacity to reject him, which is why when she tried to break up with him, he listed off all the things he could do for her financially and not his loving feelings for her.
According to the Tell-All show, Mike and Ximena haven’t broken up and he’s still financially providing for her and her family. You can tell watching how Mike shrinks into his seat during the confrontation on the tell-all show that he doesn’t exactly appreciate people criticizing their relationship. He wants to be with Ximena despite the many times she’s said to him that she doesn’t love him; even on that very tell-all show. While he struggles to say it out loud, he knows to some degree that their relationship is transactional and that the only way it will continue is if he continues to financially provide for her. This seems like a dysfunctional relationship to most of us, but for him, it’s the closest he’s ever been to being in a “real” relationship and he’s terrified of losing it. Like a lot of people on the show, Mike is willing to stay in a relationship that isn’t great because he probably believes it’s the last time in his life, he’ll be able to be in a similar relationship. Ximena isn’t going to turn down a good thing and she couldn’t have been clearer about her disinterest in him. At this point, it’d be hard to argue that she’s been dishonest.
To be clear, I don’t want this post to sound like a huge defense of Ximena because she certainly made a lot of mistakes in this relationship; but their relationship demonstrated what occurs in relationships where one partner is a sex worker, and the other doesn’t quite accept it. Mike’s façade fell when he realized Ximena was willing to walk away from him and that she wasn’t desperate or destitute in the way he imagined. When he said her children could have been on the street, she simply laughed and said that was never going to happen. Mike struggled to understand that wasn’t her situation. It was hard to watch so many people yell at Ximena for not falling in line because Mike paid for her rent for over a year. My perception is that Ximena might have been willing to try to truly fall in love with Mike, but his habits and his pushiness turned her off and annoyed her. The most realistic thing said between them was that “love” is a very big word. She couldn’t say she loved someone she barely spent physical time with. That’s a reasonable thing to say, but other cast members with completely unreasonable relationships, of course, saw it as reasonable.
Personally, I respect that many people would not want to date a sex worker, but I think it’s silly to start a relationship with one, offer to pay them enough money that they no longer need to work and then shame them for needing your money and taking it when offered. We now know that Ximena has moved on from Mike and is engaged to another man, but I don’t think Mike will be making any such plans any time soon.