Rent-A-Friend is like an escort service, except it's platonic and just for hanging out. And weirder.
If, like me, you're wondering why this beats one of those "looking for friends" posts on Craigslist: I don't know. Unless you're looking for "friends" with particular business savvy. Does rentafriend.com somehow screen its potential friends, or match you by interest? Doesn't seem to!
And yet: here it is. Whether you're looking for a wingman, someone to accompany you to a psychic, go ballooning, or attend a family function (no, all these activities are listed) Rentafriend has someone for you! You simply browse profiles, choose a chum, and — for a price — they're yours. And, yes, sex is off the table — although the whole thing seems pretty unregulated.
Curious, I signed on and entered my zipcode, looking for women only. A wide range of profiles popped up, although the only one who really caught my eye — "Irma," a 70-something draped in much costume jewelry — stated explicitly that she was looking for "seniors friends" An artist named Jane seemed cool, but the idea of forcing her to go out with me for money seemed like a bad foot on which to get started.
Not that it's always strictly quid pro quo. While some charge a flat rate plus expenses (escort-style), others are more flexible. A reporter from the BBC essays a friend-rental, and her date, Jenny, assures her that "she rarely charges the people who hire her. Instead she opts to let them pay for whatever social activity they get up to - bowling, dinner, the cinema, drinks." And she adds, "I'd definitely be open to transitioning from being a rented friend to a regular friend, but I haven't met anyone I like enough to do that yet." While one's tempted to ask what's in it for her — besides a movie and a free drink — I suppose if someone's looking to expand her circle and doesn't mind a little weirdness, why not do it on the cheap?
But whatever my misgivings, clearly others don't share them: the site's going like gangbusters and has expanded to a number of different countries. When you look at the site — which talks about the big money renters can make by constant friend-dating — I guess it's not hard to see why. And if you're new in town or feeling isolated, hooking up with someone who has to be there might be better than nothing. But hand-wringing about human connection aside, the whole thing seems rife with potential pitfalls — and, let's just say it, creeps. Presumably the refund policy is equally straightforward.