Every so often one comes across a website with a premise that sounds like it was pulled straight from an SNL sketch. Such was the case when a friend tipped me off to the shockingly bluntly-titled site RentAFriend.com. Visitors to the site will see an aesthetically concerning front page. RentAFriend looks pulled straight out of the Geocities era and it doesn’t do much to dissuade you of that notion with its pages of stock photos and overall lack of polish.
The site purports to be a virtual platform for people around the world to hire another human being as a platonic companion.
“Hire someone to introduce you to new people, or someone to go to a movie or a restaurant with. Hire a Friend to show you around a new town, teach you a new skill/hobby, or just someone for companionship,” the front page encourages.
I wondered what would it be like to actually be one of the individuals who found himself for hire? Would it be like being a background extra? Probably more involved than that. Would I have to do whatever the other person asked? Well, no. Of course not. Slavery has been illegal for some time now. Would the other person make sexual advances towards me, despite the site’s firm insistence that “RentAFriend.com is strictly a platonic Friendship website. RentAFriend.com is NOT a dating website, and NOT an Escort agency. Services on RentAFriend.com are strictly for FRIENDSHIP purposes only.” Probably. This is the internet after all.
Despite the weirdness of it all, I decided to whip up a profile for myself and see if anyone out there wanted to rent out my friendship services.
I could set my price at anywhere from $10-$50 per hour. Ever the diplomat, I split the difference and asked for $30. After a few photos were added and I explained that I enjoyed friend-type things like drinks and food and chats, I saved my profile and sat back, waiting for the offers to come in.
It didn’t take long before one guy, who I’ll call Chris, hit me up.
His messages on the site were succinct but not cold. He was an older guy, a lawyer, and even lived in my neighborhood. He asked if I wanted to grab a drink and shoot the shit at a bar I knew well. I cautiously assented to a meet up that night and hoped for the best.
I’ve been on my fair share of first dates and, whether I, Chris, or RentAFriend liked it or not, there were serious parallels to those scenarios and what I was entering into now. I’m a sizable, strong guy, and I didn’t think I was going to be raped and/or murdered by this stranger I was about to me. But, despite my comfort around and acceptance of every stripe of sexual orientation, I was nervous this mystery dude would go against the spirit of the website and find a way to be creepy or make advances.
I arrived at our agreed upon bar on the dot and sat at a table facing the door. After a few minutes with no Chris in sight, I did the cliché Millennial thing and started playing on my phone. Suddenly Chris popped his head out from around a corner.
“Ah, you’re camped out over here, I see.”
I stood up and shook his hand like it was a job interview. I realize now that, at least in the micro sense, it kinda was. Chris was slight, mid-50s, conservatively dressed but a little disheveled. His face and some mannerisms were SHOCKINGLY similar to my own father’s. I have nothing but my own gut intuition to back this up, but he gave off the slightest air of Paul Lynde flamboyance, and the way he smiled with his eyes had me initially wondering if he would indeed cross a line into flirtation that I was not comfortable with, but after a few minutes of chatting, my concerns were assuaged and we settled into a natural, organic convo.
Over the next two hours, my new friend and I chatted about our lives, families, jobs, and Los Angeles. The vibe was good and I’m happy to report my drink even remained unspiked when I came back from a bathroom trip. The only semi-awkward spot came when we approached the end of our time and the issue of payment hung in the air.
“This is my first time. Heh,” I admitted.
“Yeah, me too,” Chris empathized.
He pulled out his wallet, peeled off three twenties and handed them to me without another word or really looking bummed about the exchange.
We chatted a bit more, and he asked if I’d be interested in doing it again sometime. I told him yes, though I didn’t know at the time, and still don’t know if I meant it.
Was this older guy sincerely looking for a real friend in a town where it’s fairly easy to wind up with fake ones? It seemed that way. Maybe in the end, I might not be a good enough sort of friend to give him what he’s after. I guess I’ll know in a week or so when he texts me a “what’s up?”