6 Realities Of Working As A Friend-For-Hire
As we get more and more lonely, the free market has helpfully filled the void. Many websites now offer "rentable friends." Craigslist has its own somewhat creepy section for general hangouts. This isn't some obscure niche anymore. Rent-A-Friend alone has over 600,000 professional friends on call.
So what's it like to be a professional buddy to people who, for one reason or another, can't find friends the normal way? It's weird as hell! At times, anyway. "John" has served over a hundred clients as a rented friend, and he shared some war stories with us.
One Guy Wanted To Play In The McDonald's Ball Pit
It's not that every person paying for friendship is too creepy for normal society, but some of them totally are. "I had a friend match who wanted to go to a McDonald's ... He was in his 40s and had on a parka even though it was in the 70's," says John. "As an icebreaker, I asked him about it, and he said it was to keep him warm. It was bad vibes, but I brushed that aside. Maybe he was really cold."
See, the thing is, lots of people paying for companionship have real trouble getting it otherwise. It often doesn't take long to find out why. "We ordered and he talked. No surprise, because most 'friends' love to talk. It was most about San Francisco, and we shared what we liked about the city. Then he said 'Let's go in the playplace.'" You know, the little play area where customers send their kids?
"Before I could say maybe we shouldn't, he took off his shoes and jumped with a huge belly flop into the ball pit, narrowly missing a toddler. The parents, quite rightly, said he should get out, but he threw a few plastic balls at them. I told him, 'Hey, maybe we should go back to eating,' but he tried to get me to join him. The manager came in after a parent complained and told him to get out. He did, and said, 'You're no fun at all.' We walked out and he sat back down, eating as if nothing had happened, even with the manager eyeing us in a way that said 'Leave now.'"
Well ... maybe the guy's just a child at heart? "When we left, he then suggested that we wear each others shirts. I said no, as kindly as I could, and he said, 'You're no fun.' Then he floated the idea of following around a random person and seeing how long it would take before they noticed and walked faster or ran. I had to say no again, because that is creepy as fuck. Thankfully he said, 'I know the site said we had a lot in common, but I'm not seeing it.'"
Thus, their friend date ended before one or both of them wound up in the back of a squad car.
One Guy Pretended To Drown
That is not an isolated example. Offer your friendship for cash, and you get a dazzling array of folks who just ... don't know to be around people. Maybe if they were wealthy, they'd just be called eccentric?
"A 'friend' said he wanted to go swimming at the beach," says John of another client. "I thought that sounded fun. And it was fun, at first. Then he pretended to drown."
Like, this is a bit he does? To break the ice? "I freaked out, and me and another man pulled him out. He looked dead, and the man who helped him out started calling 911. Then my 'friend' said, 'Gotcha!' and started laughing and went back into the ocean. The man who helped said, 'What the fuck is his problem?!' I told him I didn't know, because I didn't."
It's sad when you meet someone who seems fundamentally incapable of reading a room, but you have to admire the dedication. "Later he pretended to fall asleep at the wheel when there was an awkward pause in the conversation. He acted like it wasn't a big deal and gave me a perfect score, but I told the admin [of the rental service] that I didn't want to see him again."
One Guy Used His Bare Hands To Eat At A High-End Restaurant
The French Laundry, despite the confusing name, is one of the top restaurants in the world. It has Michelin stars, and the cheaper meals can run you about a month's worth of rent (or if you're in San Francisco, about five days' worth). So when a client offers to buy dinner for you there, what's the worst that can happen? Then again, you'd think somebody who could afford that place would already have someone to eat with ...
"We got into the French Laundry, and we had a good conversation going. He was mainly talking at me, but it sounded like he needed a release. Then his salad came, complete with special silverware." Specifically, a chilled fork. Yes, it's that kind of place. "He literally grabbed the entire salad in his hands and started eating it like a sandwich." This is an amazing mental image. It seems like you could totally get teenagers to eat salad if you told them this was an option.
"I thought it was a fluke, or even that it was made to be eaten that way, but the next dish was fish and he ate it like that again. Then pasta. Everything. He didn't even wipe his hands ..." John didn't want to piss the guy off, so he waited until afterward to say anything. "He just told me, 'Nah. If they can't accept me like this, they aren't good people.' During the entire meal, others were just staring. Like, Silicon Valley, Napa types ... he kept repeating that every food was finger food, and that 'People who mind it are wrong.'"
We're pretty sure half of you think this guy is gross, and the other half now consider him a personal hero. "It was incredible," says John. "And disgusting."
One Guy Needed Companionship On A Stakeout
Other times, it's people who may have friends, but are embarking on activities you really can't invite a buddy to.
"I had a private investigator hire me so that he would have a 'friend' to talk to on a stakeout. We were literally parked outside an apartment building all night because he hated to be alone ... He actually told me that he used to go on his tablet and go on the internet, but he missed having someone to talk to. So that's what happened. He picked me up, and he talked to me for several hours about this and that. He obviously needed to get some things off his chest."
Well, that's nice ...
"But then he said he felt scared sometimes while on stakeouts, so that was another layer ... he told me, man-to-man, that he wanted someone else in the car in case something happened. He specifically said, 'So someone can call my mom for me if I get hurt.'"
Here's where a cynical person could say that the guy just didn't want to sacrifice one of his actual friends, should things go south. "And since we were watching the house of someone deep in debt for some company, it got me wondering whether this situation could get violent, and if that's why he needed someone else. I kept thinking we'd be killed that entire night."
People Keep Thinking It's An Undercover Dating Site
In a world in which you have to be coy about advertising escorts, it's common to find customers who don't know they're renting a friend; they think they're renting a "friend." One woman who insisted on hitting on John kind of wouldn't take no for an answer.
"Even after I told her, she kept trying to be seen and have her picture taken with me on her phone to prove that she had a boyfriend. She also tried kissing me, but every time, I told her, 'Friend rental. I'm not allowed to do that.' She'd complain and call me a prude, but she'd wait until people passed by to hear ... I did everything I could to give a quick goodbye and fast-walk onto the train."
He says he was hit on by guys too. It's one of those things that is probably inevitable with a service like this, but it's a rule they can't break, not even once. Word gets around. "We're actually warned about it. My site is worried about its reputation going from 'friends' to 'friends with benefits,' and we're told not to have a date when we're working. When we're not being paid, we can hook up with them if we'd like, but not during."
It's the kind of thing you have to avoid if you don't want the cops kicking down your door, even if you're just providing a service that lots of lonely people desperately want. But there's always one service they want even more ...
So Many Are Just Desperate For Someone To Listen
In this era, it doesn't matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make. There's a fair chance that you don't have a single person you can confide in. When customers say they just want someone to hang with for a day, what they often really want is someone, anyone, to help share their burden.
"A 'friend' I was matched with had tickets to a beer festival ... As soon as we met, he started talking about how his business had gone bankrupt and he didn't know what to do. It killed any good feelings I had. He was in a business I knew nothing about, and he kept explaining parts of it to me. It required a lot of importing from China, and he knew all the laws and procedures."
Here's where you get a crash course on how to be a good listener. Step 1: Be there and listen while the person talks. Step 2: Don't worry about Step 2, since most people can't manage the first one.
"He had been in a dark mood, but as we talked about it, he would say, 'Wait, I could do this,' and start writing something down. My ignorance on his work made him go through what he was doing. By the time the festival was closing, we were both drunk, but he had scribbled down plans to make a new company."
John looked the guy up later. It at least appeared that he'd followed up on his plan. He hadn't needed somebody to give advice, or reassure him, or impart knowledge. He literally just needed a working pair of ears. "Other times," says John, "it becomes a confessional, them outpouring all their anxiety and fears and everything. Like half are about being worried about the future ... When I get these, I always know what's coming. It will be drinking and outpouring after a few."
Another time he got matched with a woman for an afternoon, and it turned out she was going to have to give up the pet dog she was struggling to care for. She had to make a gut-wrenching decision, and just wanted someone to be there when she did it. John had to watch her pack up this sad dog and drive it to the shelter.
These are the hard things that can't be done over Snapchat, the low points in life when, above all else, we just need someone to be there. Paying for such a service is less than ideal (some of you probably think it's downright dystopian), but considering how many of John's clients became real unpaid friends later -- about 30 of them, by his count -- maybe this is just the way it is now. There are definitely worse things to spend money on.
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