Dating services and like-minded web sites are virtually everywhere you look in our society. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Now, people that simply would like a new friend have a way to reach out and snag one – or many – using a relatively new online tool.
The web site, RentAFriend.com , concept’s brilliance stems from the pressures of our modern society that is based on the declining importance of community, a plethora of social web sites, loneliness, long work weeks, anxiety, and, lest we forget, the drama of our Great Recession.
There are currently about 108,000 friends for rent on RentAFriend, site founder Scott Rosenbaum says. And it costs nothing to list yourself for hire.
It costs $24.95 a month, however, to shop for friends. There are currently 1,200 paying members, Rosenbaum says. The site is five months old.
Members simply post their online profile with photos, a descriptio, and a list of activities their available for, picked from a master list during registration that includes: Wine tasting, skydiving, hanging out, clubbing, video games, phone calls, visiting psychics, e-mail pen pal, balloon rides, working out, gambling and prom dates, among other diversions.
Hourly rates are negotiable. Payments can be made in advance over PayPal. And, so you don’t get the wrong idea, it’s for friendship only—it’s not a dating site, or an escort site, Rosenbaum says. In fact, physical contact is strictly prohibited during outings. Friends you pay, but can’t touch.
This idea may just be our take on the modern day reincarnation of Thomas Edison. As a whole, we’re a lonely lot. One in four people said they had no close friends in a 2004 survey. Everybody else said they had about two. And that’s down one. In 1985, people reported having three close friends or confidants on average. So in 20 years, we collectively lost a friend, and gained a billion Facebook pals. That’s progress?
Loneliness, research now suggests, contaminates social networks like a cold. A study published by University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo last year showed that loneliness spreads through three degrees of separation. So, if you have a lonely friend, you’re 40-60 percent more likely to feel lonely. If you have a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who’s lonely, you’re still as much as 24 percent more likely to feel lonely.
So maybe Las Vegas has infected itself. The only reason everybody doesn’t feel utterly alone, Cacioppo says, is that we push lonely people to the sidelines—an emotional quarantine. When social groups are mapped, the lonely people are clustered at the outskirts, alone together.
We’ve evolved to be this way. Loneliness is an alarm signal, no different than hunger, Cacioppo says. The feeling exists as a reminder to join the group—there’s safety in numbers, and the gene pool evaporates without people to fill it. So why is loneliness so punishing? Because rejoining a group is delicate. When shunned primates try to rush back into their packs, Cacioppo notes, they’re often attacked or killed. The group doesn’t want your infection.
So the onus is entirely in the lonely person—heal your own wounds, or simply wither away, sooner or later.
Rental friends are big hit in Japan. That’s where RentAFriend founder Rosenbaum got the idea. In the past decade, the number of Japanese companies offering professional surrogates—boyfriends, wives, parents—has apparently doubled.
In Japan, however, the booming rental-friend market has been attributed to culture and economy: The jobless are hiring fake bosses to appear employed, divorced mothers are booking pseudo dads to attend their kids’ baseball games, and in one well-publicized case, a man was hired to attend a wedding and deliver a passionate toast about the bride and groom.
We don’t have this degree of high-stakes social pressures in America, so RentAFriend can’t ride on the shame market. Instead, Rosenbaum emphasizes activity partners. People can use the site to hire workout buddies, he says, for less than it costs to have a professional trainer. People can hire someone for dance classes, or pay locals to show them around a new town.
RentAFriend is Rosenbaum’s full-time job now. He profits from the monthly fees, and has an affiliate program as well—get somebody to start a paying account on RentAFriend, and Rosenbaum will cut you a commission.