Pay For Play, Friendship Style

There was a time when going online to find a mate was considered “weird.” Maybe even pathetic. That time is long gone.

Online dating is standard operating procedure these days. One of my closest friends just got engaged to a fabulous guy she met online. It works, people. But you already know this.

So what about finding friends online? Would you go there?

It seems like new friending sites keep popping up. When I started this blog I quickly learned about GirlfriendCircles.com and GirlfriendSocial.com, which are both basically Match.com for female friendships. Since then I’ve learned about CompanionTree.com, the coed version of a platonic friend-matching site, and… drumroll please…Rentafriend.com.

Yes, it is what it sounds like.

Unless it sounds like an escort service. Because it promises in BIG BOLD LETTERS that it is not a front for any sort of escort situation. It is merely a site in which you pay people to spend time with you. Hmmm. (It bears noting here that the majority of “friends” for hire post pictures that are a bit more than friendly—hello, cleavage!—and the majority of customers “purchase” friends of the opposite sex.)

Here’s how it works. First, you sign up for a monthly membership: $24.95 per month or $69.95 for a full year. Then you can browse potential friends (actually you can do this before you sign up, but you can’t get contact info for your new BFF until you sign up) and see their rate-per-hour, anywhere from $10-$150 per hour (usually $20-$50). Yes, beyond  your membership fee you need to pay the friend directly for whatever time you spend together. Once you spot the profile of your potential bestie, you can contact her by phone or email, and set up your playdate.

I first read about the site on msnbc.com. Apparently it is modeled on “hugely successful sites in Japan and Asia,” and people hire friends for anything from business trip dinner date to weekly companion for their elderly mother. My favorite example in the article? “Two students rented parents to meet with college officials after they were caught drinking on campus.” Um, that’s not hiring friends. That’s hiring actors.

If I sound skeptical, it’s because I am. But the site’s founder, Scott Rosenbaum, says the site receives 100,000 unique page views a month and has nearly 2,000 paying members. Perhaps it will catch on. But isn’t the very nature of friendship reciprocal? We both want to spend time with the other? A partnership of equals?

And what happens after the first friend-date, if you hit it off? Does future companionship come free?

Glutton for punishment—and curious friending guinea pig—that I am, I’d give this site a try. I’ll find the one Chicago lady not shoving her boobs in my face and invite her on an outing. A crowded one. That takes place in broad daylight.

Who knows? It could be like any other girl date. You know, besides the part where I pay her $80 for hanging out with me. Now there’s a confidence booster.

Would you be willing to meet friends online on a site like Girlfriend Circles, Girlfriend Social, or Companion Tree? What about Rent a Friend? Would you try it? Under what circumstances?

25 Comments

Filed under 21st Century Friendships, The Search

25 responses to “Pay For Play, Friendship Style

  1. JenD

    I’d be willing to check out some of these sites in my own BFF search, but probably not the pay-for-play site. Although I kind of like the idea of renting a pleasant family for the holidays…

  2. Are you really going to try it? I’d LOVE to hear your experiences with this. I am totally skeptical.

    • Oh for sure. You know I’d do anything to entertain you guys… and I’m curious! Tune in next Thursday(ish) for the results!

      • Jean

        I can’t wait for that post! Rent-A-Friend is such a weird concept, but I can see how it would have some uses. It seems like it would be really awkward all around.

  3. Christina

    Thanks for the laughs this morning, Rachel! Funny stuff. I agree with JenD. I’d be willing to try out the friendship sites, but def not the rent-a-friend site.

    You pose some great questions: cultivating new friendships is already an interesting task, it might get a little bit sticky what with money being exchanged and all.

    Seems like it may not be the place to find a long-term friendship, but it would make for a very interesting post!

  4. Ash

    I’d def be willing to join the social “girlfriend” sites, but the rent a friend? Wow, have we really come to that?
    I find that fascinating.
    But, who knows. I met my hubby online back when it wasn’t kosher and we had to keep it secret that that was how we met, so you never know!

  5. megan

    Rentafriend is a misnomer. If you have to pay someone to hang out with you, it’s not FRIENDship. I’d be too worried about the potential ‘friend’s’ motivation to give that site a try. Maybe the free ones, though this all makes me very sad about the future of friendship…

    • Lorrie Paige

      My understanding of Rentafriend is that it’s not for to find a genuine friendship, but you clearly pay just to get someone to help you with something (like to help you move for instance…anything a buddy would help you out with) or if you have to have a date for a party, event, etc. and you can’t find a friend to go with, there’s a service to provide someone to go with you. I think something like that has been going on for decades before the term existed.

      I think I’d pay for a service to help me find friends. In some cases, it seems like when there’s money involved, people are more serious about wanting it more than people going to freebie services. People wouldn’t be so wishy-washy and commit more to finding someone if they pay. It’s paying to be more serious and committed to finding someone, not paying to get/buy a friend per se.

      As long as the people who get together are sincere in wanting friendship, I don’t think it matters how you go about it. Whatever works. :)

  6. jendevourerofbooks

    I could definitely see trying the ones that are more like Match.com – I met my husband there, why not a bestie? – but not rentafriend.com. I think I’ll just live vicariously through you on that one.

  7. Betty

    I’d be willing to try out the friendship sites, but I would sure love to hear someone else’s first-hand experiences with it to give us a better idea of how it all works out and what type of results they got.

    I’m not comfortable with the rent-a-friend site, and would not be willing to give that a try. I read an article about it a couple of months ago, and I got the distinct impression that many people who are enrolled as “Friends” on that site do so because it’s an easy way for them to make extra money on the side. Some of them were even charging exorbitant hourly rates. To me, that is not a friendship. It becomes a business transaction, and that is not what I’m looking for.

    • Hi Betty,

      I’ve tried out Girlfriend Circles, and it was a good experience. I’ll write a more detailed post about what it is like if you’d like. But the short version is that I met with a connecting circle, which is a group of 5-7 women and seems to be the first stop on the Girlfriend Circles journey. I didn’t meet my next best friend, but I have seen some of the women since, and everyone was perfectly nice. I’ve been told that it takes about 3 circles to find your people.

  8. Oh wow, this reminds me of teasing friends in elementary school, “Sorry Holly, we can’t hang out today, your mom forget to send the payment.” snicker, snicker…

    I can’t WAIT to hear how it goes for you. Not only do I wonder about people who pay, but what about the people who are willing to be rented out? Are they just as socially inept? Or too big for their britches?

    Good luck!!

    • And not to say you’re socially inept!!! That’s just what I would imagine for someone who really rents a friend… :) (well, except for the out-of-town business dinner companion or friend for homebound mom, that makes sense)

  9. Annie

    That reminds me of an episode of Pushing Daisies with a “frescort” business (friend and escort). What kind of person signs up to be rented as a friend? How do you get hired for that and what determines your hourly rate? So many great questions! Can’t wait to hear about those results!

    If I was in a new city I’d probably try the friend websites.

  10. Rachel, if you are really seriously seeking friendship online to test the waters and see what it’s like, the site you write about sounds like total sketch and, sorry, weird. However, I’ve got a better site that may be right up your alley, and well, any other females out there looking for a place to bring their friends or find friends they just haven’t met yet: SheTaxi.com

    It’s an online vehicle for women to connect, share, learn and laugh. It invites women to join the community with a “come as you are” attitude; leaving the airbrushing and impossible ideals to the way-side. It’s free right now during beta, too!

  11. Suzannah

    Don’t people normally rent things, they want to use once and then return…or can’t afford to keep….so a rent-a-companion, even for evening looks like a waste of money to me….
    the meet new girlfriends site seem like a good idea, and since I believe ladies in general really value friendship….I would betcha some very rewarding relationships have been kindled through those sites…

  12. Jean

    I signed up for GirlFriendCircles.com about 2 months ago. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough women signed up yet in my area (a minimum number of ladies around your age are required before you can be set up with a group), so I’m not sure how good it will be. I have high hopes though.

  13. Julia

    I’d love to hear about your attempt(s) to possibly make friends from craigslist. That’s another venue that tends to be adult-oriented on occasion. But during my time in San Francisco the posters were pretty serious, like one I remember of a woman asking to potentially meet friends with a “Sex in the City” kvetch-and-have-fun style. (Sounds intriuging to me, anyway.) But also is it weird to come together as a group because you answered an ad? Does that feel manufactured? I mean, I can see it going either way, as many a successful band started because of a classified ad. Not to mention if you get a group of gfs out of it, you can all laugh and say, “Remember back in 2010 when we met on CRAIGSLIST??”

    What say you, Rachel?

    • I haven’t tried Craigslist, because there are now so many other sites more specifically geared toward friending (and because these days meeting people through craigslist seems more and more sketchy). That said, I have seen some intriguing ads.

      However, I have done the other online friending, and even offline mixers that are also basically answering an ad, and I don’t think it feels manufactured at all. Sure, there might be a bit of added pressure because it’s like ‘We both know why we are here so we are sizing each other up,’ but you also know that you are all in it for the same reason. You’re looking for the same thing so you value it similarly, if that makes sense. Plus, yes, it’s a GREAT “can you believe??” story for when you become BFFs..

  14. Really – renting a friend? What is the world coming to? Are you seriously considering it? Although, I am curious about your experience with this, I have to admit I am really cynical about any outcomes (it can’t be genuine if you have to pay for someone to be your friend).

  15. Ana

    I’m a bit concerned about the kind of person who “hires” themself out as a “friend”. Clearly they are not looking for friendship if they are posting hourly rates, they are likely just trying to make some money, in a way that may some (slightly) less demeaning than being an escort. Thus, to keep the relationship up, they may pretend to like you and your interests. It would also help her to be a really good listener.
    Um…kind of like a prostitute.
    Definitely not a good way to meet a BFF. I guess I can see the utility if you’re looking for a “plus one” for an event… Maybe. Not for me, and probably not really for you, either, other than great fodder for your blog/book!
    The other sites…I’m actually going to look into! Doesn’t sound that different than things like “meetup” or even just scouring the internet for bookclubs and other groups in your area. Most people joining groups probably have “meeting friends” as at least a secondary aim. A friend-specific site just takes out the extraneous activity and cuts to the chase. I like the idea, actually!

  16. It is funny that msnbc used “hugely successful sites in Japan and Asia,” as if Japan is not part of Asia. Then I thought about it, Japanese’s consumer patterns are very odd comparing to other Asian countries. For example, they eat shark meat burgers.

  17. I’m a member of girlfriendcircles.com. I joined right before we moved to a new town, thinking that I’d maybe be able to use it to meet some people. Like Jean, though, my area doesn’t have a lot of members yet. I have connected with a group with interests I share, and am making friends there. That’s the more traditional way to go, but I still have hope for girlfriendcircles, and plan to go to Connecting Circles as soon as some are available that I can get to. A little side note, I met my husband online back in 2001.

  18. I am a member of Girlfriend circles, I joined because I recently moved into a new area and wanted a connection and to meet new people. My first circle was fab! The three of us met at Starbucks and chatted and laughed like we known each other for ever.

    Our friendships nuture each other and the world.

    As for as renting a friend, hmmm… I am available and a small deposit will hold the date, lol.

  19. There would have to be A LOT of qualifiers before I would rent a friend. Only if there was an event that I was under complete and inexcusable obligation to attend. And only if my husband and girlfriends were completely unavailable. I’d offer to pay my friends to spend the evening with me before I’d pay a stranger. I think I’d probably go alone first, unless it was some horrible group of unfriendly strangers. I think I can hold my own even in an awkward and uncomfortable situation, and plus, if the strangers are being socially awkward, I figure that gives ME leave to be socially awkward, too, and to sit and read in the midst of this obligatory social event.

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