I’m shopping for friends online through RentAFriend.com, a newish website that, simply put, allows you to buy a friend by the hour. For $10 to $50 per hour, you can have a ready-made friend to show you around town, take you out, have dinner with you or simply chat. Some more creative ways to use the website include paying someone for a “practice date,” paying someone to take care of an elderly relative or paying someone to run your errands.
“RentAFriend.com gets a stigma from people whenever they hear ‘rent a friend,’” says Scott Rosenbaum, the creator of the site. “But it’s not like that at all. There are thousands of reasons why people would want to rent a friend, and I’d say about ninety-nine percent of them have nothing to do with desperation.”
In fact, says Rosenbaum, most people think of the site’s users as people who have no social life, no friends, are depressed, lonely and are paying for a friend because they have nothing else. But this isn’t the case, he says.
“We have tons of happy, married, successful, people with good jobs, and happy social lives,” he says. “Perhaps they are traveling to a new area and want a local to show them around. Maybe they are looking to meet someone who can teach them a new skill or hobby. We have people who work weird hours and sometimes want company for a movie or a restaurant.”
For Mikey Rox, a 29-year-old New Yorker, RentAFriend.com is an opportunity for him to make some extra cash and have some fun. Rox signed up to be rented a few weeks ago, charging customers $30 an hour for the chance to spend time with him.
“I make new friends wherever I go, so this is a no-brainer,” he says. “I’m a true capitalist. I’m down for any opportunity that adds extra padding to my bank account in a legal way.”
He says the site is ideal for people who might not make friends as easily as he does. He doesn’t think of it as desperate.
“Who am I to judge,” he says.
I’d like to judge, personally, so I type in my zip code and, viola, I have a list of possible friends. I narrow the selection down to only females (potential friends aren’t supposed to expect dates or anything beyond platonic friendship, but – as a straight woman – let’s be safe, just in case); then to females within 10 years of my age and over the age of 21; then, finally, to those who list drinking and dancing as activities they are open to taking part in.
I’m left with a handful of potential friends, and I begin calling them up.
The number has been disconnected for Christina, the first girl I call. My luck is a bit better for Drea, the second potential friend – I get her voicemail. I leave a message explaining that I’m looking for a friend tonight and found her on RentAFriend.com. I leave my number and ask her to call me back. Next up is Ashley, who also doesn’t answer. I leave a message on what appears to be her work voicemail. I have two more possibilities on my list. I call them in quick succession. All I hear when the phone is picked up at the first number is a loud noise, while the second one is the sound of babies screaming.
Maybe it’s not as easy as I thought to find a friend. But then, the phone rings while I’m in the other room. It goes to my voicemail. It’s Drea! She tells me she got my message but she already has plans for tonight. She’s sorry. She doesn’t mention anything about another time, though.
RentAFriend.com by the numbers:
RentAFriend claims to have 307,000 “friends” listed on the site that you can rent (last checked on December 22, 2010; the website says it was last updated on December 5, 2010)
Friends cost between $10 and $50 per hour
$24.95 is the amount it costs to become a member of the site and contact potential friends. It does not cost anything to be a friend.
As of December 22, 2010, RentAFriend claims to have 2,700 paid members looking to rent friends
That’s 113.7 friends for every paid member, by the way.
$96,000 is the amount a friend can earn in one year, according to the website, if they charge $50 per hour and work full-time (five days per week)
Though if a friend charges $10 per hour and works full time, 52 weeks a year, it’s more like $20,800
And shouldn’t $50 per hour, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, get you more like $104,000?
The site’s author must imagine that a rented friend takes four weeks of vacation per year.
Which raises an interesting question: if your job is to go do fun activities with people, to travel and go rollerskating and attend concerts and the like, what would you do on vacation?