Rent a friend and solve your problems

THROUGH BIFOCALS

Feeling lonely since your family moved to find a job? Need a bridge partner who can help you beat that insufferable couple? Wish you had a luncheon companion?  Check the RentAFriend website and find someone happy to earn an extra dollar in exchange for being good company for an hour or two.

For decades the Japanese have hired professional mourners to attend funerals. Since the internet the country has graduated to renting friends or fake family to fill in at weddings, like a father figure or someone to stand in as an important uncle to give a toast. Single parents hire a partner to cheer at their kid’s soccer game or to meet with the teacher.

A number of recent movies copy this trend for renting substitutes, from “The Wedding Date”  where Debra Messing pays $6000 to a male escort to pretend to be her boyfriend while she attends her sister’s London wedding, to the soon-to-be-released Jennifer Aniston movie, “Just Go With It” in which Adam Sandler persuades his secretary and her two children to act as his wife and kids.

Now Rentafriend has arrived in Canada.

RentAFriend.com was started in October 2009 in Stewartsville, New Jersey by Scott Rosenbaum after he noticed Japanese companies were catering mainly to single parent families while in the U.S., despite the many dating services, there were no websites where you could hire a local platonic friend.

Currently, RentAFriend lists 307,000 people available for hire, and 2700 registered renters.

At least 110 British Columbians, ranging in age from 18 to late 50s and mostly living in the Lower Mainland,  have  filed a profile available free to be read by anyone looking to rent a friend. To contact a friend, however, you must join and pay a membership fee of $24.95 per month or $69.95 per year.

Contacts are made person to person by phone or email; the website shares no part of the rental cost.

Reading the profiles of some of the available British Columbians made me ask if the company does a background check on those profiled. They don’t. Like dating websites, RentAFriend cautions renters to use common sense when meeting strangers. 

“Always meet in a public place, always have your own form of transportation or cab fare. Never go back to someone’s house. Let your friends and family know where you are going and what time you are expected to be home. Also have a cell phone and if you are uncomfortable at any time, get up and leave.”

North Americans rent friends for a variety of reasons. Lone tourists visiting a city rent someone to accompany them on a tour, show them local sites,  attend a concert or sports event, or just to be a sociable dinner companion.

A stay-at-home Mom rented a young woman for an afternoon of scrapbooking. Those learning a new sport or activity can rent someone already skilled to coach their practice.

People who simply want company can find a partner for kayaking, hiking, fishing, biking, even shopping.

Two students rented parents to meet with college officials after they were caught drinking on campus.

And a woman hired a college girl to visit her mother in a nursing home three days a week after she moved away.

Research indicates chronic loneliness can lead to depression, high blood pressure, viral infections and suicide,

According to Dr. John T. Cacioppo, a social neuroscience researcher at the University of Chicago and co-author of “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Interaction”, “The real question is, is renting a friend solving anyone’s problems? If it’s used as a substitute for meaningful face-to-face relationships, it’s not going to work.”