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July 20, 2010

Comments

Marcin

Err, surely the very concept is muddle-headed, in that there are non-monetary ways for people to find friends online, such as a variety of social networking websites. This increases the thickness of the market in "real" friends.

This is true even though many social networking sites are not geared towards making new, real-life friends, some are (or have been).

Luis Enrique

You don't necessarily have to think your rented "friend" is a real friend to derive some benefits from their company - if the website was called "rented companions", or something, it would seem less creepy.

I imagine some layers of self-deception, or at least not examining things too closely, would make it a lot more successful. For example, if my rented friend was to send me a birthday present, I'll derive a lot more happiness from that if I believed to some extent they really wanted to give me a birthday gift out of friendship, than if I regard it as merely a convoluted way of buying myself a birthday present. I don't think it would be too hard to kid oneself.

People are friendly with carers, gardeners, cleaners etc. and other people they only spend time with because they are paying them. I think if you regard your rented friend as a rented companion, you can kid yourself you are paying for their company, but you've actually become friends. And who know, perhaps you'd be right. Maybe it really will work only when the rented friend does develop some genuine friendship for the client, and you'd have to try out a few times before a successful match is made.


Jackart

The kind of people who would need to rent a friend would be the kind of social inadequate who finds it difficult to get a decent job, and have no money.

Economics and Instinct both point to "fail".

chris strange

Surely economics must win for those that use this service, because the people that will be using this service will be the ones that self select so that they consider the utility gain to be more than the yuck factor. Pluse since the web has so dramatically reduced the costs of setting up these transactions the intermediary will probably survive as well.

chris

@ Jackart - an interesting difference between your assumptions and mine. I've always assumed there's a trade-off between having friends and a good job. But then, I've been a victim of the myth of social mobility.
@ Marcin - you're obviously right, but up to what point: don't many of us distinguish between online friends and "real world" friends?

Paul Sagar

In Japan they rent pets.

You can, for example, hire a labrador for the afternoon.

It's been incredibly successful as a business, and there are some health benefits claimed for those renting animals in the form of lower blood pressure and fewer stress-related ailments insofar as petting an animal has benefits to the psychological wellbeing of humans.

Personally, I would give this a try if it was available here. I can't keep a dog in my flat but I'd happily rent one for an afternoon.

Renting friends though? Just a bit creepy, isn't it?

Churm Rincewind

My mother is ninety years old, her previous friends are dead, her close relatives live far away, and she lives at home on her own. Her loneliness and unhappiness were palpable - until, that is, I engaged a daily cleaner and a twice weekly gardener for her, which she chose because she liked them, and certainly not for their professional abilities.

There is unsufficient work to keep them occupied but this problem doesn't arise because in fact most of the time my mother spends with them is spent chatting over coffee, sharing personal news and views, and so on. In time, real affection has developed and they exchange birthday cards, gifts and even on occasion a glass of sweet sherry.

In short, they are her rented friends, and it is no exaggeration to say that they have changed her life hugely for the better. I would imagine that this is quite a common situation, and I'm unable to find anything "creepy" or "yucky" in such arrangements.

Oh, and in response to Marcin and Chris, joining an online social networking site like Facebook is not a practical option for her - she's ninety for heaven's sake.

Bonjourmc

@ Churm Rincewind- whilst it is clearly a good thing for your mother, it isn't quite the same as buying a "friend". For whilst the gardener and cleaner both offer conversation and a level of interaction, they are being paid for a service. Even if they know it is more about the interaction, everyone is happy with the arrangement because money isn't changing hands purely for the company.

Renting a friend on the other hand is just that, paying for company. Surely people would be better off spending the money on joining a club or group where they have the potential for making real friendships? (although I understand the difficulty for an elderly lady) I think Jackart has it right, only those socially underdeveloped will realistically use this service.

Bon

Bonjourmc

@Paul Sagar- The idea of petting a rented friend could be quite bizzarre though

Churm Rincewind

@bon - I don't follow your distinction. You say that "renting a friend is just that, paying for company". I do indeed pay these two individuals to provide company for my mother; ergo, according to your definition, they are her rented friends. I certainly do not pay them for their professional services - the gardener in particular is more or less wholly incompetent.

The fiction that the cleaner is being paid to clean and the gardener to garden was devised solely to address my mother's refusal to admit to her loneliness, though this was obvious to all observers.

A hundred years ago the idea of paid companions for the elderly was of course commonplace - it was an acknowledged profession. There is much mention of this in both literature and history and I can find no suggestion that such services were the preserve of the socially underdeveloped. Indeed, given that such services are relatively costly, it seems rather that the reverse was the case.

John Terry's Mum

This can only work in a huge city like London or New York.

In places like Dublin Or Stockholm the pool of paid-friends and the social circles are too small to keep it hidden (which I assume most people would want to).
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That is why I'm starting a business called "Rent-A-foreign Friend".

Bruce

What if you actually became real friends with the friend-for-hire, like one might in any other business/work environment? At what point would the friendship be provided for free?

Isn't this service mostly for occasions rather than ongoing companionship? For when it would be socially unacceptable not to bring along a socially acceptable friend but none of you own are available or suitable (could unacceptable for a variety of reasons...)?


Luis Enrique

I suspect this actual website will be over-run by prostitutes and other non-platonic offers of services, but in theory, the more I think about it, the more I like it.

For a start, it opens up the career of being a professional friend. Great part time work. And what a nice job - bringing a bit of happiness into somebody's life. It might actually be quite a tall order, being a good enough friend to somebody that they are prepared to pay you for it.

But would the market function? Perhaps with unobserved quality there'd be a "market for lemons" problem? Perhaps the market would be ruined by not-good-friends, who just get paid for 2 or 3 rental periods before getting ditched for being no good, and then move on to the next client. It would be important to be able to build a reputation, but hard to measure, because some people might get a bad report, not because they are bad friends in the right match but becuase the match was bad. There would be PhD or two in this, if it actually gets of the ground.

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