Culture & Society

Boyfriend And Girlfriend On Rent Services Take The Dating World By Storm

While navigating the chaotic world of modern dating seems impossible, ‘rent-a-boyfriend’ and ‘dating surrogate’ services offer to keep you company—in exchange for a fee

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Photo%3A%20Priyanshu
Not So Subtle: A person holds a placard suggesting he is available on rent Photo: Priyanshu
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It was a usual Friday night in Bengaluru’s tech hub, Koramangala. Restobars with ‘Now Open’ signs beckoned passersby on the packed streets. As vehicles lined up bumper-to-bumper, several hundred 20-something-year-olds dressed in their best fits, listened to thumping music that rang long in one’s ears even once it stopped.

But in the city that never sleeps—although the bars close at 1 am—it is very easy to feel lonely. Samarth*, 23, who describes himself as an introvert, dreaded Friday nights, until he rented a girlfriend.

“’Girl-friend’­—he stresses, highlighting the often-overlooked space between the two words.

“There’s no ill intent. I simply hired a female friend,” clarifies Samarth.

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Often mistaken for an escort service, ‘rent a girlfriend’ or ‘rent a boyfriend’ services have quietly taken the dating world by storm. The purpose is neither commercial nor sexual. The person ‘on rent’ accompanies the renter on a date, interacts with them, gives them company while they mindlessly shop, do errands, listen to their rants, buys them flowers or even accompany them to a funeral.

While such qualities are expected from a partner, in such cases, the service is provided in exchange for a fee.

Samarth paid Rs 5,000 for a two-hour date with Ayesha*. They went to a restobar in the city, had some beer and bar snacks and left before it got dark. Being a medical student, Samarth’s last two years were filled with shifts that routinely lasted beyond 28 hours, a chronic lack of sleep and minimal interaction with anyone except his family.

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‘Rent a girlfriend’ or ‘rent a boyfriend’ services have taken the dating world by storm. The purpose is neither commercial nor sexual.

“I have never really hung out outside of my house. I was extremely focussed on my studies for the last two years…I was craving some form of human company,” says Samarth. Luckily, he found a solution on Instagram. But he refuses to reveal the identity of the page on the social media app, as they keep a ‘low profile’.

Unlike this ‘low profile’ page that Samarth managed to access, there are others that are widely known in dating circles. ‘Rent A Boy|friend’ in Mumbai, ‘Hire a friend’ and ‘Toy Boy’ in Bengaluru and ‘Rent a local friend’ which is available across the world and many similar pages on Facebook as well. In two-three clicks on such pages, a sea of profiles show up on your screen, all trying to just offer some company. Twenty one-year-old ‘JDJ’ (name changed) from Bengaluru claims he can be a reliable and supportive companion. His ‘profile picture’ on this website featured him with a wide smile while playing with a dog. The activities he is available for include accompanying on tours within the city, shopping, dinner, picnics, giving personal advice, sitting at a coffee house and talking on the phone. The charges vary depending on what these persons are hired for­—Rs 600 for an hour of sitting at a coffee shop, Rs 1,000 for a dinner with parents, in addition to the Rs 1,500 one has to pay to access membership services on such portals.

But why would someone choose to pay thousands for a date when dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge offer the same experiences for free?

Loneliness, Companionship

For many across different age groups, dating apps have resulted in the cliche ‘happy-ending’. In fact, studies show that India emerged as the fifth fastest-growing market in terms of year-over-year growth in dating app spending in 2022. But after over a decade of swiping left and right on these apps to find ‘the one’, youngsters are disillusioned and are actively seeking in-person connections.

“I faced a lot of rejection on the usual dating apps. People are used to ghosting someone after matching with them,” Samarth says. ‘Ghosting’ is a term that describes the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone suddenly and without explanation by withdrawing from all communication.

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While navigating between ghosting, situationships, bread-crumbing and all the other terminologies that have been invented to describe the chaotic world of modern dating sounds almost impossible, if you could just pay for a person to treat you the way you want and take you out on dates, why not do the latter?—asks Sandy*. Her best friend, 40, lost her husband in a tragic accident. She has been trying to get back into the dating world, but hasn’t had much luck, Sandy says. “So she hires a professional to make her feel happy once in a while. They are pro!,” he says. She has a lot of fun on her dates and they treat her well. “For her, it’s a mutual agreement and happy arrangement. That’s all she can handle at the moment.”

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The concept first became popular in Japan—where at least 1.5 million people of working age live as ‘social loners’. A government-conducted survey in 2023 revealed that a large number of these people left their jobs or had problems in personal relationships and hence, decided to step back from mainstream society. But the country has made a business out of loneliness. Feeling lonely? Lock fingers with an iPhone case that holds your hand, or grab onto a dakimakura, a body pillow featuring an anime character, or the human alternative—rent-a-boyfriend services.

One such ‘rental person’ in Japan was Shoji Morimoto. In his 160-page memoir titled ‘Rental Person Who Does Nothing’, Morimoto lists the myriad requests he received —someone once rented him and asked for just one thing “Excuse me, I may have sex today, so could you send me a message at 12 to tell me to cut my nails?” Another client wished to rent him for a day, longing for company after enduring prolonged solitude. While most of these requests seem mind-numbingly banal and mundane, they expose a desperate need to beat loneliness.

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Background Checks?

The aforementioned websites strictly reiterate that they are not an escort service, no physical contact is allowed between any members and friends on the website and that it is purely for ‘platonic companionship’. They also claim that they do not conduct any background checks on its members signing up for the services—which basically suggests that they don’t take the responsibility if a date experience goes awry.

The websites offering these services claim they do not conduct background checks on its members signing up for the services.

In a country like India, with crime rates against women rising every year, it might take a woman more than two to three clicks to rent a person off the internet. Some of these websites have also been dormant for the past few years. But there are some websites that have started offering these services professionally.

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“While social media and online dating have their allure, there’s a unique charm in the personalised support offered by some of these services,” says R (name withheld on request) from Bengaluru. A 33-year-old woman, R, has been looking for a boost in the dating department ever since her divorce. She wasn’t looking for a ‘jeevansathi’, she says, but wanted to understand her desires better, especially post-divorce. She then came across one such website, ‘The Intimacy Curator’, which has a team of professionals that provide rent-a-boyfriend and dating surrogacy services, among others. R went on a date with a ‘dating surrogate’, wherein a designated trained person accompanies a client and gives them live feedback on their actions, body language, styling and topic of conversations. Basically, a mock date is one wherein the person sitting opposite you not only acts as your date, but also coaches you on what you can do to enjoy your dating life better.

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According to the website, it provides “a service package for people who struggle in today’s dating world. It includes providing the role of a surrogate partner who will assist you navigate skills in connection, flirting, seduction and intimacy.” The package for this service costs anywhere between Rs 12,000 and Rs 80,000, depending on the duration. Yet, it has come as a blessing in disguise for those who are seeking new ways to love and date.

For Q (name withheld on request), 32, a trans male from Chennai, exploring the dating scene as a trans man was quite overwhelming. “But when I heard about this dating surrogate service, I thought, ‘Hey, why not give it a try?’ Q says. On their first date, they went on a stroll to a city park. “It was a mix of nerves and curiosity, for sure… But I’ve felt more empowered and confident in navigating the dating world as a trans person after the surrogate date. It’s like having a supportive ally by my side,” Q says.

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But can such services ever replicate a real relationship or friendship?

Many who have used such services have said that they found out more about what they were expecting from a relationship and the best way to seek it. “Since joining the dating surrogate service, my dating life’s taken a turn for the better. I get more matches and I’m a way better date for people I match with,” R says.

On the other hand, some develop feelings for their surrogate date! “I did catch some feelings for the surrogate date, but I kept it cool, you know? It’s all about keeping things professional and focusing on personal growth,” says S (name withheld on request), a 27-year-old male from Delhi, who recently got out of a long-term relationship. He drew a lesson from this experience too—the lesson of rejection.

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But if not anything, sometimes one does gain a friend. In Bihar, Priyanshu, a fifth-semester student at Darbhanga Engineering College, posed for a picture on Instagram, while holding a placard saying “Boyfriend on Rent” for Valentines Day in 2022. He posed in several popular parts of Bihar, where the roads are barely present, as he wanted to get the attention of his administration.

At the same time, he also managed to go on two dates with women who are now his good friends. “I met this one girl who was going through a very bad phase in her life… relationship trauma,” Priyanshu says. He didn’t take any money from her. They had a good conversation, coupled with some soda and ice cream. And they have stayed close friends until today. Upon asking the girl why she decided to go on a date with him, she said, “It was an interesting concept. Sometimes a stranger can teach you more about yourself.” And it was also fascinating that such things are happening in Bihar, she says, chuckling.

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(* Names altered)

(This appeared in the print as 'Boyfriend on Rent')

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