Any single girl with nosy family members can attest to the pain of having to field passive-aggressive questions about their love life during awkward family gatherings. So understandably, we were very excited to learn that there’s a service here that caters to women who need a temporary arm candy. Is it worth the trouble to stop being interrogated on your single status? CLEO staffer Cheryl Chan finds out.
As the perennial singleton, the questions posed during family gatherings can get annoying. There are only so many reiterations (“Why are you still single?”, “But you’re such a nice girl”, “You should think about settling down soon”, “There’s this boy I want to introduce you to” and the list goes on) that you can tolerate before getting this intense urge to flip Aunty Susan off.
This is where Rent a Gent (www.rent-a-gent.pink), a female-oriented service that promises “the finest male companions in Singapore”, steps in. From $240 to $750 an hour, you can have a man that’s tailored to your liking: he can be between the ages of 18 to 29, and of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Caucasian or mixed ethnicity. There are some photos of the men on the website that you can browse through, but don’t fret if no one catches your eye – apparently they have more “gents” who prefer not to have their pictures up for privacy reasons. Oh, and the guys are categorised into three tiers: Handy Randy ($240 an hour), Terrific Tyler ($440 an hour), and Beyond Brad Pitt ($750 and above an hour).
It just so happened that I had to attend a close family friend’s Hawaiianthemed 60th birthday bash. It seemed like an opportune moment to test drive a gent. The casual setting made it easy to excuse ourselves if things went south, and hopefully seeing a boy on my arm this one time would put a stop to the when-are-you-settling-down-type questions for the rest of the year.
Laying the groundwork
The booking process can be done in three ways. You can either fill up the form on the website, call the mobile number listed, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Payment is accepted via PayPal, bank transfer, or cash. As a first-timer, I had no clue as to who or what I wanted, so I simply wrote that I needed a guy who could pass off as the boyfriend of a 26-yearold fashion stylist. Someone from the company contacted me shortly after and put me in touch with a gent – let’s call him Josh* – who’s from the Handy Randy tier.
“Hey Cheryl, this is Josh from Renta- Gent,” he texted. We wasted no time getting down to the nitty gritty details, hatching a fake story of how we met (mutual friend’s New Year’s party) and so on. Even though it was technically a business transaction, it didn’t feel like it at all. He was warm, friendly, and asked a lot of questions so he wouldn’t mess up when meeting the aunties and uncles I’ve known since I was a kid. So far, so good!
Personally, my biggest concern with this whole setup was how believable Josh would be as my new squeeze. What if he turned out to be a stereotypical himbo and – to quote the great Mindy Kaling – my body is very attracted to his body but when he speaks, my brain gets angry? Almost as if he read my mind, Josh fired another text message.
“Should I just be myself, or is there a certain profile that you want me to emulate?”
That’s a question I wasn’t prepared to answer. I was, after all, a first-timer with this whole malarkey. Eventually, we agreed that he should just be himself, which is – in his own words – “curious and adventurous with a relatively good sense of humour”. “That sounds like something you would put on your Tinder profile,” I said. “I don’t use Tinder ;),” he replied.
We’d arranged to meet up at 112 Katong mall first before heading over to the party together. I spotted him immediately. He was leaning against the wall, clad in skinny jeans and Ray Bans, clutching his skateboard in his right hand. It was an effortlessly cool look, reminiscent of a guy I dated when I was 16. My only issue was that he looked rather boyish, more like a friend of my younger brother’s when my usual type is the classic tall, dark and brooding man.
My family was very excited to finally meet my “boyfriend”, although they did question why he was so young. I thought that we’d be fending questions from nosy relatives the whole day, but to my surprise, people were more than happy to let us have our alone time, although that didn’t stop them from staring.
The only grilling I got was from Aunty May*, an old family friend whom I’ve known since I was a baby. Things got slightly awkward when she pointed to my backless dress and went, “Cheryl is always so sexy ah? You’re very lucky to have her!” Thankfully, Josh handled it like a pro. He did what most Singaporean boyfriends would do in that situation: just smile and nod.
True to his word, I discovered that Josh did indeed have a good sense of humour when I introduced him to my godfather. “You should kiss his ring!” I joked, making reference to The Godfather. Next thing I knew, he channeled Bonasera and bent down for the kiss. I was charmed – so was my godfather.
Josh turned out to be the perfect boyfriend for one afternoon: handing everyone drinks, grabbing food from the buffet table for my dad and posing for family photos. But in the digital age, nothing counts unless it gets Instagram-ed. Since we were at East Coast Park, we walked to the beach and cosied up for some photos. We held hands, I leaned on his shoulders and he slung his arms around me. It felt really weird.
I’m not a prude, but those subtle touches and shows of affection felt way too intimate and mildly intrusive with someone I didn’t have feelings for. When he was resting his head on mine for our photo op, all I could think of was, “When was the last time I washed my hair?”
My phone started buzzing the second I put our photo up on Instagram and Facebook. I left our faces out of the picture, but it just fuelled my friends’ curiosity further. I got badgered for details, so here’s a tip: if you want to hire a fake boyfriend, don’t upload anything on social media unless absolutely necessary. Your relatives might be fooled, but it’ll take a lot more for your friends to buy it. All too soon, the party was over and the four hours I had with Josh were up. I considered the whole date to be a roaring success, given how no one doubted that he was my Mr Smith. While he was cool, we never stayed in touch. There was no reason to, unless there’s another family gathering. But I’d definitely hire him as my plus-one again if the need arises.
Oddly enough, even though Josh was obligated to spend time with me and technically “love” me, a part of me still felt the need to impress him – with my taste in music, fashion choices, and extensive pop culture knowledge. So, exactly like a first date.
The idea of hiring social escorts is usually associated with sleaze, and it’s usually the men who are hiring, not the other way around. But this experience was the exact opposite of that and, most times, it felt more like I was hanging out with a friend – and a very charming and nice one at that. My point is, I can see why women pay for this service. And if they can afford to, why not? For some, it might be a small – and convenient – price to pay to avoid getting questioned on why you’re still a swinging single at the next family gathering.
3 things you should know before getting a fake boyfriend
1 Your relatives might ask about him if he doesn’t turn up at the next family gathering. Cue another round of interrogation.
2 Even nosier relatives might question why they’ve never seen any photos of the two of you on Facebook.
3 Someone might just recognise him from somewhere and blow your cover. Singapore is a small country after all.
There's something about him...
Here’s what I learned about Josh during our time together.
+His clientele consists of women who are older than him (late 30s and above).
+Most of the women who hire him use him as a listening ear.
+The dates that he goes on are very typical – dinner, drinks and a movie.
+He’s willing to try anything while on assignment, including bungee jumping!
+He has a day job. Social escorting is just something he does on the side to support his expensive hobby of collecting vinyl records.