Need a date to impress your friends? Much like how you can buy a dress from online fashion stores, you can rent a boyfriend via two agencies with slick websites and 48-hour “delivery services”. HOE I YUNE investigates... and does some shopping herself.
RENT-A-GENT CHARGES A MINIMUM OF $240 FOR AN HOUR WITH ONE OF THEIR GENTS.
Picture this: You’re single. You never have a plus-one for weddings. You’re going to get flak this Christmas from relatives who ask why you haven’t found anyone yet. Also, not that it matters, but it’s been ages since a man told you how hot you are. At least two companies in Singapore have a solution for all the problems above: Men for hire. Launched in 2014 and 2016 respectively, Rent-a-Gent (http://www.rent-a-gent.pink/)and Pally Asia (http://www.pally.asia/) are like Asos, but for attentive male companionship. You can rent men to give you the boyfriend experience, or even to pose as a fake date at family gatherings. Unlike social escort agencies, most of which are shrouded in secrecy, with sleazy reputations, both Rent-a-Gent and Pally Asia are modern outfits helmed by university graduates in their 20s and 30s, with prior work experience in the finance, law and human resources industries. Oh, and sexual services are not on the table. “We don’t cross [that] line,” insists Pally Asia cofounder Low Xu Yang, an investment consultant. On their websites, you can browse packages and submit requests for a customised experience. Like Amazon’s express shipping option, Rent-a- Gent finds you a match within 24 hours. On average, it serves four to five clients a week.
All The Single Ladies
This new-age service fills an age-old void: a need for companionship. “I counsel numerous women who would be considered attractive, intelligent, grounded, loving and capable, but who find it impossible to find [a man with the same qualities],” observes Glenn Graves, psychotherapist at Counseling Perspective. As a result, they no longer “put serious effort into dating”, choosing instead to date casually via dating apps such as Tinder. But there’s still pressure from parents to get married, so these women “may find reprieve in having [someone stand in as a partner] during important occasions,” he says. Tellingly, Rent-a-Gent reports a 20 per cent increase in “boyfriend” bookings around Chinese New Year. Co-founder of Rent-a-Gent Pushpi (she declined to give her surname), a Singaporean investment banker in her mid-20s, shares that she created the agency because she “wanted to set up a service for women by women.” To that end, she, together with the other cofounder, a 30-something male who works in law, roped in female customer service representatives. “We [also] take pride in [ensuring that] our gentlemen are sweet and caring,” she says.
A Friend The idea for Pally Asia came about after an acquaintance asked co-founders Xu Yang and Jonathan Chan, both 33, to serve as his groomsmen because he didn’t have enough friends. Together with equity analyst Chloe Lim, 31, their former schoolmate from the Singapore Management University, they started the business. Besides standing in as boyfriends, “pallies”, as the gents there are called, can accompany you to work events, fill in as groomsmen or bridesmaids (Pally Asia provides both male and female companions), or act as sports buddies. “As you grow older, you lose contact with schoolmates or you get ditched at the last minute by friends,” says Chloe. “One of our female clients, for instance, had to [rent a partner for her company’s dinner and dance because hers] had bailed just two days prior [to it].” “It is also a matter of convenience; sometimes, [you just need someone] to do something your own friends aren’t keen on doing,” adds Xu Yang.
Life of a Gent
Both Rent-a-Gent and Pally Asia have stringent selection processes. Rent-a-Gent receives about five to 10 applications a week, mostly from students and professionals in their 20s; only 5 per cent make the cut. Pushpi and a panel of women weed out Casanova types before categorising the men by looks: Handy Randy ($240 an hour), Terrific Tyler ($440 an hour) and Beyond Bradd Pitt ($750+ an hour). Gents also need to have talents such as singing, dancing and cooking. The “pallies” at Pally Asia are mostly 21- to 35-year-olds who are selected for their friendliness, tact and open-mindedness. There are also strict rules governing their conduct. The lads at Rent-a-Gent are contractually obliged to reject marriage proposals and sexual advances, while those at Pally Asia aren’t allowed to exchange phone number with clients.
While the service does have its benefits, there is also a danger that such positive “dates” could instil in women unrealistic expectations about the real dating experience. So take all that niceness with a pinch of salt – real relationships aren’t just sugar, spice and everything nice.
MEET THE GENT!
CALVIN, 25, a freelancer at Rent-a-Gent
“I’m an environmental science student at James Cook University Singapore. At the moment, I’m waiting to hear back on an internship at the United Nations Environment Programme. I’m also considering a master’s in Marine Biology. I’ve been free lancing as a Gent for less than half a year. It helps with expenses, and I’ve always enjoyed being a boyfriend, but got my heart broken way too many times. The few hours with a client is like the fun, honeymoon period of a relationship. I like making someone smile, but being in an actual relationship is too much for me right now. I’ve been to dinner and dance events as well as family gatherings, acting as a boyfriend and its many synonyms – date, partner and so on. The definition is less important than what happens on the job. Most people find it difficult to express exactly what they want. My job is to pick up on nuances and behave accordingly. I’m good with parents. I usually give a disarming smile – parents are generally happy their daughters don’t bring home a delinquent, you know? The furthest I’d go is a peck on the cheek. Some clients can get quite touchyfeely after a few drinks and I’m not comfortable with that. I haven’t been propositioned so far – the agency makes it clear that I’m not open to such situations. I’d go out with the same client twice, three times tops, if she displays signs of attachment. I’m single now, but would I continue doing this if I were attached? Let me consult my hypothetical significant other first!”
We hired two guys from Rent-a-Gent and Pally Asia. Here’s how they stacked up!
RENT-A-GENT: THE BOY NEXT DOOR
“I e-mailed my name and occupation to the agency, stating that I needed a ‘boyfriend’ to meet my friends, Gina* and Liam*, over dinner. Customer service assigned me Calvin. I received his picture and number one day before the dinner date. He was responsive, eloquent and aff able. He texted: ‘I can offer you oriental Tom Cruise, slightly less crazy, slightly less pretty. Slightly. Well, I’m no Tom Hiddleston, that’s for sure.’ He was thorough, asking about the kind of guys I lean towards, pet names and my preference for physical contact – casual, constant hand-holding or arm-hugging. PDA isn’t my jam, so I told him to keep it to the bare minimum. We met at the MRT station 10 minutes before joining the rest at the restaurant. He had boyish good looks and a chill, down-to-earth vibe. My nerves were wracked just thinking about our deception, but he reassured me, telling me to, as best as I possible could, act normal. He had impeccable manners, noticing when we needed glasses of water and when my scarf fell onto the floor. His experience as a waiter at a fine-dining restaurant paid off as he effortlessly held three glasses in one hand. He laughed at my jokes – yes, even the corny ones – behaving just like a supportive new boyfriend would. “When I told Gina that we met ‘through a friend’, Calvin swiftly confirmed the story. I was terrified we would be outed after an acquaintance swung by and it transpired that Calvin used to work at her office! However, Calvin expertly defected her suggestion to mention him at work by casually saying that it was a temporary stint that happened far too long ago. Prior to the ‘date’, Calvin hardly prompted me for details. Even when I mentioned we would be meeting my university friends, he didn’t ask which school I attended. I later learned that he had already viewed my Linkedin profile. I was impressed but also slightly disturbed, mentally reconsidering the information that I put on social media. The evening ended with a ‘nice working with you’, establishing that, unlike in Pretty Woman, this was all strictly professional.”
VERDICT: “Calvin was pleasant, and intriguing enough that I could see myself wanting to get to know him. I would recommend Rent-a-Gent to friends who need to get out of sticky single situations for work or family occasions and don’t want to risk a Tinder date that could turn into a Tinder nightmare. Calvin sure fooled my friends – Gina bought the story completely. But she also demanded more details after, so you’ll need a solid, complete story to keep up the charade.”
DEPENDING ON THE TASK, EXPECT TO PAY ANYWHERE BETWEEN $15 TO $800 TO HIRE A “PALLY” FROM PALLY ASIA.
MEET THE GENT!
LINUS, 28, sports buddy at Pally Asia
“I’ve been in real estate for four years and it’s helped me know how to make people comfortable. People aren’t going to engage you to sell $500,000 properties if there is no trust. I learned to listen, and say what people want to hear. A month ago, I saw a Pally Asia recruitment flyer when I was at a residential area, and signed up to be a ‘pally’ on the website, uploading a photo, filling in my personal particulars and providing a link to my Facebook page. As for my fitness credentials, I used to be a fitness instructor at True Fitness. I’ve also been bodybuilding all my life, but only did it professionally after national service. My girlfriend says it’s not bad that I’m getting paid $30 an hour to be a fitness instructor of sorts. Would I tell her if I get asked to a dinner date? No. I wouldn’t want to get myself into trouble!”
PALLY ASIA: BOOT CAMP MASTER
“Terrible at motivating myself to exercise, I hired a Sports Buddy. After choosing the gender, age and skill level of my buddy, and providing a staffer with my age, interests and objectives via e-mail, I received two profiles that included photos. Interesting side note: If you’re hiring a ‘pally’ for larger social gatherings such as weddings, the agency will screen your Facebook profile to avoid pairing you with a ‘pally’ with mutual friends. My ‘pally’ called in sick the day before our meetup, so I was assigned a substitute, Linus. It was his first day on the job and he shared that money was the reason he was taking it on. A real estate agent and gym enthusiast, his hours are flexible, so he can adjust his schedule to suit clients. After jogging on the treadmill, he suggested ‘a real workout’. That’s when his former experience as a fitness instructor came through. He demonstrated squats on a step, emphasising form, and called out my lazy half squats. Next up was a shoulder workout. Linus recommended four sets of each. Every time he asked how I felt, ‘like dying’ was my immediate response. After the session, as I was walking towards the vending machine to grab a soft drink, I heard him say: ‘You really shouldn’t be drinking that.’”
VERDICT: “Pally Asia was prompt in responding. I’d definitely hire one of its sports buddies as an alternative to a fitness instructor if I wanted to get into shape. It helps that the buddy is mobile, which means I don’t have to be a member of a specific gym. Fitness aside, Linus was refreshingly frank about his choices in career and relationships, and was good company.”