Need a relation or friend to boost your wedding party? A partner
for the conference dinner? Someone to show you around a strange city? An
audience for your gig? Yes, there comes a time when Facebook is simply no use
and you need a real person at your side. But, do not worry; practically any
personal gap can be filled today — for a fee.
Americans may have invented life coaches, declutterers and
baby planners (I don’t know, but it seems likely) but guess who invented the
rent-an-uncle and the here today, gone tomorrow father of the bride? Correct; the
Japanese. Entrepreneurs in Japan have been honing the skills of the professional
stand-in for around a decade to meet the needs of lonely and isolated
people in a country where family is still a vital social concept despite one of
the world’s lowest birth rates.
The Americans were not far behind. This
from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Scott Rosenbaum, the New Jersey owner of rentafriend.com,
attributes the success of his company – 417,000 friends for rent worldwide and
4100 renters – to a growing group of people open to hiring ”purely platonic”
friends for various reasons. They include business travellers who want a local
to attend a boring corporate function with them and others who simply want ”to
get an outsider’s point of view” on personal problems.
Now Rosenbaum is signing up Australian friends (181 so far)
and looking for renters in Sydney. In Melbourne musicians and comedians on the
make can call Rent A Crowd.
Fortunately the Herald found a social behaviour trends
expert to interpret this development for us, and he puts his finger on the key
”We’ve certainly been through the loss of the extended
family, as we’ve become more mobile, and there isn’t the family compound [for
support any more],” Chalke says. ”What we seem to be doing these days is
recreating our own personal villages that are not bounded by geography. Because
the trouble with real villages is that it’s got nutters, it’s got thieves, it’s
And made-up “villages” do not? There seems to be scope here
for rent-a-friends to be just another version of the escort agency. Besides,
there is no substitute for real family and friends, and the pretence that there
is can only put off the day when people face changes they need to make in their
Obviously, you can’t acquire relations just by deciding you need
them, but friendship is something that everyone can work at — if they only
know how. Perhaps that is the great need we can glimpse through the
relationship gaps — the knowledge of how to be a friend. After all, if people
can do it for a stranger, why not for the people in their “real village”?