There was a time when going online to find a mate was considered weird. Maybe even pathetic. That time is long gone. Online dating is standard operating procedure these days. One of my closest friends just got engaged to a fabulous guy she met online.
It works, people. But you already know this.
So what about finding friends online? Would you go there? It seems like new friending sites keep popping up. When I started this blog I quickly learned about GirlfriendCircles.com and GirlfriendSocial.com, which are both basically Match.com for female friendships. Since then I've learned about CompanionTree.com, the coed version of a platonic friend-matching site, and ... drumroll please ... Rentafriend.com.
Yes, it is what it sounds like.
Unless it sounds like an escort service. Because it promises in big bold letters that it is not a front for any sort of escort situation. It is merely a site in which you pay people to spend time with you. Hmmm.
It bears noting here that the majority of "friends" for hire post pictures that are a bit more than friendly -- hello, cleavage! -- and the majority of customers "purchase" friends of the opposite sex.
Here's how it works. First, you sign up for a monthly membership: $24.95 per month or $69.95 for a full year. Then you can browse potential friends (actually you can do this before you sign up, but you can't get contact info for your new BFF until you sign up) and see their rate per hour, anywhere from $10 to $150 per hour (usually between $20 and $50). Yes, beyond your membership fee you need to pay the friend directly for whatever time you spend together. Once you spot the profile of your potential bestie, you can contact her by phone or email, and set up your play-date.
I first read about the site on msnbc.com. Apparently it is modeled on "hugely successful sites in Japan and Asia," and people hire friends for anything from business trip dinner date to weekly companion for their elderly mother. My favorite example in the article? "Two students rented parents to meet with college officials after they were caught drinking on campus." Um, that's not hiring friends. That's hiring actors.
If I sound skeptical, it's because I am. But the site's founder, Scott Rosenbaum, says the site receives 100,000 unique page views a month and has nearly 2,000 paying members. Perhaps it will catch on. But isn't the very nature of friendship reciprocal? We both want to spend time with the other? A partnership of equals?
And what happens after the first friend-date, if you hit it off? Does future companionship come free?
Glutton for punishment -- and curious friending guinea pig -- that I am, I'd give this site a try. I'll find the one Chicago lady not shoving her boobs in my face and invite her on an outing. A crowded one. That takes place in broad daylight.
Who knows? It could be like any other girl-date. You know, besides the part where I pay her $80 for hanging out with me. Now there's a confidence booster.
Would you be willing to meet friends online on a site like Girlfriend Circles, Girlfriend Social, or Companion Tree? What about Rent a Friend? Would you try it? Under what circumstances?
You can follow Rachel's awkward and hilarious escapades in her search for a new best friend on her blog, MWF Seeking BFF.
Follow Rachel Bertsche on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rberch