met Angel after work at a café in Connaught Place. Over a cup of coffee, talks ensued on Delhi’s sultry weather, our tastes in music and how Raghuram Rajan is undoubtedly India’s “hottest” RBI governor. I decided the theme of our conversation. After all, I paid Rs 600 an hour.
Angel is a “friend” I rented on a website devoted just to that — friends for rent.
Underlining a marked shift the way lonely people — especially youngsters — are seeking friendships without any strings attached, several websites providing companions for cash have cropped up in recent times.
Rentafriend.com offers a range of companions who could accompany you for dinner, a movie night or a random get together. There are others such as rentalocalfriend.com and findfriends.com. And then there are Facebook pages devoted to similar activities.
The charges depend on the purpose for hiring the friend. For a casual evening at a coffee shop, the price starts at Rs 600 an hour, and for more, such as a movie date or dinner with parents, costs more.
An initial membership fee of between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 is also charged by some of these portals.
“I was expecting to meet someone older,” said 27-year-old Angel, who is into garment export. After a few minutes of awkward silence, she started talking about her Nigerian heritage and how she moved to Delhi about five years ago.
“…It seems like an interesting concept especially for me. I have a few native friends but I want to know the local people. There is definitely great uncertainty but there are also chances of meeting like-minded people. Plus, there are no obligations,” said Angel, who lives with her sister at a rented two-room apartment in Malviya Nagar.
Though at first the idea of getting friends online might sound suspicious, but these websites claim to be platforms which are “strictly for platonic friendship purposes only”.
There are, however, also some which have a wider range of services such as providing lovers but for dates only. “We are not a dating website or an escort agency. We provide service for friendly activities only,” a representative of rentafriend said in response to an email query from HT.
However, the website mentions that no background checks are carried out on enrolled members, potentially leaving the risk of a meeting gone awry.
Facebook pages such as ‘Meet friends here’, ‘Love on hire’ and ‘BFs of NCR’ are few pages which offer friends and lovers on an hourly basis. ‘Love on hire’ has over 25,000 followers.
A 28-year-old who gave his name only as Dey described himself as a “superb loving and caring” person in one such FB page. Another profile by the name ‘Jaanu’ claims to be a “soft hearted boy” who “cooperates with all because everyone is special for me as god.”
Payal Khuranna (name changed) had listed herself as a friend on a website in 2015 but has become a dormant user because of random requests from men after giving away her phone number during an interaction.
“Since there is no filter in these websites, you run the risk of meeting all kinds of people… I no longer check in to my profile.”
Dr Shobhana Shankar, sociologist, said that this trend among youngsters was a mirror to the growing ‘no baggage’ relationships.
“The youngsters these days do not want to commit easily and such a platform provides them with an option of not having to see the person again after a few meetings. Meeting someone new is also exciting and that thrill is what keeps people engaged,” Shankar said.