I Rented a Date for My Friend's Birthday Party, and Might Do It Again

illustration of woman pushing man in shopping cart
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

I was about to go on a date with a man I rented.

Several thoughts raced through my mind: how on Earth did Richard Gere do this? Richard Gere was a character in Pretty Woman, not a real person. OK, fine -- how do men do this?  Goddamn it, if men can do it, women can too! This is really more Debra Messing in The Wedding Date than Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.

After coming to my last conclusion, I downed a glass of wine to calm my jittery nerves and went off into the night to meet my "date."

Rent A Gent is a service that allows women to rent handsome men for just about anything our little hearts desire (except for boning!)... from assembling an IKEA table, to bartending, to being your date for the evening. When I first heard about it, I was more intrigued than the time I heard about pretzel M&M's. I personally couldn't care less if the guy who caulks my bathtub looks like Homer Simpson (confession: I've never had a bathtub caulked), so long as he gets the job done. But drive people wild with envy when they see my gorgeous date? Yes, of course I’d be down for that.

If men can do it, women can too!

So when I was invited to a huge birthday bash for an old high school friend, only three words came to mind: "Rent A Gent." This would be the perfect opportunity to fetch a tall, handsome, debonair date. I had only recently reconnected with Amy*, and only casually knew the friends of hers I did. No one would have a clue about the actual status of my dating life (I had just broken up with someone). Had this been a party for one of my close friends, the jig would have been up before it started.

I perused the men of Rent A Gent, submitted my top choices, and was matched with Tom; a 6’3", dark-haired actor with bright-green eyes. I was told Tom would call me the day before to finalize our plans. Eager to make sure this ruse went off without a hitch, I pondered all the topics that might come up in conversation. Did he need to know I was obsessed with Gwen Stefani? Or that I've always wanted to go to Bali? Or that I hated beets?

I decided to keep it to the basics during our chat. So Tom was told whose party it was, who would be there, that I’m a Democrat, I’m from Jersey, and I like rock music. And I really love cheese. We agreed to meet at a Starbucks around the corner from the venue.

When it was time to meet Tom, I began to question my sanity. On paper it seemed like a completely awkward and weird thing to do. What if I didn't even like this guy? What if he had bad breath? What if he was a total weirdo?

But as soon as Tom arrived, he put me at ease. He was super chill and personable, and we chatted about everything from music to films to books as we walked to the bar. For a minute, I began to feel like I was on a real date.

What if he was a total weirdo?

"Let’s sit on this bench for a few minutes," Tom said motioning me to sit. "First things first," he said as I sat down. "You’re sitting too far away from me. No one will ever believe we’re dating." Damn this guy was good! Here I was worried about beets and Gwen Stefani when the real giveaway was my body language.

While making small talk, he confided in me that many women end up renting a guy to make an ex jealous at a party. I couldn't help but laugh. It was an expensive (albeit effective) idea, and one that hadn't occurred to me. I just wanted the comfort of having a date at a big party where many other people would likely be coupled.

After 15 minutes or so, things between us seemed warmed up enough to go to the party. A complete gentleman, Tom opened the door, helped me with my coat, held my hand as we entered, and made sure to get me a glass of red wine.

As we made the party rounds and I started introducing Tom, I started feeling more and more comfortable. Tom was at ease talking to just about everyone and was quick to usher me to the front of the bar to watch the birthday girl make her speech. He deftly led me away when he saw an annoying acquaintance I didn't want to talk to coming our way, and even shared his risotto ball with me. This guy was almost better than an actual date. Even if it wasn't real, it was nice to be treated like a lady.

We looked good together, even if we were a faux couple.

After half an hour, my guard had dropped and I began just enjoying the evening instead of thinking about how I rented a dude. Tom's implicit understanding of social behaviors and situations made him the ideal guy to take to a big event where you want to make a good impression.

"You guys make a gorgeous couple," Amy said, once I finally got to catch up with her. It's true. We looked good together... even if we were a faux couple. I began to feel guilty knowing I was totally lying to everyone, but another glass of wine got me right over that hump.

Tom walked me to the subway, where we exchanged polite goodbyes. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be. Would I do it again? If I had cash to burn and I had an important event to go to (a wedding, banquet dinner, and reunion all come to mind) then yes, I might consider it. I bounded down the subway stairs happy at how successful the night went.

Let’s face it, you could be a Nobel Peace Prize-winning rocket scientist and people would still wonder why you're not dating, engaged, or married. We all feel awkward showing up to big events dateless. It felt nice to put those concerns aside for one evening and just enjoy being part of a happy couple. Even if it was make believe.

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Rachel Khona prefers her dates to be real and her fur to be faux. Follow her on Twitter: @rachelkhona.