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 and 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 outfi ts 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.
You’ve Got 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, fi ll 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 numbers 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.
We hired two guys from Rent-a-Gent and Pally Asia. Here’s how they stacked up!
THE BOY NEXT DOOR
“I e-mailed my name and occupation to the agency,mstating 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 affable. 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 deflected 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.”
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’ forlarger 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.”
*Names have been changed.
The original version of this story was published in the October issue of Her World print magazine.
If you like this story, check out Hire a boyfriend for family functions with just a few clicks! and Sex confessions: We chat with a male escort who works in Singapore