Chinese New Year is coming, which means it's time to prepare for the usual barrage of personal questions like, "When are you getting married ah
?" or "Boy, got girlfriend already or not?"
And because millenials are too busy working to actually go out and meet new people, let alone look for someone to date, boyfriend-for-hire
actually became a thing since a couple of years back.
The role of a boyfriend/girlfriend-for-hire is exactly what the name implies: you hire a partner for an event or a festival to make people think that you're attached, but minus the emotions and commitment.
While this partner-for-hire thing blurs the line between an honest part-time job and being an escort, its popularity proves that there is a demand for it.
So, to see what it's like to become a girlfriend (or boyfriend)-for-hire, we've decided to track down one, and we actually did.
Being a companion
Meet Phoebe* (She has requested for total anonymity, but we can assure you that she's real). She is 23 and she is your average university student.
She studies full-time and works part-time to pay for part of her tuition fees. What’s not so average about her is that she doesn’t work at a restaurant, or retail store (as most uni students would).
She works as a girlfriend.
For the past two years, Phoebe has been paid to be a companion for dates, and even attend social events and family gatherings as somebody’s ‘girlfriend’. During festive seasons, she often has at least to three events to attend in a week.
‘Dry seasons’, as she calls them, run from April right up till October and usually have no more than four events a month. There have been times where she has found herself with only one event a week, or sometimes, none at all.
But when she does have an event, she charges up to RM300 per hour
, depending on the type of event. (We did the math: on an average, she can rake up to RM21,900 a year, for attending three-hour events. That’s insane!)
"I used to charge RM100 per hour, across the board, when I was just starting out. But recently I came across a Singaporean platform that offers ‘companions-for-hire’, and they charge different prices for different types of events.
"So I thought, why not, I can do that too and make more money! If it’s something that requires me to be very well-prepared and fancily dressed, I’ll charge a higher price," she confesses.
Phoebe acknowledges the negative connotations that come with the job, hence, she has not told anyone in her family about her job.
"A lot of people, especially those who are older and have a more traditional mindset, misunderstand what I do. A girlfriend-for-hire is not an escort, sugar baby or prostitute.
"I am simply a companion for those who aren’t able to get someone to accompany them to an event. I make it very clear that there is strictly no unnecessary touching. Sometimes, to keep up the image, I may hold hands with my ‘boyfriend’, but that’s about it."
Of course, there are risks involved, especially when you have to pretend to be intimate with someone, she says.
"The dangers of doing what I do is, of course, dealing with creeps or unintentionally giving the false idea that I want something more. That is why I am very careful with who I agree to go out with, what I wear, and what time I end my job for the day.
"I think it’s very important to just trust your gut feeling. If my gut feeling tells me this guy isn’t safe to go out with, even if he pays me double, I won’t take up the job."
Here, Phoebe shares with us what a typical week would be like in her life as a student and ‘girlfriend-for-hire’ when she gets hired for an event.
While Mondays are usually busy for a lot of people, Phoebe reveals that Mondays are considered off days for her.
"I usually have no class on Monday this semester, so I’m either at home working on assignments or recovering from the weekend! Depending on how busy the rest of the week will be, in terms of my job, I might head to the hair saloon to get my hair or nails done.
"It’s very important for a girlfriend-for-hire to keep up a good appearance. Besides that, I’m usually very free on Mondays. Not a lot of people have events on Mondays."
Tuesdays are pretty packed, she says, but not because of events.
"Tuesdays are packed with classes, from 9 to 6pm. I never take up events on Tuesdays unless they are willing to pay extra. But so far I’ve only had one event on Tuesday that I’ve been asked to attend as a partner.
"Tuesdays are equally as boring as Mondays when it comes to having parties.’
"On Wednesdays, I'm available late afternoon onwards. What I usually do on this day is set a meet-up with my fake 'boyfriend' to get the low down of things. Like, what to say to who, what not
to say and how to act.
Phoebe says this is the part of the 'job' she enjoys the most.
"This is also when we create a sort of backstory for how we met. I really enjoy this part because I get to come up with some really wacky stuff.
"Once, I told a guy’s mom that I met him at the café he was working at. I was a customer and he spilled iced lemon tea on my new dress, and that’s how we hit it off. Sounds like something from a rom-com. Super crazy but it seemed like she bought it!
When asked about her persona, she tells us that she doesn't make up her name, age, where and what she is studying, that kind of thing.
"Not all of my gigs require me to have a meet-up session, though. Only those that I know I’ll need to be talking to their family and friends. And face busy-body aunties. Some just need me to be present, like at corporate functions or an event where I don’t need to talk much."
Setting a boundary is something she always needs to do.
"Sometimes the guy will offer to meet at some fancy place and buy me dinner but I always refuse. I don’t want to give them the wrong idea. Especially since most of my ‘boyfriends’ are friends or friends of friends. I don’t want to make the friendship awkward.
"And I also never allow them to pay for me. I don’t want to come off as a sugar baby. So most of the time, I’ll ask them to meet me at some mamak
shop. Also because I love maggi goreng
"Thursday is when the week picks up. After I’m done with classes, I’ll grab something quick to eat and head home right away to get ready for the night’s event.
"If I don’t have an event to attend that night, I’ll have meet-up sessions for the remaining ‘boyfriends’ of the week, or for the ones I didn’t’ get to meet on Wednesday."
Recalling her 'date' from a week before, she gives us a rough idea on how Thursdays would be like if she has an event.
"So last week, after getting home, I got ready to go for someone’s grandma’s 90th
birthday. His grandma had been bugging him for quite a while to get a girlfriend, so he thought it’d be nice if he could bring a plus-one to the party.
"He couldn’t get anyone to go with him, so he asked my friend, who in turned asked him to hire me. Because I have a soft spot for old people, I gave him a discount! I really just wanted to see his grandma happy."
Usually, Phoebe would drive herself to the venue at least half an hour before to prep herself.
"Doing this ‘girlfriend’ thing, you sometimes get bombarded with a ton of questions from the guy’s family and that really drains you out! So I just take this time to get into the right frame of mind.
"When my ‘boyfriend’ arrives, I’ll find somewhere to park, and enter together with him. I never allow them to pick me up from my house because I don’t want to get caught in an unfavourable situation post-event. I’d rather just get there on my own, and be able to leave on my own as well."
Phoebe tells us that she gets a fair amount of requests on Fridays, but usually they are just "family stuff".
"My events on Fridays have mostly been family gatherings, in my last two years of doing this. This Friday I’ve got a farewell party for somebody’s cousin. I don’t want to give out too many details about my upcoming events, in case someone in the family comes across this article!
"Anyone reading this who has a family member’s farewell on Friday – if you see a new girl at the party, please don’t rat her out! She may not be me! She could just probably, genuinely, be someone’s new girlfriend," she laughs.
On Saturdays, Phoebe usually spends the morning portion of the day by herself. She either goes to the gym or meet up with friends for coffee.
"I’ve only had a lunch event once; that was some time back. It was another family thing, for a repeat ‘boyfriend’. This guy brought me for a Christmas gathering and since then, his family kept asking where I was.
"Instead of saying we broke up, or something along those lines, he kept telling them I was busy. So eventually he had to hire me to go and ‘show face’ at this lunch party. But this is the case with many of my ‘boyfriends’. A lot of them are repeat ‘boyfriends’," she says.
And because Chinese New Year is just around the corner, she tells us that her calendar is pretty much fully booked, especially on weekends.
"Last Saturday, I’ve got a company’s early Chinese New Year dinner to attend. I’ve been hired by a friend’s uncle. At first I was quite skeptical about it, but after the meet-up session last week, I found out he’s just a few years older than me, so that’s not too weird.
"Although this event doesn’t require a lot of planning and backstory creating, I felt the need to meet up to see if I feel safe doing this job. At anytime, if I’m unsure about a person, I wouldn’t agree to take up the job unless I’ve met them first."
Phoebe tells us that she tries to spend Sundays at home, but more often than not, 'job' requests will pop up.
But she sternly tells us that she doesn't just accept any requests that come her way.
"I was requested to attend a party at a club in KL as a plus-one, this Sunday. I turned the job down because I didn’t know where this person got my number from.
"He messaged me one day saying he heard I was doing this whole ‘girlfriend-for-hire’ thing from one of my friends, and I didn’t even know this person he was talking about!
"I think he got the wrong idea and probably thought I was an escort, which I am not. That is why I prefer to take up jobs from friends or their friends – people I know or can trust, at least."
It's like just another job
Despite the negative connotations attached to her line of work, Phoebe says she doesn't regret anything.
"Although I’m very selective with who I agree to take jobs from, I’m quite thankful I’ve been able to earn more than I could have, working part-time somewhere else. And I enjoy the fact that the timing is pretty flexible and I get paid to meet new people!"
Now with Chinese New Year coming up, Phoebe is anticipating a wave of events to attend. Apart from what she charges, we reckon she’ll be receiving a lot in angpau
money, as well!
But that’s not what seems to be making her most happy.
"I’m actually quite excited for Chinese New Year because of all the food. And luckily, I can wear the same cheongsam
at all the events," she laughs.
Looks like being a partner-for-hire is a pretty lucrative job. Not to mention, there is an increasing demand for such things!
We just hope there won’t come a time where there won’t be anymore real boyfriends and girlfriends out there!