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'Friends for hire' service rents fake buddies out to lonely folk

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 Some are critical about what the proliferation of 'fake friend' services mean for society in general. (http://www.friendsforhire.com.au/)Have you ever been in the mood for a fun night out, only to find that all of your buds are busy? Been left in lurch by a bro who bailed on bowling night? Had an extra concert ticket to see an artist your amigos can't stand? 

Meet the friend rental industry -- a growing group of businesses aimed at lonely folks in need of platonic companionship for activities, hanging out, or anything else you may want a friend for. 

Australia's soon-to-be-launched Friends For Hire is the latest entrant into the friend rental game, following in the footsteps of similar such companionship services in Japan and the U.S.  
Launching March 22, the company's website promises "endless possibilities" in terms of what friends can be rented for: Sporting events, family functions, as workout partners, for cooking, chilling, camping, clubbing, gaming, and even to learn a new language. 

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, registered "friends" can charge up to $60 per hour for their services, while members -- who also pay friends directly -- are charged a $5 weekly membership fee to access the friend database. 

The company's creators say that 1,500 people have already registered for the service online.

"Every member and friend [relationship] is going to be different, depending on what their needs are," said co-founder and managing partner Josh Blundell to The Herald. "It's definitely not a dating website. It's for people who are lonely, without the expectation that things will move beyond a platonic friendship." 

While the Friends For Hire Facebook page only boasts about 1,800 likes so far, those who've commented on it seem enthused by the idea. 

"Can't wait to use this," wrote Charlotte Campbell of Broome, West Australia. "I want to be paid to be someone's friend," wrote Harry Marshall. "I'll take $20 an hour and free drinks. I'm a swell time, for a nominal fee." 

If previous incarnations of this service elsewhere are any indication, Friends for Hire could very well take off in Australia. 

The American website rentafriend.com, which launched in October 2009, bills itself as "the largest online platonic friendship website in the world" with more than 500,000 "friends" available to rent worldwide. 

"You can rent a local Friend to hang out with, go to a movie or restaurant with, or someone to go with you to a party or event. Rent a friend to teach you a new skill or hobby, or to show you around an unfamiliar town," reads the website's about page, with the caveat that "RentAFriend.com is strictly a platonic Friendship website. RentAFriend.com is NOT a dating website, and NOT an Escort agency." 

The premise is seemingly harmless enough, but some are critical about what the proliferation of services like these mean for society in general. 

Beverly Hills psychiatrist Dr. Carole Leiberman told the Herald that, in her opinion, Rent A Friend is "an incredibly sad commentary on the state of human relationships."

"People are more estranged from one another than ever before," she said. "They go out together only to spend the night glued to their phones. If I had a patient considering this, I'd work to find out what's preventing him or her from connecting with people organically in the first place, and work on solutions to that problem. This service is a Band-Aid fix for serious psychological problems." 

What are your thoughts on services like Rent a Friend? Would you rent someone for companionship, or make some extra cash working as a friend to be rented out?

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