These days, finding a charming boy to impress the folks with is as easy as clicking “Add To Cart.” According to English People Daily, young people in China, particularly women, are renting bogus sweethearts through online marketplaces to parade in front of their scrupulous parents, who often pressure their daughters to find partners before a certain age.
To avoid nagging questions and nosy inquiries about love interests, young women will rent fake boyfriends through sites like Taobao, an online shopping website similar to eBay or Amazon, for anywhere from 500 to 8,000 yuan (about $82 to $1,300 USD) a day. The trend is reportedly most popular around the Chinese New Year and China’s Singles’ Day, when young ladies venture home to visit family.
According to The Shanghaiist, the price of renting a polished, charismatic boyfriend for a day doesn’t include things like transportation, dining, accommodations and other fees. But, for a minimum of three days, these strapping young men will take trips back home to meet the family, chat with the parents, go shopping with them and attend various family gatherings. A hug, hand-holding and a goodbye kiss on the cheek or forehead are on the house.
In some cases, the rent-a-boyfriend service prices can be highly detailed. For example, dining with the parents can cost a girl 50 yuan ($8.21) an hour; shopping or seeing a movie can run her 30 yuan ($4.92) an hour, plus concessions.
To get the fake relationship started, clients will first exchange photos with their potential employers online, and then settle on what services will be needed and how much they will cost. The faux couple then meets up to formulate a game plan and come up with a backstory for how they met.
Renting out boyfriends and, to a lesser extent, girlfriends in China is a new and fast-growing business in the country. Many women in their 20s and 30s are pressured by their parents to get married – according to ABC News, media often refer to any who are still single by the age of 27 as “leftover women.”
In February, around the Lunar New Year, ABC News reported that searches for the term “rental boyfriend” soared nearly 900 percent. "There are many reasons why women pay for this service," one rent-a-boyfriend business owner, identified only as Mr. Gao, told ABC News. "Some are trying to make their boyfriends jealous. Some want to bring a boyfriend to attend their company's annual dinner party to show their bosses that they are settled and stable. The women who rent a boyfriend to bring home for the Lunar New Year are wealthy women around the age of 25. Their parents fear losing face and worry that no one wants to marry their old single daughters."
Jezebel noted that the rent-a-boyfriend service is a totally hands-off service. If the rental boyfriend makes unsolicited advances on his female employer, she is reportedly eligible for a refund and is encouraged to call the cops. The service specifies that men “must be reasonably good looking, at least 5-feet-6, well-behaved and willing to wear glasses, which some parents consider a sign of erudition,” according to Jezebel. “They had to have decent social skills and be able to get along with all sorts of could-be in-laws and relatives.”
“I only rent my time, not my body — you know what I mean,” Matthew Fan, an accounts manager who has worked on the side as a rental boyfriend for the past two years, told The Daily Dot.
Not every guy thinks the China’s rent-a-boyfriend business is as innocuous as it might seem. Joe Celano, a 29-year-old Italian expat, told The Shanghaiist that he turned down two female colleagues who asked him to be a fake boyfriend. He said one woman offered to pay him 8,000 yuan ($1,300) for a one-week trip to meet her parents.
"That was ridiculous," Celano told The Shanghaiist."I'm a man of faith and I can't accept this. It's cheating. In addition, I think Chinese parents should bear part of the blame for their daughters' desperation."