Do men really prefer rental girlfriends?

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Last week, The New York Observer published a story called ‘The Luxury Rental Girlfriend’. Penned by Lisa Taddeo, the article kicked off with the teaser, “Why buy the long-term relationship when short-term does the trick?”

Admittedly, I was hooked. Despite not having had a girlfriend, I couldn't help picturing the relationship equivalent of an upscale timeshare in the Caribbean. Could it be that a whole new era of sexual commerce has evolved before us while we lay, bleary-eyed and monogamous?

To help us navigate the premise, the author introduces us to Jack -- a thirtysomething Manhattanite who hangs out at downtown hipster haunts and is “good-looking, makes money, and has a nice apartment”—  in other words, a trifecta of single male triumph.

'The Luxury Rental Girlfriend' on <i>The New York Observer</i>.

'The Luxury Rental Girlfriend' on The New York Observer.

But first, Taddeo wants us to take a moment to feel the weight of his unique burden: 

“You’re Jack, and you take a girl out to dinner ... and she spends three hours deciding if you’re the kind of guy who will like her more if she sleeps with you or if she doesn’t.” 

The trouble continues: “There are girls who ride horses and lawyers and designers and tall ones and short ones, stacking their needs up across his walls and then saying those are not needs, they are shadows.” 

Maybe it’s the trauma of finding strangers "stacking needs across his walls" (actual meaning unknown)or maybe it's the neurosis of the dinner-eating women who wouldn’t put out --  either way, it’s at this point that the author reveals that even though "Jack can have any girl he wants", he now prefers the company of expensive escorts. 

According to Taddeo, Jack is part of a new, aspirational breed of  johns who call themselves 'hobbyists'. Their hobby being “sleeping with beautiful women and then reviewing and categorizing them." This happens mostly on an escort directory, The Erotic Review (TER), a massively trafficked site which gets between 250,000-300,000 visitors a day and functions like "Yelp for the sex trade". (But which sounds more like a kind of sexual Mordor). Anyone who signs up as a member can leave their two cents about the escort they hired, rating details like, "Hair length? Photo Accurate? Shaved? More than one guy at a time? Full, no rush session?"

You can almost hear Taddeo telling this story at a pub --  the way urban legends are told -- pausing to savour our reactions. Here’s a growing group of Esquire-reading, globe-trotting men who are opting for paid sex over relationships. The most obvious explanation? The wives and girlfriends just can’t seem to get things right. 

We’re told that a rental girlfriend “puts out every time like she’s bucking for a rating” and “knows how to dress a roast and when to listen”, while a ‘Wife in Training’ typically dreams about her wedding after a first date, is either overweight or obsessively working out, underestimates the importance of a night being over and wonders about things like why men don’t walk four flights of stairs to pick her up for dinner. Most importantly, she also lacks the “magic switch” that lets her have sex without imposing oppressive “emotional requirements” thereafter. 

It’s hard to say which is more disappointing -- that these wildly dated stereotypes still exist or that a female writer expects us to buy into them. Isn’t there an alternative explanation to the popularity of the Girlfriend Experience? Or why someone like Jack who finds relationships suffocating has no problem paying his escort’s car insurance, taking them out to dinner or hanging up their plasma TVs? 

Interestingly, a 2012 study shows that up to one third of men who pay for sex “also want to have a personal relationship with the escorts”. Researchers analysed the 2,442 postings from the online forum of The Erotic Review and found that “regular clients of a particular sex provider often come to experience feelings of deep affection”. 

A huge part of the fantasy, it seems, is being able to simulate intimacy while staying firmly in the emotional driving seat. “Sometimes it’s just that I can have this beautiful girl sitting on the couch beside me,” says Jack, “I don’t even want to fuck her necessarily, it’s just nice to know I can reach across and touch her right boob, if I want to.” 

“Like any other commercially packaged leisure activity, intimacy is now readily available for a price,” wrote study co-authors Ronald Weitzer and Christine Milrod. In fact, the high price tag could even create the illusion that paid relationships are better than ordinary dates.  “You take care of  expensive things…The more you charge, the more worth it a man thinks you are," explains professional escort Katelyn.

Ultimately, Taddeo believes that men want to “make love and nibble on lips and watch television and Herbal Essence a woman’s hair in the shower and even tell her that they love her, and know she won’t turn it into something else.” 

For the men’s sake as well as ours, let’s hope this isn’t the full picture. 

81 comments

  • The most insecure men opt for this. Who needs them?

    Commenter
    Ana
    Date and time
    February 05, 2013, 3:32AM
    • If these men exist, they would have to be severely emotionally retarded. Surely the sex is fun (and I know men really go for the casual sex thing) but at some stage, surely they long for a more permanent emotional connection? Any woman in her right mind would be best to avoid these selfish, self-obsessed types, they wouldn't be worth the effort - only interested in the superficial, they will never change.

      Commenter
      KL
      Date and time
      February 05, 2013, 10:08AM
    • Ana, the male entertainment industry is worth billions in this country alone. The character described in this story as "Jack" is a narcissistic control freak that no ordinary woman would want to have in her life. What is not described her are the notes and video footage being kept on him by his painted ladies or more likely, the "corporations" running them. Poor old Jack might only find out if he gets promoted, or tries to enter the public sphere or one day wants to marry a rich heiress. Somebody could turn that to their advantage.

      Prostitution is a business and blackmail is one of the most lucrative spin-offs from it as our daily headlines blare out repeatedly. Never mind the effect it has on the cost of living expenses for the average household of the average Joe's using their services!! Much bigger than the carbon tax!!

      Commenter
      Nell
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 05, 2013, 1:36PM
    • The term is sex work, Nell. And would you like to link to an article with an instance of a sex worker blackmailing a client or former client? Sex workers do not blackmail clients. If anything, it is likely to be the other way around.

      If you want to make comment, fine. But please don't make things up.

      Commenter
      vj
      Date and time
      February 05, 2013, 6:53PM
    • Lease cars, boats, computers and woman. Buy land, education and travel.

      Commenter
      Cobbs
      Location
      Hong Kong
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 10:54AM
    • KL - I think that's the point of the whole article, many of these men do exist and they simply aren't interested in having a traditional, emotion-laden relationship with women.

      However, they can have the type of relationship they do want, one that is based around sex where there is only a small emotional aspect to it, from women who are willing to give them that sort of relationship in exchange for money.

      It seems a bit sordid, but some men simply don't have the emotional capacity or needs that most women have or want in a traditional relationship.

      Commenter
      Chris
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 10:59AM
  • Seems that it's not an "un-relationship" that these men want, it's hot women who are hot for them. To which I will only say "Duh!"

    If the only way they can get thheir ideal is by paying someone to fake it then I guess it works out for all involved. But it is sad that personal (in particular physical) flaws so rule the day that these men would rather live in a fantasy-land where they feel like they are loved rather than finding the real thing.

    Personally I'll take a man with some physical flaws if we can connect on an intellectual and truly intimate level, beyond "Tab A goes into Slot B" and looking good when out in public together.

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    February 05, 2013, 8:26AM
    • So many opinions from non combatants. I am the first to admit it is not ideal to use escorts. I also admit that some are there because they are poor or disadvantaged, or even sexual slavery as per some brothels.
      On the other hand some women are empowered, they do it because they choose it. They have the personality of personal care providers, they are really nice. I can only relate my approach, which is respect, we operate under their rules, we are two people who work together to serve our different needs, it is fun, sometimes the escort actually enjoys herself, sometimes it is obviously just a chore. If you just dismiss the girls as poor, no choice drug addicts and the guys as despicable, morons, desperates, etc you show a lack of empathy, you malign people who you know nothing about.
      The problem in this area, is that much of society is unaware of much about the sex industry, as well as very conservative, and reactionary. There are many women who do it from disadvantage & poverty, but take it away without providing an alternative is worse. Make your comments evidence based before you splat as comment.

      Commenter
      Ray
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 05, 2013, 3:45PM
    • Ray:

      I don't think that I ever said that the people involved are bad people. I just said that it's sad that a real relationship, built on trust and love and not a cash exchange, is preferrable to some people. It makes me wonder what sort of people they've met in their lives that a fake girlfriend (because it is fake, no matter how real it seems at the time - that is all part of the deal and you're not the only one receiving that treatment no matter how much you'd like to pretend otherwise) is better than the real thing. And for the marrieds, it makes me sad that the sex is so bad/so limited that the only viable option appears to be going elsewhere and spending money for someone new to fake interest in what you're doing.

      Commenter
      TK
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 5:41AM
    • "Take it away without providing an alternative is worse'.

      Worse for who? Men or the women in prostitution? Prostitution damages and/or destroys physical and mental health, personal safety, sexuality, trust and the ability to have meaningful relationships, long term economic security and lives. What could be worse than that?

      Commenter
      Kim
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 6:54AM

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