By Paula Faris and Erin Brady
Marina has it all. She has the job, she has the looks, and, depending on her mood, she has her choice of Frankie the acrobatic dancer, Harrison the revolutionary or Eric the actor.
Marina is using a service called Rent-A-Gent. Starting at $200 an hour, users can pick from a list of handsome, intelligent men listed on the service’s website to be their companion and either book online or call to reserve a “gent.” The men can serve as a date to an event, cook meals or even repair a sink.
But what they are not allowed to do is hook-up -- no kissing, and definitely no sex, while on the job.
Marina ended up choosing Eric, whose Rent-A-Gent profile described him as someone who “loves the outdoors, culture and also active and social causes,” for a rock-climbing date -- something she had never done before but always wanted to try.
“It’s very hard to find a man ... that has good qualities, and then you have to get to know them, and go through the whole dating process, while this [website] is just a click away,” said Marina.
“You just hang out for two hours, and then you say goodbye, you go your ways, it’s amazing,” she continued. “You have all different types of men that you could choose and you choose how to spend your time with them.”
While this one-and-done date seems like a fun solution to typical dating, relationship expert Donna Barnes said hiring a companion could hurt women’s chances at finding real love.
“It’s really dangerous when you start putting too much emphasis on the package of who someone is,” Barnes said. “I think commonality is what makes relationships work. ... By hiring someone who is attractive, you start holding up this standard. You might overlook someone who is really wonderful and could make you happy.”
Rent-A-Gent offers services in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Sara Shikhman, the co-founder and CEO of RentaGent.me, and a panel of judges carefully select each gent in casting sessions, weeding out many of those who audition and selecting the best of the best.
“The process is very rigorous, because men think they can do it all, and all kinds of men show up,” Shikhman said. “They say to us, ‘Yeah, I’m qualified to be a gent, even though I’m 5-foot-4, bald and I’m 65 years old. ... That’s not going to happen.”
And the interview process is extensive. Shikhman said they will do “80 to 100” interviews before they find one man acceptable for hire.
“Women are paying $200 an hour. ... I want to give them something like a fine French restaurant, where it’s going to be amazing,” she said. “We have satisfaction guarantee so I need to stand by it. I can’t give them something crappy where they’re going to be like, ‘I could have met that guy at the bar.’”
Shikhman said she and the other Rent-A-Gent casting ladies are looking for their men to meet three criteria.
“They have to be handsome, they have to be intelligent and educated, and they have to have some kind of talent,” she said.
During the audition, Shikhman has the men show off their bodies, sometimes asking them to take off their shirt, and demonstrate their talent, whether it’s plumbing or dancing.
Again, this is not a sex service, Shikhman said, though she admits that some of the calls to Rent-A-Gent are from clients looking to be promiscuous.
“Some of the calls are like this: ‘Hey, I want to hire a guy and my wife is going to go to dinner with him. ... But I want to meet them after,’” Shikhman said. “And we’re like, ‘Well, what do you want to do? And they’re like, ‘Well, I want to watch my wife have sex with this guy.’ And we say, ‘Sorry, this is not that kind of service.’”
Shikhman said the Rent-A-Gent standard draws the line at making the men do something naked. But install a ceiling fan wearing only their underwear? “That’s fine,” she said.
While it may seem like harmless fun, the service can come off to some as simply objectifying men, but Shikhman disagrees, saying, “It’s the modern world and we have lots of different options.”
Eric, who was selected for Marina’s date, said that he doesn’t get that feeling of being used when he works for Rent-A-Gent.
“I don’t feel used, because I think it’s a different thing than that,” he said. “We’re going there to have fun, and I think so far the people that I’ve encountered have been very fun women.”
- Family & Relationships