Thursday, May 01, 2008

"Yes, of course they're serious."

Over the past few days, I've observed with some amusement the online reaction to Steven Soderbergh's recently-announced project The Girlfriend Experience. Much of the reaction I've noticed has centered around the proposed casting of an as-yet-unnamed adult film star in the principal role. But some of the interesting talk has focused on the idea of surrogate girlfriends. According to Wikipedia, the "girlfriend experience" is a service provided by some prostitutes which entails treating the client as though she's his girlfriend, rather than a mercenary screw.

However, if someone is looking for the zest of a relationship but is too guilt-ridden/paranoid/cheap to hire an accommodating escort, there are other options. Of these, the one that provides the most oddness for your fake-dating dollar is a site I stumbled upon when reading the comments on Glenn Kenny's blog, called Imaginary Girlfriend. Go ahead, take a look, and try not to chuckle.

My first reaction to this discovery was disbelief. They couldn't be serious, could they? This whole thing smelled vaguely like an abandoned Jared Hess movie, or one of those harebrained ideas I would have thought up in my college days while intoxicated, like orange-juice-flavored toothpaste, or video rental by mail. Who would ever believe you could reliably and cheaply send movies through the US Mail and expect them to be returned? That's just crazy talk.

But no, Imaginary Girlfriend is for real. Heck, it even says so on the FAQ page. But rather than a downmarket version of GFE or even your very own Bianca, this is something much more mundane. Basically, you pay for girls to leave you romantic phone messages and send you love letters, e-Mail, photos and gifts so you can pretend to be in a long-distance relationship.

Yes, really.

As someone who has been in more than one long-distance relationship (a sad reality of many people's college years- or mine, anyway), I can attest to the fact that they really aren't much fun. They're all idealization and no proximity, which is okay for a short period of time but quickly grows interminable. The trouble is that sooner or later idealization is a pale substitute for real romance. Sure, people can profess their feelings to each other over the telephone or via e-Mail, but you lose out on the many wonderful small things you get from an up-close-and-personal relationship. It's more than just sex- it's watching her dozing on the couch while you're watching TV together or trying out a new recipe some evening just for the hell of it. No letter or phone message, no matter how poetic or candid, can compare to such things.

But then, is Imaginary Girlfriend really meant to give its customers the fun of a real long-distance relationship? Let's look at the FAQ page, shall we? Under the quesiton, "why would I want an Imaginary Girlfriend?", it states:

"There are many reasons. Some guys are tired of being told by friends and family to get a girlfriend."

So basically, we're talking about long-distance hetero beard duty. Moving on...

"Maybe you would like to make someone else jealous when they see how enamored your new girlfriend is by you."

Yes, until he turns to his own girlfriend, standing right the hell next to him, and makes googly eyes at her. Hard to compete with that.

"Perhaps you are wondering what it's like to have a long distance girlfriend?"

See above. It's hard enough for real, so why invite it?

"These are all good reasons, and it really depends on your situation. Having an Imaginary Girlfriend can be a lot of fun. What guy (or girl) wouldn't enjoy being showered with personal love letters and affection of an Imaginary Girlfriend? Having an Imaginary Girlfriend can be a great confidence booster!"

It's this last part that blows my mind. Sure, you get to walk and talk like you're in a relationship, but it's not real and you know it. You can re-read those letters all you want, but that won't make the sentiments in them any more real. And you don't even get any intimacy out of the deal- a few measly missives, maybe some perfumed panties, but no actual contact with the woman in question. What a confidence booster! Especially when one of your more longstanding friends actually thinks a little bit about your "relationship" and decides that something isn't quite right. Like- oh I don't know- the fact that you never really seem to have met the woman who allegedly loves you so much.

My single status has been well-documented on this blog, but this sounds desperate even to me. How arrested does your development really have to be for Imaginary Girlfriend to be acceptable by your standards? Seems to me the only thing a customer can get out of this is the ability to front like he has a girlfriend. And to me, that's one of the least of the pleasures one can derive from a relationship. Maybe it's cool when you're in middle school to brag about your relationships, but not so much when you're an adult. It's just not how it's done nowadays. And that some men still think it is- enough to sign on with Imaginary Girlfriend- just shows how out of touch they really are.

On the Imaginary Girlfriend site, there's a warning: "Anyone who has difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy should NOT use this service." Funny, because that's just about the only sort of person I can imagine getting any enjoyment out of it.


Jose said...

Unbelievable, are you sure this is for real?

Hedwig said...

Hehe, that's hilarious...especially the underlying assumption that guys only bother with girls so they can brag about them.

Oh, I dunno. I'm single, have been all my life except for a combined total of something like 6 months, and you know what? I don't mind so much. I read your earlier posts, and what you say sounds very true: I have a hard time relating to a lot of people, and while I could probably get a boyfriend by lowering my standards just a tiny bit, why would I want to do that? I realize it's easy for me to say, at 23, and that 10 years from now I might be singing a different tune, but I hate the whole concept that "the couple" is the basic unit, and if you're not in one you're somehow incomplete.

Somehow it seems being single is seen as a sign of something wrong, which might be why there's people hiring these "imaginary girlfriends".

Also: why just girlfriends? Somehow, I'd think there'd be a bigger market for "imaginary boyfriends". Most of the single guys I know (and since I study physics, it's a significant sample) don't seem too torn up about it, but I've known a few girls entirely desperate at not having met the love of their lives yet. I wouldn't hire one, but I could name at least three girls who might.

James said...

I wrote a short story once about a guy who finds a prostitute that'll treat him like her boyfriend instead of a "mercenary screw" as you put it, but I never thought that about a whole business aimed in that direction.

I just got out of a nearly three year long relationship, and thus have realized a few things. I hate being single. I hated being taken. I love being single and I love being taken. They both have their ups and downs. Basically, I just take comfort in the knowledge that one day I'll be dead and then it won't matter much.

Paul C. said...


As far as I can tell, it's genuine, although I don't think I want to contact them and find out for sure.


Yeah, I wondered the same thing about the gender switch. After all, it seems like more women than men are hounded about being single. The only thing I can think of is that women seem to be less likely to settle for something resembling a relationship. In my experience, they're more prone to lowering their standards (as you put it) in order to be in a relationship, even a bad one, in lieu of being alone. Of course, there are exceptions on both side of the gender divide.


Sounds to me like you're still smarting from the breakup. Lord knows I understand. As for me, I haven't been in an honest-to-goodness relationship for seven years, and believe me, when you're alone those conflicted feelings you have about relationships only get worse. You want to avoid the headaches, but it also gets mightly lonely sometimes. Best to either find someone else or find something (something productive that is) to take your mind off it. Plus you're still pretty young, which helps. The dating scene definitely changes once you hit 30, take it from me.

Jose said...

The main problem i have is living in a mainly catholic country, people here marry young, so the single people my age, either have issues, or are looking to get married now. I found out thanks to facebook, that all the girls i went to high school with, are either married or engaged. I've never been in a actual relationship, just some dates, a combination of shyness, too high standards, and don't minding being alone, which is supposed to be attractive, but it hasn't worked out for me.

James said...

School will be out come next week, so I'm planning on getting to work on that novel about the sociopathic jock that has proven so popular amongst the people I know. A burst of lady troubles might actually help there.