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Saturday, 11 February 2012

Alone in the city? How about renting friends?

Read an article on the Guardian which was about renting a friend, trust me “renting a friend”! The article said about how a guy meets his friend at a café and over a cup of coffee thy chat about music, current events and the ups and downs of their working lives. But they don’t spend a lot of time talking about their feelings or their relationship, or rehashing the past. It’s just not that kind of friendship. And the interesting part comes from the fact that the duo feel the same and they prefer it that way, as the guy who has invited his friend to the café is paying him to feel the same. In fact, he’s paying him £40 an hour to feel the same!
Not so long ago, friendship meant lot of happiness, wisdom and good weather that money cannot buy. In a cold and indifferent world, a friend was someone we had to make for ourselves. But after reading this article, I don’t think it is required anymore, as we can buy friendship at our own convenience, that too by the hour! It’s like for a certain consideration, we can hire some friend to go to a museum with us, or hang out at the gym, or keep us company while we shop.

Wonder where this concept originated in? In Japan. But the idea is becoming popular across the world, including the US. There’s a website – rentafriend.com – which maintains a database of 417,000 names, people for hire from all over the US and Canada. And astonishingly, some 2,000 people pay to subscribe in order to find friends to take to dinner or to invite round for some scrapbooking. 

The website says: “Rent a Friend to attend a social event, wedding, or party with you. Hire someone to introduce you to new people, or someone to go to a movie or a restaurant with. Hire a Friend to show you around an unfamiliar town, teach you a new skill or hobby, or just someone for companionship. You can view all of the profiles & photos on RentAFriend.com right now for free!”

The website doesn’t forget to update the status. It says: “As of Friday, February 10th, 2012, there are over 417,000 Friends available for rent worldwide!” and goes on saying that where and all they have been featured and how famous the website is: “We have been featured on CNN, ABC, AOL, The Today Show, MSNBC, Fox News, Associated Press, CBS and thousands of other newspapers, television stations, radio programs, websites, and magazines from around the world.”

And recently, the website was launched in the United Kingdom and it says: “We are proud to announce that RentAFriend.com is now available in United Kingdom! We will be adding thousands of new Friends over the next few weeks, so please be patient as we expand globally!”
Maybe this idea will help for people who go abroad and find it difficult to socialize. If Asians are going to the Western countries, they might find it difficult to socialize with the Westerners and then this website might come in handy. Instead of feeling lonely and worrying how to socialize, maybe it is easy to find a friend on the website, of course coming at a price! Yes, when I came to Qatar last year, I longed for friends, a friend with whom I can talk and express my feelings. All the day I stayed at home and waited and waited for my hubby to return home. The whole day, I was alone at home. It was in such days I got to know about a girl from Bangalore who also had worked with the same newspaper where I began my journalism career. My joys knew no boundaries, as I thought here is a girl who is from Bangalore and I could talk to her in my mother tongue, Kannada.

But I didn’t realize the consequences of such a friendship. Every time I called her, she refused to pick my calls or answer my messages, making me feel that I’m troubling her and then I kept quiet. I thought maybe she’s busy and maybe she’s thinking that I’m calling her to ask if she came to know about any job openings, for I had sent her my CV, seeking her help to find me a job. But later I came to know when I went for an interview that she had not even mentioned my name when the Editor of a magazine had asked her if she knows any person who is interested to work. Will tell in another post why I didn’t accept the job offer from that magazine.
Coming back to the point, I had to go for a conference in India and requested her hubby if he could help me in getting some discount in air tickets. He promised me to do so by assuring that he would give the name and contact number of a travel agent. And I followed up with him for about 15 days, but in vain. All he had to do was just let me know that he couldn’t help me, but he took me for granted. But by the time I realized it, only two days were left for my journey and I had to pay twice the amount to get the tickets. Yes, a loss, economically and mental stress too!

Then, I sent her a message sarcastically thanking her husband for his “help” in getting me a “great discount” and asked if she needs anything from back home. And she was more than happy to know that her husband had helped me, when in fact he had not even bothered to just give me the name of the agent! She asked me to buy a bag for her, which fortunately or unfortunately I did, and returned to Doha. After my return, I tried contacting her, but in vain.

Later, she lost her job and she kept on calling me, and it was my turn to make her know how I used to feel when she was indifferent to my calls. Then, she and her hubby started posting personal comments to my casual status messages which surprised me. One fine day, I picked her call and finished my talk within two minutes and she felt I was rude to her by limiting myself to yes and no over the phone. And after that call, I felt bad and in the evening I tried calling her to visit us for the Laxmi puja, and no surprise, she didn’t answer my call and didn’t even bother to reply my text message.

I just left that issue at that and moved on till I found a good job at a repute company which matched her profile. I tried calling several times, but no answer and then I texted her, expecting no reply, but there it came, suddenly, asking me why I was so interested in helping her out. I replied, “Unlike others, who pretend to help and then turn their backs, I always help friends whenever I get an opportunity.” Then I sent her a mail telling her openly why I behaved indifferent, which only enraged her. Instead of accepting her follies, she wrote me back telling that I was “childish”. Emotions and “such kinda stuff has stopped bothering me 15 years ago.”

Then I wondered is she the same person who used to lecture: “I believe in the circle of life, because how else would you describe 'what goes around, comes around’...” “I believe that I'm responsible for my own actions because that alone will keep me from blaming others and causing strained relationships. I believe that relationships are built on respect, trust and love - strictly in that order. I believe that in a world of individuals comparison makes no sense at all…” and went on to say: “Sometimes, you wonder if all that you say falls on deaf ears. Sometimes, you wonder whether you took it for granted that someone will understand you when you poured your heart out…  You feel let down, you feel like you deserved more, you feel like you're entitled to an answer. But most of all, you feel like you were talking to a wall. Because, sometimes, that’s all it takes - a patient ear, and an encouraging word- to let you know that the way you feel matters. No advise, no rationalizing, no logical explanations, just listening to what you have to say. That's all it takes. And then you realize, it's unfair to expect others to react the way you want them to. It's stupid to think that they would treat you like an 8-year-old if you didn’t agree with everything they said. It's even more stupid to believe that they don’t actually care…” blah, blah blah.
Her lectures never stopped there, she went on: “We all need friends. Sometimes, we need just that one friend to make it easier for us to get through troubled times. Now, trouble need not necessarily mean something catastrophic, but it does mean that you’re in need of some advice. And that call for help must be taken seriously, no matter what the situation - whether it’s a break-up, a low –attendance-at-college issue, a quarrel at home because you weren’t allowed to go out and party, victim of office gossip, misunderstanding with the spouse, not knowing what to wear for an interview, or simply trouble with choosing the right pair of shoes… So, if I call someone a ‘close friend’, she’d have to be someone who tells me the truth about that little piece of spinach caught in the gap between my front teeth, someone who gives me her honest opinion about my wearing anything luminescent and pink - the colors may be in style, but she has the ‘permission’ to say that I look like a psychedelic ice-cream cone… To me, a close friend is someone who I can pour my heart out to, someone who listens to me before dishing out any sort of advice, who does not negate every feeling that I am going through in an effort to make me feel better, who ‘empathizes’ (as opposed to sympathize), who I can call at 4 am to pick me up from the airport, who I can invite home without having to worry about the mess…all this and so much more. We might move on from college talk and gossip, but in our hearts, we’ll always remember one another the way we used to be, no strings attached. Girlfriends! You can’t live without them…” blah blah blah.

And then, I saw both she and her hubby had disappeared from my Facebook, good for me, as I and my friends no more get to see their unnecessary personal comments on my wall. As whatever she lectured, she had never followed. I agree not everyone can become Ramakrishna Paramahamsa! And now, friends, from Bangalore, I run a mile away. She has taught me a good lesson, never to trust or rely on Bangaloreans and I think twice even before I talk to any Kannadigas in Doha now!

Coming back to renting a friend, maybe I would have not been hurt or insulted by a friend had I merely rented out a friend. But I have experienced how it feels to move to a new town and not know anybody, somewhat daunting and more than a bit lonely. And now, I don’t need to search any friends, as I have met like-minded friends, I get invitations for social gatherings and I’m enjoying my stay here.

But when given a good thought, don’t you think that it’s a shame that services such as renting a friend even have to exist? A friend is someone with whom a relationship has been developed and I wonder at the very concept of buying that. And see the sad state of affairs that a day has come where people can’t even make friends for themselves!
But I wonder if all is that easy. Will the so-called paid friendship stop at that and no emotions and feelings attached? Don’t they get used to the idea, or say an obligation to keep the paid friend happy and amused always? Don’t they have the fear of losing him/her if someone else pays them better? Will this paid friendship not too selfish and self-centered, not caring about each other or not getting attached emotionally? Don’t they feel that the paid friends merely act or pretend to be a friend, while all the attention is on the money paid on the basis of hours spent with each other?  

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