Renting a boyfriend or a girlfriend has become popular among Chinese youth. Photo: Li Hao/GT
"Today you are the queen. It is all up to you to decide what to do," the tall, good-looking man standing in front of me said softly.
Vincent was somebody I rented online. He was waiting with a rose in hand when I came out of the subway station.
"Happy Qixi Festival," he said. He took over my handbag with one hand, like a perfect gentleman, and held my umbrella for me with the other, just like a boyfriend would.
The night before Qixi Festival, or the Chinese Valentine's Day, which fell on August 20 this year, I browsed through a lot of profiles of young men from all over China available on the smart phone app "Rent Me," and picked an attractive one, a 26-year-old who worked in the IT industry.
On the app, men and women listed themselves to be rented as a boyfriend or girlfriend at prices ranging from 10 yuan ($4.69) to several hundred yuan per hour. Information including age, profession, height, weight, and what they're available to do is provided for potential renters.
After putting 100 yuan into the app's account for two hours of Vincent's service, the system let me have his phone number.
On our date, we went to a café for a romantic ambiance, and then a nearby park for a causal walk. He was a good listener and showed a lot of interest in what I had to say about my work and life. His genuine responses and expressions made me feel like on a real date.
The idea of renting a boyfriend might sound strange to many people, but the service is actually quite popular. According to Wang Jianhua, public relations manager of zunvyou.com, a boyfriend or girlfriend rental service website that was launched in 2013, more and more young people, especially those born in the 1990s, are open to renting somebody to meet the parents, bring to social occasions, or simply to kill time and satisfy their emotional needs. The website has 2,000 registered members waiting to be rented and 50,000 renters from 30 cities all over China.
Some Chinese families put so much pressure on their children to get married, that to the children, the renting services seem very necessary.
Vincent told me that since March, two of his clients have rented him as a fake boyfriend to meet their parents.
"[Many women] do not begin a new relationship largely due to being busy with work or having a relatively high standards for what they want in a man, but their parents urge them to find one anyway," he said. "So they found me through the app." The parents were very satisfied with him, according to Vincent. He added that he does maintain ground rules and does not have physical contact with the women who rent him.
What does Vincent get in return?
He confessed that he doesn't just rent himself out for pocket money. "I also want to find a partner [through this]," he said.
However, the job isn't always without consequences. After meeting with one of his clients about a dozen times, Vincent discovered he was starting to have real feelings for her.
"But I knew that I am only a temporary boyfriend and was afraid I would get hurt, so I did not confess my feelings," he said.
The two hours I spent with Vincent seemed have passed so quickly. Before we parted ways, he advised me to avoid renting a partner in the future.
"The point of a relationship is companionship," he said. "This is just for one-time enjoyment. After I find a girl, I will not do this job any more."