When I heard about Rent A Gent, a company that lets people hire attractive males (six-packs guaranteed!) at the cost of $200 an hour, I knew I had to sample the goods on offer. Unlike the typical escort service, which is thought of as a flimsy disguise for a prostitution ring, Rent A Gent bars sex: Each male employee is contractually obligated not to get busy with his clients.
This isn’t actually a new concept. Back in the late 1930s, the entrepreneur Ted Peckham launched a similar business designed to pair handsome, well-educated men with single women in need of dates, lest they be turned away from the city’s hottest nightclubs and lounges for committing the social faux pas of showing up single. Fear of “indecencies and immorality” led to the rather abrupt demise of Packham’s business.
Is the world finally ready for platonic male escorts?
According to Rent A Gent founder Sara Shikhman, who often answers the company’s phone and encourages prospective clients to air their concerns, all gents are screened for intelligence, amiability, and physical attractiveness. Through browsing the available “inventory” online, I quickly confirm the latter objective, but I’m skeptical about how one tests for the former two traits. Shikhman is adamant about the quality of her crop, however. She also notes that gents have been hired for a variety of purposes: to bartend at bachelorette parties, babysit, install curtains, serve as plus-ones, strip, etc.
After surveying the options, I decide to focus on New York City based guys with experience in fitness, figuring I’ll feel less weird about dropping hundreds of dollars on a session (or whatever you call paid-for time with a dude) if I get some personal training advice out it. I also figure it might be nice to be the envy of other women at the gym courtesy of some arm candy. My search leads me to the profile page for athlete slash actor Anthony the Entrepreneur, who appeals to me immediately, mostly because he looks like a cross between Billy Baldwin and Andy Garcia.
I email Rent A Gent with my request to meet Anthony on Monday afternoon from 3pm to 6pm. The news that Anthony’s available during my desired time slot makes me giddier than it should.
By 2pm Monday afternoon, I’m suffering from a serious case of anxiety-induced cottonmouth. I feel as if I’m about to lose my virginity all over again, but I remind myself that pushing my personal boundaries is part of the fun. Dressed in knee-length spandex and a turquoise mesh top, but sweatier than I should be pre-workout, I head to our designated meeting place, New York Health & Racquet Club.
When I spot my Garcia-Baldwin lookalike leaning against the check-in counter, I’m relieved that he looks every bit as fit as his online photos promised. I’m also grateful that Anthony takes charge from the outset by guiding our conversation and instructing me where to go. Anthony has done this before, I can tell, and he’s a natural conversationalist. Though I can’t seem to wipe the stupid girlish smile off my face, his presence puts me at ease.
Within minutes Anthony is stretching me out on a mat, positioning my body with the authority of an expert, but also with the tenderness of a quasi-boyfriend. In between exercises, we chat casually about our lives.
We seem to connect, but is that even possible? Anthony’s paid to be agreeable. I know this game because I’ve been in his position before, when I posed as a sugar baby for an undercover Vanity Fair story. After a moment’s thought, however, whether or not our connection is “real” doesn’t seem all that important. This is a temporary thing, not a test for long-term compatibility.
An hour or so later, we each shower and change clothes before heading to a nearby bar called Pop Pub for happy hour. The dryness in my mouth subsides altogether after a few sips of wine, and the alcohol buzz inspires me to pry. Anthony isn’t his real name, it turns out, and he’s sporting a regrettable tattoo of his ex-girlfriend’s name (written in her actual handwriting) on his right arm. Overall, “Anthony” is an open-minded guy who enjoys acting above all. If he’s practicing his craft in real time by playing the attentive gentleman, he’s good enough to be at least a C-list celebrity, I think to myself.
As 6pm approaches, I wonder how awkward it will be to bid Anthony farewell, knowing that I might never see him again unless I’m willing to cough up more cash. Our PG embrace feels a bit strange as the cap to a relatively intimate drink meeting (the word “date” seems misplaced), but as I wave good-bye to my rented gent, I feel liberated. I don’t have to worry about whether he’ll text me within the next few hours, or whether he expects to bone the next time I see him, if there’s ever even a follow-up encounter.
Overall I feel in control, if a bit broke.
Below, the three main takeaways from my Rent A Gent experience.
1. Predetermined boundaries are mostly awesome.
Renting a gent is akin to a no-strings-attached hookup, but with the undivided attention of a hot guy in place of an orgasm. When sex and future expectations are both removed from the menu, flirting is completely stress free. It feels innocent in a lovely, albeit somewhat phony way. According to Rachel Sussan, LCSW, as long as you “keep in mind that it’s separate from reality,” renting a gent is a healthy way to have some fun and maybe even ease your way into the actual dating world.
2. No one wants to pay for stuff, but everything costs money.
Spending money is probably most people’s least favorite thing to do, and exchanging money for sex and/or companionship in an overt manner is still taboo. But the fact is that there’s an economic foundation to most activities in life, including those surrounding sex and companionship.
People reach deep into their pockets to boost their moods in plenty of ways—psychotherapy, retail therapy, hot tissue massages, and yoga classes, to name a few—without thinking twice. So if you must, reframe the way in which you look at exchanging dollars for dudes: It’s just another way to combat the ol’ blues! I’d even go so far as to claim it’s empowering as a 30-something to be able to dip into my disposable income to splurge on this kind of thing.
3. Attention from attractive charismatic people is validating
“It’s natural to seek attention from the opposite sex, and it makes most people feel especially good to be doted on by an attractive person,” says Sussman, who suggests that renting a gent might give some women a much needed confidence boost.
What Rent A Gent seems to get right is that it’s doubly awesome to receive attention from a good-looking person who can speak intelligently. Shikhman says that many of her customers aim to stoke jealousy in a former partner, which makes sense as an offshoot of the validation factor her carefully screened gents can provide.