BEIJING, China (AFP) — Tall, handsome, caring and thoughtful — these are the best qualities that every girl could fall for. But circumstances like a hectic schedule, social structure or simply not yet ready for a more serious commitment might be a reason why some women opt to find a boyfriend-for-hire online. Yes, a virtual boyfriend, it exists!
Lisa, a 28-year-old executive in Shanghai, has hired virtual boyfriends to act out romantic scenarios through text messaging.
“Of course, there were feelings of love, in letting myself feel like I was being loved,” she said, preferring not to use her real name.
“Because I was just buying a service, I don’t feel any guilt toward real people.”
Chinese teen Robin spends hours online chatting to her man, who always has a sympathetic ear for her problems — as long as she’s willing to pay him.
The 19-year-old pre-medical student has spent more than 1,000 yuan ($150) speaking to “virtual boyfriends.”
These aren’t seedy sex-chat lines but men who charge for friendly and flirty online communication, from wake up calls to lengthy text exchanges and video conversations.
“If someone is willing to keep me company and chat, I’m pretty willing to spend money,” said Robin, who didn’t want to give her real name.
The option for intimacy on-demand has gained popularity among China’s middle-income young women, who are often focused on careers with no immediate plans to marry and start a family.
Shops selling virtual friends and partners can be found on Chinese messaging app WeChat or on an e-commerce site like Taobao.
Several virtual boyfriends told AFP that most of their customers are single women in their twenties with disposable income.
By day, 22-year-old Zhuansun Xu is a foreign exchange trader in Beijing. By night, he chats with female clients who pay him to be their “boyfriend,” something he has done for the past year.
Girls come to Zhuansun with different needs — some want friendly advice, while others have more romantic requests.
“While we’re interacting, I tell myself: I really am her boyfriend, so how can I treat her well?” he told AFP.
“But after we’re done, I’ll stop thinking this way.”
Prices start from a few yuan for half an hour of texting to a few thousand yuan to keep a companion on retainer for phone calls throughout a month.
“People have figured out how to commodify affection,” said Chris K.K. Tan, an associate professor at Nanjing University who has researched the phenomenon.