My name is Sheena. I am a 24-year-old woman who is perpetually single.
I am also Indian-American. My parents left India for America in their mid-20s to give their future children opportunities they themselves didn't have.
Most days, I'm proud to be a second-generation American. But then I have days when I crack under insurmountable pressure to lock things down with a guy.
I'm about to unapologetically become a single 25-year-old, and not only is my biological clock screaming, so is my pushy extended family.
See, in my culture, if you aren't well on your way to being a wife, a mother and a doctoral candidate by the age of 27, there's something wrong with you. And if you aren't looking for a guy, your parents will arrange one for you.
But I'm single, a writer, and did I mention single? So when my cousin -- who regularly chastises me and my penchant for dating unavailable men -- invited me to his 27th birthday party, I hesitated at first, knowing I'd be mainly among couples.
I wanted to bring a guy with me to spite my cousin, but there was no one in sight: I currently am not dating anyone seriously, and the only male friends I have are gay or straight and taken. I live in No Man's Land.
And then I had a stroke of genius: I would hire someone to pose as my boyfriend for the night.
Now, I know what you're thinking: this Sheena chick must be A) high, B) butt-ugly or C) hands-down the most desperate single woman in New York to have entertained such an idea. I'm none of those things. The correct answer is D) tired.
I'm straight-up worn out from hearing, “You're pretty cool and smart, so why can't you find a guy?” Society condones asking women questions like this without stopping to consider how they feel.
Well, I wanted to f*ck with society. I wanted to change the rules. I reached a point where I was so bored with my love life that I was willing to try anything once.
I could have gone on Tinder. I could have picked someone up at a bar (my tried-and-true tactic). I could have even asked my gay friend to accompany me and fake being a straight dude for the night -- but those options were too easy.
If I was going to do this, I was going to do this right. So, on my own volition, I dropped $150 on a male escort from Rent A Gent. Yes, you read that correctly. I rented a gent.
Rent A Gent is a male escort service that "rents out" attractive men for a hefty price. My first choice was a hot, brown-haired guy with a man bun, but he was unavailable. So Rent A Gent sent me my runner-up, accommodating my demands quite nicely:
His name was Alec. He was a Mormon from Utah, and he'd come to New York to be a model. Nearly a foot taller than me, he stood at an impressive 6'5” and had the arms of an Olympic swim champion.
He smelled like heaven. There was no question: The guy was strikingly handsome (a little too handsome, if you ask me. I'm no Angelina Jolie, and I wanted a guy beautiful enough to induce envy -- but mediocre enough to squash suspicion).
Still, we made a handsome-as-hell faux couple.
He met me a block from the restaurant, giving me just a minute to get him up to speed on my life. I told him I'm a journalist determined to get a good story, and fortunately, he didn't run for the George Washington Bridge. He was mine for an hour.
“You're sweet,” he said. “You shouldn't have to do this.”
“I don't have to,” I said. “But I want to.”
We approached the curb outside the restaurant, where my cousin and his friends were already standing. I went down the line and introduced my date. They shook his hand in awe and approval.
“See that guy over there?” I whispered to Alec, pointing to my cousin's friend. “We've had crushes on each other forever, but he won't make a move.”
“Got it,” he said. He began massaging my neck and calling me “babe” in an obnoxiously loud voice. I giggled. I didn't even have to look at my cousin's friend to feel his jealousy; I felt it like a heat wave. I know that it was all so childish of me -- but it was also pretty damn brilliant.
After taking our seats at the table, a steady stream of sangria began to flow. I scanned the room in search of clues that might have threatened my credibility: a snicker here, maybe a weird stare there. There were none. And then I realized something: My plan was actually working.
Alec was humble but charming. He liked to surf, and he disliked TV, calling it "toxic." He was a gentleman in every sense of the word (maybe because I was paying him to be). He helped me with my coat and placed his hand on my leg every so often.
I'll never know if he was genuinely a good guy -- or just a great actor -- but it was still nice to be treated like a lady.
I'd never fallen for a guy like Alec, but I found his lack of complication intriguing. His confession that he wanted to get married someday (as we sat among many afraid-of-commitment Millennials) was refreshing. I don't know if it was the alcohol or the fact that he was unavailable, but I fell in love for the night.
“I'm just your project,” he'd joke. He had a point. Though, later on, the thing felt so natural that I forgot I'd hired someone to pretend to love me.
Three glasses of wine into the night, I sat back in my chair heady from the tapas and happiness. I was the envy of everyone in the room. Alec was the guy every girl wanted to be with, and every guy wanted to be his friend.
When the party died down, my cousin pulled me aside. “I'm proud of you,” he said. “You found someone who deserves you.”
There it was: the validation I'd always craved. It was ear candy. It was a kind of acceptance I'd never felt before, and its impermanence didn't detract from my satisfaction.
I waved goodbye to my cousin's friends and grabbed my date's hand. He locked his fingers into mine; it felt nice. And though I didn't look back, I knew everyone watched us go.
As midnight crept up, we prepared goodbyes.
“So... Wanna come to my apartment? I'm just gonna drink on the rooftop,” he asked.
For a second, I actually considered it. I mean, I was drunk, and he was cute. But something told me that if I went home with him, I wouldn't forgive myself for the rest of eternity.
I respectfully declined.
“Oh,” he went on, “and I won't charge you for those extra two hours.”
Sh*t. He had stayed for a total of three hours; I didn't realize until he said it. Phew, I thought, wiping dribbles of sweat from my forehead.
I wouldn't have been able to afford him any longer than an hour, anyway. I'd be stuck doing Operation Wash-A-Dish to pay off Rent A Gent for the foreseeable future.
All in all, I had a fantastic evening. I ate good food, fooled a party of 16 and learned that my heart is resilient even after enduring insufferable heartbreak.
Now, a week later, I find myself missing the idea of the man more than I miss the actual man. Y'know, those little things -- calling me "babe," eating off my plate.
Was it nice having a pretend boyfriend for the night? You betcha. Will I ever rent a gent again? Probably not.
…Then again, never say “never.”