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-twenties 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 partner, which may be why I hired a male escort to attend a dinner party, much to my family’s chagrin.
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, it can feel as if there’s something wrong with you, depending on your family’s point of view. And if you aren't looking for a partner, your parents might 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 people — invited me to his 27th birthday party, I hesitated at first, knowing I'd be mainly among couples.
I wanted to bring a date with me to spite my cousin, but there was no one in sight: I am not dating anyone seriously, and the only friends I have are unavailable or uninterested. I live in “No Man's Land.”
And then I had a stroke of genius: I could hire someone to pose as my partner for the night.
I'm straight-up worn out from hearing, “You're pretty cool and smart, so why can't you find a partner?” Society condones asking women questions like this without stopping to consider how it might make them 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.
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 a friend to accompany me for the night — but those options would have been too easy.
If I was going to do this, I wanted to take a risk. So, of 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" professional escorts for formal occasions. My first choice was a brown-haired escort with a man-bun, but he was unavailable. So Rent A Gent sent me my runner-up:
His name was Alec. He was a Mormon from Utah, and he'd come to New York to pursue modeling. Nearly a foot taller than me, he stood at an impressive 6 feet 5 inches and had the arms of an Olympic swimmer.
He smelled like heaven. There was no question: The escort was strikingly handsome.
We made a handsome-as-heck faux couple.
He met me a block away 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 write 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 felt it like I was caught in a heat wave.
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 with my consent, 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 still felt 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, our chemistry felt so natural that I forget I'd hired someone to pretend to love me.
Three glasses of wine into the night, I sat back in my chair full of tapas and happiness. I was the envy of everyone in the room. Alec was the date everyone wanted to be with. Every party guest 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 leave.
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 had been having fun, 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 that until he said it. Phew, I thought, wiping dribbles of sweat from my forehead.
All in all, I had a fantastic evening. I ate good food and learned that my heart is resilient, even after enduring insufferable heartbreak.
Now, a week later, I find myself missing the idea of my date more than I miss my actual escort. Y'know, those little things — calling me "babe," eating off my plate.
Was it nice having a pretend partner for the night? You betcha. Will I ever rent a gent again? Probably not.
Then again, never say “never.”
This post was originally published on Sept. 24, 2015. It was updated on Sept. 3, 2019 by Iman Hariri-Kia.