This Valentine's Day, I'm Loving The Boyfriend I Built For Myself
Javier Pierini/Getty Images
Javier Pierini/Getty Images
Have your parents ever asked you if you're dating someone, and just to get out of the situation, you lie and say, "Yes, I am. His name is Rick Jagger"?
No? Really? Me neither.
But one new company is betting that many people do feel very awkward about being single. Matthew Homann says he came up with the idea a few years ago, when he was newly single from a divorce and people wouldn't stop asking him if he was seeing anyone.
Hey there, Alejandro. courtesy of Invisible Boyfriend hide caption
itoggle caption courtesy of Invisible Boyfriend
So he co-created a service called Invisible Boyfriend and Invisible Girlfriend. And unlike the face you painted on your knee when you were 10 and made out with incessantly, it has a lot of interactive features.
Here's how it works:
Alejandro does not know the meaning of "I'm going to play video games here on the couch all day"! NPR hide caption
itoggle caption NPR
Alejandro does not know the meaning of "I'm going to play video games here on the couch all day"!
The basic service costs $25. You sign up, and start building your partner: looks, interests, hobbies. You also pick his personality: "saucy and sarcastic" or "lovingly nerdy"? You describe yourself, and why you are signing up for the service. Among the reasons you can list are that you are trying to fend off a coworker who won't stop hitting on you, you aren't ready to come out as gay, or you want to make your ex jealous.
I imagine my ex is chewing his fingers off in a jealous rage as he reads this, because I built myself a hottie with a great outlook on life. My new beau's name is Alejandro and he loves reading books, writing and volunteering. We met while surfing.
Of course, I am terrified of sharks and undercurrents, and this is all a huge lie, but you wouldn't know that. Alejandro texts me twice a day. (You can also get handwritten cards and voice mail.)
Professor Eli Finkel, who teaches social psychology at Northwestern University, says it's a bit sad how easily you can deceive people about your personal life.
"In a non-digital world, it would be strange that you never saw your friend's girlfriend," he says. "But in a world where a huge amount of our communication happens on the Internet already, it's easier to lie if people aren't actually dropping by your house."
The service employs more than 500 professional romantics to send all those messages on behalf of the 50,000-plus "boyfriends" and "girlfriends" created so far, Homann says.
Homann says the service has tapped into something more than just helping people lie. "I know we have some users who are telling their [invisible] boyfriends and girlfriends secrets," he says. "We've got other people who are using them to practice their flirting."
Finkel isn't buying it. He says people should just be able to say they are single. "There are lots and lots of people who are single and quite happy about it. They don't require any pity from us. I wish we lived in a world in which people who are single had just as much social status as people who aren't."
At the end of the day I decided to break it off. Alejandro isn't taking it very well.
But on a serious note, the experience made me reflect on how at times in my life I have lied about having a boyfriend, almost always to fend off unwanted advances. I think a lot of women have done this. I do want to live in a world in which I can just say that I'm single. I also want to live in a world in which it's OK to say, "I'm not interested, just back off."
Having said that, Alejandro was fun, and I'm thinking of setting him up with a friend.