A report on Sunday unveiling the business of ‘friends for hire’ by local company Pally Asia was, to say the least, a hot topic among Singaporeans, given the over 1,500 shares accumulated in less than a day.
Comments on social media ranged mostly from negative to neutral, most of them expressing their exasperation that of all things, relationships should not be monetised. There was also talk about the sad state that Singaporean society was coming to and how “superficial” and “pathetic” those who engaged in the services are.
Founder of Pally Asia, Ms. Chloe Lim, cited the busy schedules of Singaporeans as the reason why this service can be useful to some. “It can be tough finding the right company for certain activities. Not everyone can afford the time and effort to build, or re-build, relationships, so we want to help.”
From being able to rent a faux boy/girlfriend to appease overenthusiastic aunties during stressful family visits, to simply hiring someone to talk to for various lengths of time, there is no same story behind each request, and there should thus be no similar judgement passed on all of them.
From “Sports Buddy” To “Personal Coach”
We took a look at Pally Asia’s website and found a range of ‘services’ one could engage in.
While the “Local Guide” and “Party With A Local” option does seem like a good tactic to encourage tourism with a more personal touch, and the “Get A Crowd” choice feels like a clever (albeit potentially expensive) method of guaranteed participants in events, the option of “Someone to chat with” and “Groomsmen & Bridesmaid” does ring some worrying bells.
Why would people prefer to engage in a stranger with an obligation as compared to communicating with those around them? Is the fear of failing to make a connection that paralysing?
What’s even more interesting to note, is that Pally Asia’s website currently has a banner stating that there is an “overwhelming interest to be a Pally”. A Pally is simply the term used for members of the site who will fulfil the requests.
The Business Of Companionship
According to a study in 2015 in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, “the subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26%”. An article by The Straits Times also reported a rising trend in seniors (above 60 years old) committing suicide, with social isolation and loneliness being the likely contributing factors.
A study in 2011 by marketing and advertising network McCann Worldgroup on Singaporean youth (aged 16 to 30) also revealed that the prioritisation of social connections and relationships in comparison to the increasingly outdated definition of Singaporean success – the 5cs. ‘Commune’, and “what they share, who they connect with and what they connect people to”, was found to be more important than indicators grounded in materialism.
From the studies, we can observe an unspoken need to feel social acceptance and the sense of being part of a community; which is not surprising, given that human beings are naturally social creatures anyway.
In a time when social media is king, our lives are increasingly being put online for many to see, and also judge. Whether it is by others, or by ourselves, we impose expectations onto our own experiences and lives to achieve the ‘normalcy’ we observe from those around us.
“Friend A is out with a buddy for gym? I should have a buddy too.” “Friend B has a date for the party? I should get myself one too.”
Perhaps it can be argued that you can’t take yourself out on a double-date or be your own best man at your wedding, but we need to start thinking of whether these services are a convenient solution to long-held, soon to be outdated social expectations (think: elderly relatives expecting you to be married due to their own experiences of being attached before 30 = ‘normal’ to their generation) or an undying need to achieve social validation.