Many of us fantasize about our weddings long before we even meet The One. We dream up the scenery. We mull over the menu. Perhaps more than anything else, we imagine our closest friends and family members as groomsmen and bridesmaids. And if nobody comes to mind, well, you could always hire someone to step in.
Depressing as it sounds, groomsman and bridesmaid rental services are a real thing, and yes, people really do hire them. As the Groomsman for Hire website explains, “A professional groomsman can be your guy that is behind the scenes or on the front line helping support your needs and wishes during the wedding process. We have a vast and diverse selection of men to represent your demographic requirements so we can accommodate most any wedding party.”
They offer several packages, ranging from basic consulting to “Undercover Groomsman,” which starts at $999 and includes hosting a bachelor party, standing at the altar and even downing tequila shots at the reception, if you want them to. To keep things confidential, each hired groomsman formulates a fake relationship between them and the groom, so they can explain themselves to other attendees. As company co-founder Matt Foster explained to GQ, “We customize a story collaboratively and in-depth with every groom and send a final script for him to proofread. Often, we say we were best friends in elementary school, because who’s going to remember their friend in elementary school?”
Essentially, hired groomsmen and bridesmaids are there to zhuzh up the party and play the role of wedding planner, enthusiastically ensuring that your big day goes according to plan. As professional bridesmaid Jen Glantz wrote for Cosmopolitan, “I’ve taken off my bra right before walking down the aisle because the mother of the bride suddenly remembered she’d forgotten hers. I’ve served as a bodyguard, watching the doors of the catering hall like a 5-foot-7 hawk on behalf of a bride who had fired her maid-of-honor and was scared she was going to crash the party. Once, I even had to scoop animal droppings from the aisle of an outdoor wedding with my bare hands so the bride wouldn’t walk down and stain the edges of her silk off-white dress with poop.”
Even the unmarried among us have heard about the stresses of planning a wedding, so having someone there to help out makes sense. And yet, hiring a groomsman or bridesmaid feels different. We have a hard time comprehending that someone would basically pay for friendship and emotional support — that someone would pay a stranger to play a role normally held by our closest friends. One article even states, “The practice of hiring a best man seems ethically questionable.”
But is that true? Does paying someone automatically invalidate your relationship with them, and therefore their ability to truly be there for you on the day of your marriage?
I think not.
We know that friendships are becoming increasingly hard to maintain, and that men in particular sacrifice their friends for work and other commitments as they get older. It makes sense then, as Scott Rosenbaum of RentAFriend.com tells me, that people hire buddies for all sorts of reasons, and that money is oftentimes only the catalyst for a burgeoning friendship. “People who travel to a new city can hire a local to show them around town,” he explains. “A common request is that a member may have an invitation for a work party, wedding or other social event, and they don’t want to attend it by themselves. Someone might want to see a movie or go out to a restaurant, but they don’t have anyone to go with. Many Friends on RentAFriend.com have unique talents and skills: They can teach you a new language, tutor you, share a new hobby — art, dance and much more. It’s also a great way to meet people of different cultures and religions.”
One review on RentAFriend.com explains, “I decided to rent myself the perfect bridesmaid. I went to Rentafriend.com, searched the profiles, and found two girls to hire as my bridesmaids. Their profiles say that they love to dance, party, mingle and generally have a great time. One of them also said she is very organized and assertive, which will come in handy in trying to make plans. I didn’t want to hire a wedding planner, I wanted to hire a bridesmaid, someone whom I could become friends with and really enjoy this experience. I wanted to hire someone who I knew that on my big day I’d be proud to have as a bridesmaid and a friend, not just a professional.”
For those still doubtful about the ethics of hiring a groomsman or bridesmaid, it’s worth remembering that having “real” friends fill these positions is often costly, too: You may very well have to fly them out, pay for their meals, supply their alcohol and provide them with fancy clothes. How is this any different, then, from paying someone to support you and your wedding-day needs?
While Rosenbaum explains that the cost to rent a friend from his website (groomsman or bridesmaid, included) starts at a mere $10 an hour, he says hired friends commonly end up returning the money or no longer charging after their friendships blossom. “We have no problem with no money being exchanged,” he says. “Since the friends get to keep 100 percent of the money they earn, they’re 100-percent in control if they want to charge or not. We think it’s great if they don’t want to change.” And again, even if a hired groomsman or bridesmaid keeps the money, a friend that you paid is still a friend, even if only for a day.
Then again, thanks to the coronavirus, big, fancy weddings may be out of the question for the indefinite future, in which case, you may never need to hire a groomsman or bridesmaid (or even have a wedding). You can, however, still hire a friend if you feel lonely and want someone to talk with. “Due to the coronavirus, many of our friends are offering ‘Virtual Friend Services,’ such as FaceTime, Zoom, texting, penpals, phone friends and more,” Rosenbaum says. “If your state or country has lifted the quarantine, and if you’re going to meet in-person, please make sure to maintain social distancing.”
And most of all, remember, paying someone to step in as a friend is fine and good. And who knows? You may someday find them paying you to step in, too.