I confess: one of life’s guilty little pleasures is reading The Daily Mail U.K., a 100% trash-filled website that stops – or perhaps just pauses – a wee bit short of the outright scurrilous. When it comes to reading about the scandalous, the tawdry, the sensational, The Daily Mail is – there’s no other word for it – sensational. It just never disappoints.
Last Monday was no exception.
There, amidst Alec Baldwin’s stalker, Kim Kardashian’s baby, and Philippine typhoon victims, was a completely marvelous article on a trend:
…now sweeping the upper echelons of New York’s social circles.
Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends – as it were – I give you the rise of the Paid Friend.
The paid friends, or PF’s for short, are not platonic escorts. They are personal trainers, stylists, chefs, and chauffeurs who take their jobs to more congenial levels.
They offer rich benefactors all of the benefits of a friend’s companionship, without the drawbacks like arguments.
A fashion designer, who was anonymously quoted in The Observer’s [ur source for the Daily Mail material] piece much like rest of the article’s sources, told the paper: ‘There is a market, a currency for paid friends in New York. Some people need the money, and some people need the friends.’
She added that paid friends can become addictive acquisitions. (Source: The Daily Mail)
Not content with the DM’s excellent but derivative content, I made my way to The New York Observer to observe just what’s going on, commercial friendship-wise, in the Big Apple.
Oddly – at least to someone not all that familiar with the paid-friend detail – the first example in The Observer article sounded pretty much like a business acquaintanceship that had turned into a friendship (or, variation on a theme: a friendship that ended up with a business angle). Basically, it was about a couple who were friendly with their art advisor.
Big whoop, I thought.
I hope the entire article isn’t this boring.
After all, I have plenty of friends I’ve met through business who I do paid projects for.
I don’t consider myself a paid friend.
In fact, just the other day, I had a conversation with a client of long standing who, along the way, I have come to consider a friend.
As it turns out, I may not be working with him much longer, as – with my recommendation, assistance, and blessing – he’s hiring a full time marketing person. When we were talking about the final steps to bring his new hire on board, I told him that I would miss working with him, and that I hoped we remained friends. We agreed that we probably would.
The next section of the article started out more promising:
“There is a market, a currency for paid friends in New York,” the eternally youthful fashion designer revealed over pecan-crusted seitan at Candle 79. “Some people need the money, and some people need the friends. It happened just last week.” (Source: New York Observer)
But then there was another rather disappointing anecdote about “what happened,” which was a lame story about shopper who’d come in to the designer’s atelier with her posse – the sort of entourage that the rich and famous travel around with: personal assistant and other assorted hangers-on.
To me, the best part of the story was the mention of Candle 79, where, a couple of years ago, my husband and I “enjoyed” a not-so-tasty, ultra-expensive vegan meal with some young vegan friends. Fast forward a year, and we met Gloria Steinem walking around the Upper East Side. We stopped her, and I gave her a little gush about how important she was to women of my era (all the while thinking that she looks entirely fabulous for her age, which is 79). Gloria graciously stopped to chat with us for about 15 minutes and, as she parted, she recommended Candle 79, where she was heading for dinner with friends.
While I started to smile nicely and thank her, Jim blurted out, “Candle 79? We’ve been there and hated it.”
Talk about someone with none of the makings of a paid friend…
“It’s part of the business; if someone needs constant companionship and compliments, paid friends are ideal,” she [the designer] said sipping her organic cola. “Honestly, it’s just another form of addiction. I do believe that some care, but for the most part, someone’s always on the make.”
Another Big Whoop on my part.
Haven’t rich folks paid to have a retinue around them since, like, forever?
I’m pretty sure that the fellow buttoning Henry the VIII’s doublet and combing crumbs from his beard was getting paid a few pounds, and if Henry wanted to throw in some bitchery about Catherine or Jane or Anne, well, so be it.
No surprise that, as some folks get richer and famouser, their old friends drop out of play, and what you have left instead of your friends is your hangers-on.
This may be sad, but it’s not the equivalent of someone hiring out as a paid friend.
The ex-wife of some Wall Street titan had this to say:
“I think many really successful men don’t actually have time for real friends. Their old friends are either resentful or bitter or ask for money, and the new friends are often competitive. In my opinion, very rich men have paid friends as an expensive filter, because they can control them. They love to manipulate everyone.”
“Was that difficult?”
“It was actually more boring than anything, but I did see an ugly side to it—the laughing too hard at the bad jokes, the constant flattery, the jockeying for position, the tennis pro throwing the game.”
Yes, and the article on Paid Friends was more boring than anything, too.
All about people who rich folks are paying to do things for them, and who end up hanging out together. Or hangers-on who are just as happy to stay around if Mr. or Ms. Rollo Therichkid is picking up the tab. Or rich a-holes who just plain don’t have any friends, paid or not.
It’s entirely possible to be a friend to people who are paying you.
But if someone’s paying you to be their friend, well, that’s just not a friend, at least not in my book.
There are some times in life where you just can’t get what you pay for.
Friendship’s one of them.