Japan has a cure for loneliness: you can rent a family, a boyfriend or girlfriend, by the hour. You can contract for the same person, or people, to come over and over — so they actually look like they belong to you. You can rent them for years, as long as they continue to work for the companies like Family Romance that provide the service.
The New Yorker article gives various examples of people for whom the service has been a boon, like the man whose wife died and whose daughter was estranged from him. He rented a wife and daughter, whom he called by his real wife and daughter’s names. the first engagement was for dinner. Over time, rented wife and daughter had a key and would come to his home to have dinner ready when he arrived from work. The two remain rented relationships only; the “wife” has a husband in her non-work life. There is no sex, or there isn’t supposed to be. The man finds these relationships satisfying. They assuage his loneliness, and he is able to try out better husband and father behaviors. His rented daughter listens patiently to his criticisms of her male relationships — the cause of the real breach between real father and daughter — without running out of the house.
Other rent-a-family relationships are more complicated. A single mother rented a father for her ten year old daughter who was being bullied at school for not having one. The girl is now nineteen, and has no idea that rental father — who has been in her life for nine years — is not her real father. Hard to see how that one ends well.
I don’t know how I feel about this one. If call girls work successfully as sexual surrogates, and apparently they do, and if robots can comfort dementia patients in nursing homes, and if paid sex therapists can give pleasure to badly handicapped people who can’t have intimate relationships any other way, I supposed renting a family falls into that same bucket. I find it hard to believe I could rent a husband, for example, for years and years without getting confused about it being a real v. paid relationship. If I fell in love with the rental husband, and he had a wife and family, would that be simply place me as a new iteration of The Other Woman?
I don’t think this service is available here, or if it is I haven’t heard about it. I believe Japan is also the place where you can buy life-sized dolls with which to have sex — apparently that’s a very successful line of business too. At the very least we can say that the Japanese are far more adventuresome than we are about these things. 🙂