This article originally appeared on VICE India.
This story is part of a wider editorial series. Coming Out and Falling In Love is about the queering of our relationships with others, and the self. This month, we look at Asian attitudes to sex and porn, dating in the digital era, experiences of LGBTQ communities, unconventional relationships and most importantly, self-love. Read similar stories here.
The best part about a perpetual plus-one is the unspoken but somewhat unconditional support system they become. Your significant other is the shoulder that soaks up your tears, the hand that allows for the clinking sound of a celebratory champagne glass, and the ears that you’ve worn out with intricate details of your daily dramas.
But especially around Valentine’s Day, if cupid’s arrows can’t seem to navigate their way to a heart, the view from the sidelines can get pretty lonely and turn me-time into self-pity real quick. Which is why, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Professional boyfriends—or a person you can pay to spend time with your single ass, who will give all your monotonous tales the utmost importance and lather you with more attention than a drooling puppy—are now a thing. For a price, on demand, and by the hour. While the boyfriend business has been booming in countries like Japan and the US, India only recently has seen these offerings. So, we got an industry insider to open up about what it’s like when dating comes with a price tag.
24-year-old Puneet might seem like your typical finance dude doubling up as a gym bro, but in reality he is so much more. This Hyderabad-based HandsomePuneet is available online to provide you with a real-life boyfriend experience at a price, especially as the most commercially romantic day of the year rolls around. While Puneet’s services are primarily for gay men, he is willing to offer them to other lonely hearts across the spectrum too, including cis women.
VICE: Hey Puneet. So, how does one become a boyfriend on hire?
Puneet: It’s actually surprisingly simple. I was a student from Lucknow who had just moved to Hyderabad, India’s tech capital. My family wasn’t very well off financially and I was working like a slave to support myself. After consulting a counsellor, I realised that if I really wanted to make it in this city, I would have to study even more and take expensive courses that I couldn’t afford.
Around the same time, a colleague in my office noticed how stressed and lonely I was and slipped me the contact for a female escort whose company he enjoyed every now and then. I knew I was gay and didn’t need to pay a woman to fulfill my loneliness, but it got me thinking about the potential of such a service, especially for gay men. So long story short, I googled how I could offer the boyfriend experience for gay men looking to have a good time, chanced upon a website that let me create my profile, and soon enough, the calls came pouring in.
How did you get to becoming the perfect temp boyfriend?
When I started out, my stomach was filled with jitters. I was so nervous and constantly felt this guilt and shame about what I was doing and what would happen if my family found out. Fortunately, my first date went off very well and though I was supposed to be the one giving the client the ideal experience, he was the one who ended up making me feel comfortable because he sensed how nervous I was. In a way, maybe my seeming like the damsel in distress who needed saving made him feel better about himself, like a caretaker boner.
As an Indian, I used to feel guilty because not only does society not accept such professions, but also because since I am gay, people are way more judgemental. In our country, people are nosy and like to form perceptions based on things they hear, so we’re conditioned to believe that something like this is morally wrong. But after I went out a few times and met with clients, the first thing that helped me overcome the shame was the fact that those with their backward perceptions ain’t the ones paying me.
Then one night I got hired by a client who flew in to Hyderabad to meet me. We had deep conversations and partied all night and at the end of the date, he gave me a tight hug and thanked me for my company. He was battling depression and he felt that I was the solution finder to his sadness. After that, I began to grasp that what I was doing wasn’t harming or hurting anyone. I wasn’t robbing or murdering, but in fact I was helping people deal with their problems.
What are the sweet perks that come with this job?
I offer my services either at an hourly rate or I have an overnight option. When I first set up my profile, I got thousands of calls, but only one or two of them actually translated into meetings. Before I set a date with someone, I like to get to know them over the phone and ask them about their expectations and preferences. Once I feel we have some sort of connection, we decide a place to meet. This is usually a romantic restaurant or a club, but there have been times I have picked up my dates and taken them for long bike rides. Sometimes, my dates have even flown me out to beautiful international locations like Dubai and Paris, places I probably never would have been able to go to had I not been in this industry.
In terms of payment, I don't have any specific charge and maintain a policy of not asking for anything in advance and only collect my dues after the date is done. On average, I get paid anywhere between Rs 10-20,000 for a date, depending on the client's budget. I also often get gift cards that I can use to shop at the mall.
What kind of prep work does a date involve?
Have you seen how an air-hostess behaves during a flight? No matter how much shit people throw her way, she has to still smile and stay polite. I use the same philosophy in my work.
I think the main thing to keep in mind when someone is paying you to spend time with them is making an effort and not acting like this is just something you want to quickly get done with. I go to the gym and keep myself in shape, but what’s more important is dressing well for the date and keeping yourself well-groomed.
In terms of conversations, I stay away from asking any personal questions about their past or their work profiles or their families and instead focus on things like hobbies, interests and goals. I always look for something to compliment them, usually a smile or a scent, and 80 percent of clients open up pretty easily after that.
How is being an on-hire boyfriend different from sex work or prostitution?
It requires a lot more effort. Sex workers are paid to engage in the (sexual) act and there’s nothing much that comes before or after. But as a professional boyfriend, you have to be observant, establish a connection, even if it’s an exaggerated one, gauge their interests and insecurities, make them feel like they are worthy of your time and that their opinions are interesting.
What are your clients usually like?
So far, my clients have been dissatisfied men looking for an escape from a society that still doesn’t let them reveal this side of themselves. I get a lot of foreign clients from the US and UK who seek me out because they come to India and feel alone and vulnerable. Many of them have been forced to marry women and feel more liberated and comfortable with themselves after spending time with me.
Since many of the men I go out with are dealing with depression, sometimes I double up as their therapist or just stick around to distract them when they’re down. I think this not only helps them feel better about their lives, but has also helped me accept and be more comfortable with my own sexuality
What do you do if you’re not attracted to someone or on the other hand, find yourself catching feelings for them?
It’s been very rare that I’ve not found someone attractive, but obviously it’s not an on-off switch so I can’t force myself. In such situations, I often just refuse and leave. This is also one of the reasons I don’t take advance payment.
Not catching feelings is the harder part. When you spend so much meaningful time, get to know someone, their strengths, weaknesses and fantasies, it makes you both very vulnerable. I can’t deny having developed feelings for clients, but the fact is that these dates are a transactional dreamworld and soon enough, you get a reality check. I have to keep reminding myself why I entered this business and how important the money still is for me, as emotionally fulfilling as a client can be. But yeah, it also means I don’t get to have an actual dating life.
How is being a hired boyfriend to men different from being hired by a woman?
While I haven’t been on any dates with women yet, based on conversations with another friend who does, the biggest factor would be that the men are more open. Women want more privacy and usually like to meet in hotel rooms or more private spaces as they don’t want to be caught in public with a man, whereas men are more open to going out. They’re also more emotional and expressive around me since our society constantly supresses them, so this becomes the only time they can truly be themselves. I’ve noticed this especially with clients who were pressured to marry girls.
What’s the busiest season in this business?
While Valentine’s Day is big, nothing gets the phone ringing like the Christmas holiday season. I think people are generally seeking comfort and company during these holidays and for them, it’s reassuring to know that there’s someone around to listen to them and be by their side.
This Valentine’s Day, I have a date with a Canadian guy who is coming to India for business, but wants to meet up because he misses his boyfriend back home.
What’s the weirdest request you’ve ever got?
People assume that since I’m a professional boyfriend, I’d be up for anything. They want me to do kinky stuff, treat me like an animal and even ask me if I’d be into BDSM. But, I’ve always turned them down because I believe that if you’re going to be treated like an animal, you should at least be a little comfortable with it, right?
The other extreme is men, usually non-Indians, who propose and promise to take care of all my needs, even a green card if required. But as tempting as their offers are, I’d rather do this as a side hustle and make enough money to make something of myself rather than just live off other people’s riches.
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