"I am not a professional escort and this has nothing to do with sex," the Craigslist ad begins. "I just want to go to some office Christmas parties."
That sort of copy stands out amongst the usual anonymous and filthy invitations dotting online classifieds. But 34-year-old, self-employed "intelligent, educated, attractive female redhead" Amanda was disappointed to not have attended any Christmas parties the previous year and wanted to try something bold.
"I really like free food and drinks, and the festive atmosphere, " Amanda---she prefers her last name not be used--- explains about why she created her online advertisement. "I thought it would be a fun adventure."
Offering up an online ad looking for strangers to invite you along to their corporate parties is certainly an unusual---and some would argue brave--- step in venturing outside of one's social circle. Thankfully, despite their often-seedy reputation, casting a line into the cyber pool of social connecting websites can be a great way to combat those solitary dark days of winter and find yourself some new friends.
For those who find the idea of striking up a conversation with a stranger to be a hilarious mix of impossible and terrifying, online bookings can offer an easy-in to meeting new people. The simplest option is just posting an ad in the Strictly Platonic sections of Craigslist or Kijiji like Amanda, but the more adventurous might be interested in signing up on couchsurfing.com and taking an in-city vacation in some new friends' homes. Or, if all else fails, you can always just rent a friend.
Created in 2009 in New Jersey by Scott Rosenbaum, rentafriend.com is based off of similar companies in Japan that offer fill-in partners and spouses for important events. A "strictly platonic Friendship website," RentAFriend allows registered users (a one-time $24.95 fee) from all over the world to purchase some time with buddies in their respective city.
The company's website offers helpful friendship ideas, like hiring a local to show you around a new town or bringing someone along to a restaurant or game if you don't want to go alone. In Halifax, you could hire any of the currently 11 rentable friends. Russian-speaking, 49-year-old Igor can be your downtown wingman, or 19-year-old theatre student Joe can chat about the arts with you over coffee. Most "friends" charge around $10 an hour, but according to RentAFriend they're often willing to negotiate fees depending on the activity planned.
Not that you shouldn't always take precautions when meeting new strangers. Amanda, for instance, met all applicants for coffee first. Out of the 20 or so responses she received, only about half even had parties to attend. Still, oddly enough, personal safety wasn't Amanda's biggest concern.
"Initially, I had the odd thought of 'what if this person's a serial killer,'" she says. "But I think I was more worried we wouldn't have anything to talk about."
Though Amanda didn't post her ad to "vet people for friendships," her efforts did lead she says to some entertaining evenings and allowed her to venture into worlds she wouldn't normally have been invited to. Which is a lot better than sitting at home on a cold, dark night.
"I think getting involved in things, whether its volunteering or going to a games night, anything where there's not a lot of pressure to meet someone, is great," says Amanda. "Even the first two years I lived here, I did a lot of going to things by myself," she adds. "You have to live through a lot of awkward situations to find the scene that you fit into sometimes."