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Renting friends is a sad plight

We all know that life is increasingly frenetic, despite the downturn. The popularity of social networking, combined with over-populated areas where neighbours no longer acknowledge each other, and long working hours, all contribute to an ever-growing fragmented society.

I count myself lucky that I have a great group of friends. Nurturing friendships and making time for your 'chosen family' doesn't always come easy in today's society, though, as testified by the new trend taking hold in New York -- Rentafriend. Much like an escort agency, these friend rental groups are springing up in response to the growing number of busy individuals who have little time for real friendships anymore -- perhaps it's a lack of effort or a by-product of the loneliness many people feel in today's world.

Whether it's a coffee date, shopping partner or someone to simply listen, these friend escort sites have people on hand to suit one's individual friendship needs, and they are gaining plenty of clients.

The concept is sad from one perspective, in that neglecting a personal life has led to many people being alone -- but it's not just confined to New York. How many people are there in Ireland who go home lonely after long days in work, their only solace being to indulge in online friendships?

As group structures and priorities change, friendships can go adrift. Other people suffer from shyness or lack time to cultivate lasting friendships.

I find myself constantly playing catch-up with my friends and family, pushing myself to fight the tiredness and not break too many midweek dates or snatched coffees. Having down-time and making time for all the important people in my life is a priority, albeit a juggle.

With work commitments it's not always possible to keep dates, and the short weekends see an endless switching of arrangements.

Admittedly, with so little free time, I, like others, have slowly let go of certain friendships where the bonds of common interest have worn away, with little left to hold us together.

It's sad but that's life.

Let's hope the rent-a-friend phenomenon doesn't take hold in Dublin too: unlike Americans, we are famed for our chatting and easy socialising and it would be a shame to see that eroded completely. Plus, don't we already spend enough money on renting apartments and houses, with sex and designer clothes also available for hire?

Renting a friend for a chat in Ireland would be a sad day indeed.