The public had mixed reactions when Ms Stacey Wong, 24, started Elitely SG in 2020. Her paid dating service allows individuals to book pre-arranged dates with female personalities on their platform.
Ms Wong said: “As people are quite conservative in Singapore, when they see such a business happening here, they would just be a bit shocked.”
The female personalities in Elitely SG’s catalogues are typically aged 22 to 27 years old and mostly work as a date-for-hire on a freelance basis. There are no men for hire at the moment.
“There were some stronger reactions from girls who felt like our business was objectifying women,” said Ms Wong, who’s worked as a date-for-hire for Maybe, another platform that provides rent-a-buddy services here.
Despite the controversy, Ms Wong stands by her decision to continue the business. She believes her company is meeting a growing demand here.
Rental services that offer friends, family members, co-workers or platonic companions on demand for social events such as weddings were first popularised in Japan during the early 1990s.
Now, Japan has over 10 companies offering such services. The list includes Family Romance, a company with over 1,200 people who sign up as companions for hire.
In Singapore, there are currently two players in this market, namely Elitely SG and Maybe.
Ms Wong is aware that Elitely SG may be seen as a social escort agency. Hence, the company has published do’s and don’ts when their clients meet their female personalities.
Mr Dickson Chung, 26, the co-founder of Elitely SG, shared: “Before the date commences, we remind both the client and the female personalities of the agreed-upon guidelines that are stated on our website. In any circumstances where the client breaches the terms we set out, the girl has the right to leave and she would not be penalised for that.”
There have been no unpleasant episodes so far, Mr Chung added.
Tsuki (not her full name), a female personality under Elitely SG, shared that she “always politely set (her) boundaries”.
While Elitely SG sees a growing demand, some members of the public are still not convinced that paid dating can offer an authentic experience.
Elton Tan, 19, shared: “I don’t like the idea that someone goes out with me because I paid them. It makes me feel that it’s not really because they want to go out with me.”
“By making it paid, it also adds a barrier for people from all walks of life to participate in. The premium price point may make paid dating apps a site for more affluent people to meet with other affluent people,” he added.
However, Ms Wong said there’s merit in offering a paid dating service. For one thing, she said her customers are less likely to experience “ghosting”, as compared to those who use free dating apps.
She shared: “As they paid for the date, it is guaranteed that the parties would get a chance to meet each other and have an opportunity to get to know each other for the first time. This factor is very important when it comes to making human connections, especially in this digital age.”
Ms Wong said: “Generally we have been receiving mostly positive feedback so far. Most of our clients who were just trying out paid dating services for the first time found that the concept of paid dating was actually worth their time after going on dates with our female personalities.”
For Tsuki, she said one of the perks of her job as a date-for-hire is that it allows her to have meaningful conversations with many people.
She shared: “We usually have really open-minded talks about different subjects, even if we don’t always agree. It’s the kind of conversation where you feel like you could talk about everything and anything.”
Ms Wong emphasised that paid dating can be “normalised”.
“We want to normalise the whole idea of renting a date or a friend by providing compensated dating that is clean and platonic,” she said.
“The stigma against both women who want to sign up as paid dates, and men who pay for dates has got to go.”