Should You Fake It Until You Make It?

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I recently read an interview in The Atlantic titled “How to Hire Fake Friends and Family,” about a Tokyo-based company that rents out actors to fill relationship voids: 

Family Romance helps people cope with unbearable absences or perceived deficiencies in their lives. In an increasingly isolated and entitled society, the CEO predicts the exponential growth of his business and others like it, as à la carte human interaction becomes the new norm.
— The Atlantic

My first reaction, after reading a few lines, was based on a gross misinterpretation of the business model. Trying to be openminded I initially thought it was interesting; it’s nothing I’d pay for, I mused, but I could definitely see why someone would use the service.

However, as I continued reading the article I increasingly found the whole idea to be morbid. I was surprised the founder didn’t report any accounts of actors or clients getting hurt because either party had a mental breakdown as a result of no longer being able to distinguish the blurry lines between true and false.

That’s because the service goes way beyond a mere rent-a-date model and is reminiscent of a psychological thriller. If it were a Black Mirror episode I’d be thoroughly entertained. Yet as a real business profile featured in The Atlantic, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

As long as the request doesn’t break the law, Family Romance will rent out an actor to play virtually any role for as long as the client desires.

An example of this includes a single mother renting a fake dad for her daughter — and not revealing to the daughter that this is actually not her biological father. The cost of that is roughly $50 per hour including incidentals.

Another example includes helping a lesbian client stage a fake wedding (acting as the male spouse and stuffing the event with hired extras) so she could trick her overbearing family into believing she was in a homogeneous relationship. The cost of that was almost $18,000.

The personalization options are endless:

There was one case of a man in his 60s. His wife died, and he wanted to order another copy of her. We provided that.
— Family Romance

This business gets at the heart of what I discuss in "Ethical Dilemmas: Why It’s Hard To Be Good". In an era of fake news, fake friends, and now fake lives, what’s right and what’s wrong?

Another issue with this business model is whether it can be a sustainable form of happiness. In “Yes, You Need to Find Yourself. This is Why and How,” I discuss the enduring happiness equation.

Our self-esteem (a key element of enduring happiness) is based on how closely our self image (how we currently perceive ourselves) reflects our ideal self (who we want to be). It usually takes time and energy working on a soul-searching strategy to bring these into alignment.

But what does it mean if we can simply short cut the personal growth process by hiring on-demand services to fill our gaps? Can we really hack ourselves to happiness? If so, is it authentic?

Apparently Family Romance doesn’t see the point in framing it this way:

The term “real” is misguided. Take Facebook, for example. Is that real? Even if the people in the pictures haven’t been paid, everything is curated to such an extent that it hardly matters.
— Family Romance

As much as I hate to, I must agree.

From an evolutionary perspective our survival once depended on the strength of our social ties. Modern living rapidly erased the practical (but unfortunately not the emotional) need for close personal relationships.

So until our genes get the memo, faking it does seem like a viable solution to the emotional challenges of our current reality. Regardless if the happiness rendered is an illusion, there’s still value for those who want to skip the soul-searching process and get straight to the results.

Many women say, “I want to marry you.” I say, “You’re in love with an order form. It’s not me — it’s the acting that you love.” If I married her, I’d have to keep acting. And, there are certain women who are wonderful, but the soul I have with them is not my real soul. So, I cannot and I would not.
— Founder, Family Romance

That said, what we’ll eventually need to ask ourselves, on a personal and societal level, is what are the consequences of these self-induced shams and are we prepared to pay the costs?