Is it legal to solicit paid friendship?
August 19, 2009 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Is it legal (or even safe) to buy friendship?

This is a followup of sorts -- I'm the same guy who posted this here back in January, the shut-in asking help to fight isolation/depression. The story's pretty much the same, though, so I'll try not to repeat what I said there -- I have gone back out a few times since then (with my family/caretaker, not on my own), but at best I'm still only at the point where even if there aren't many other people around, I can only stay out for half an hour at most before I start blacking out & need to be taken back home.

I think that given some more years I could become passably functional in the outside world again, but I'm not certain I have the time... I think my mental illness is getting worse & that at some point sooner or later, I might deteriorate past the point where i can go out again, with or without help. (Not suicidal, just trying to get my act together -- like I said before, I want to fight it if I can.)

So at the risk of asking what may be the stupidest question ever asked here... *is* it legal to "buy a friend," to offer payment to someone in return for non-sexual companionship? (I can't imagine why it wouldn't be, but America isn't exactly running short of laws that make no sense to me, so I figure/hope there's no harm in asking.) And even if it's not illegal, would it be safe? Or would a post on craigslist basically saying "mentally ill shut-in will pay $xx/hour to someone willing to take him around town, talk to him & teach him how to act in society", in so many words, just be advertising for trouble? (And yes, of course I know that friendship can't be bought, any more than you can pay a prostitute to genuinely love you -- but I figure that at this point, the substitute can't do me any harm, or at least keep me going until I *could* find the real thing.)

Oh, and to answer from before: therapy isn't really an option for me (I'm uninsured, and in any event have had horrible experiences down that particular path to keep me from ever wanting to pursue it again). I like the thought of volunteering w/ the elderly or needy, at least in theory, but would have a very long way to go first in just getting to the point where I can hold it together around strangers at all (much less the point where I could actually be useful to anyone there). As for pets, I've had them & loved them dearly, but, well, it's just not the same.

Anyhow, thanks for reading. (Even if this *does* turn out to be the stupidest question in ask mefi's history!) I've posted very little on mefi but I've been reading/following it nearly every day since the beginning (literally the 2nd or 3rd week of its existence), more than enough for it & for many of the people here to have claimed a huge part of my admiration and quiet gratitude over the years. Had to say that, by way of saying that I deeply appreciated all the kind feedback to my last post, more than I can express -- and thanks for reading this one.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not illegal, but if you're just going to put up a craigslist ad, I'd say also not safe. Could you think about contacting a local community mental health organization to discuss this (i.e., make it clear you are looking for someone to help you begin to get used to socializing but are not interested in seeing a therapist)?

Also, how about something like Animal-assisted therapy? If you've enjoyed having pets and are comfortable with animals, having work with animals (rather than work with people) as the focus of your socializing time could help you to ease in.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:22 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's not illegal. But it's pointless and will not bring you the results you want.

Instead of spending money on hiring unqualified pseudo-friends, why not spend the same money on counseling with a qualified therapist who can help you get over your issues around socializing? Or even a life coach, who might be more likely than a therapist to do "guide by the side" training that involves going out with you to different social settings and coaching you through different interactions?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 AM on August 19, 2009

I used to volunteer for this program while I was in school, and it sounds like it might be just what you're looking for: Best Buddies
posted by Grither at 8:27 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have no idea whether or not soliciting paid friendship is legal, but I just want to say this is a great idea. I suffer from depression myself, and I congratulate you for coming up with a unique and creative possible solution to learning to be in the world again. There may be social programs in your area which could lead you to volunteers who would happily help you with your illness in the manner that you describe. But if not, by all means, I think you should pursue this providing that it's legal and safe.

Good luck.
posted by kitcat at 8:28 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why not take private lessons of some kind? Maybe you'll hit it off with your instructor, maybe you won't, but at least then the effort is dual-pronged.
posted by hermitosis at 8:32 AM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you are going to go the pay-for-companionship route, please be certain about how you are going to screen folks. Given your status, I am concerned that you could run into trouble if you encounter someone untrustworthy, or worse. Is there someone who can help you evaluate candidates?
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 8:35 AM on August 19, 2009

It's totally legal, man, it's called a case manager and you really need one. You can easily be assigned one as a part of out patient mental health treatment at a local community mental health agency. You should look into receiving these services, if you do not have medical coverage or the financial resources to pay out of pocket you can apply for Medicaid and Medicaid will cover it.
posted by The Straightener at 8:36 AM on August 19, 2009 [11 favorites]

I've known of therapists who would visit agoraphobes. You say you can't afford it without insurance, but how much were you going to pay for a friend?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:41 AM on August 19, 2009

It sounds like what you want is what a lot of elderly people have. My aunt is housebound due to a physical infirmity. She has a nice lady come to her house a few times a week to do light housecleaning and cooking. But from what I've seen, when visiting her, the lady mainly just hangs out and talks to my aunt. She also occasionally takes my aunt shopping. So maybe you could look through some kind of home care agency? See if you can get someone to come by once a week?

One thing that worries me is that you say you are blacking out when you are by yourself outside. I'm not sure how a "paid friend" is going to handle that. I know you said you don't want any counseling or medical help, but to me, that sounds a little bit serious.
posted by bluefly at 8:43 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Companionship is a very real need and there are domestic employees who work as companions and do pretty much what you're looking for.

As people have said above, I wouldn't advertise on Craigslist, but you might check in with some kind of home-health agency to see if they can help you find a companion. (And that's literally what the position is called, "companion.") I worked as a companion for a lady in her nineties and we would do things like go shopping, go to lunch, talk about books together, etc. In my case, I was also managing her medication, doing some light cooking, and helping her with her oxygen line, but I'm sure that there are people out there who can deal more with the social end of things.

If you have a branch of Comfort Keepers in your area, they can probably help you, or will know someone who can.

You're doing a really difficult thing in recognizing that you need to continue getting out of the house so that the problem doesn't get worse. All the best of luck to you.
posted by corey flood at 8:44 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

The thing about therapy is that you're usually going to have some bad ones before you find a good one.
posted by kldickson at 8:46 AM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

The companion services provided as a part of elder care are different than case management services for the mentally ill and not what this person needs. One of the therapeutic goals in community mental health treatment is always for each service consumer to reintegrate into the community at the highest possible level of functioning. Elder companions come into the household because there are physical challenges to leaving it. A case manager will work with the consumer to find out what kind of activities the consumer would like to participate in, and then will work with the consumer to accomplish these goals of engaging in certain activities. As a case manager I've taken consumers for walks in the park, to movies, grocery shopping in the Italian Market...basically whatever they say they would like to do, but can't without the support and encouragement of a social worker. There is a service that encompasses exactly what this person is asking for and needs, I would strongly recommend that Anonymous consider a professional, structured relationship with a case manager who will help him identify his goals and work towards them rather than working with a volunteer.
posted by The Straightener at 8:51 AM on August 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

I don't know what area you're in, but if it's anywhere near NYC, I will do this for you and you wouldn't need to pay me. MeMail me if you like.
posted by miskatonic at 9:00 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do you have people on the outside who could help? Even people you might have known online years ago with whom you could re-initiate contact, who might be able to act on your behalf? It's amazing how interconnected we all are, and sometimes, all it takes is an e-mail or a MeMail to someone with whom one has lost contact to get some assistance.
posted by xingcat at 9:09 AM on August 19, 2009

There are organizations that do this -->

They can even place someone to live with you. I don't think they're explicitly told to be your friend, but they put in time to hang out with you, take a walk, listen, stuff like that. I don't think there's anything immoral about this at all.

If you want to try this, you shouldn't hesitate. This is therapy. Having someone listen to you and respond as an honest human being does is very therapeutic. Dialog is therapeutic.
posted by xammerboy at 9:11 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

To be more specific, I believe they actually offer a service where they would do exactly what you're asking for from up to a couple hours a week to fully living with you. There may be freelance psychotherapists that would do this as well.
posted by xammerboy at 9:15 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

As others have said, it wouldn't be illegal to do this. However, it probably wouldn't work as you hope, and it might be dangerous. For the record, I probably don't believe it's as dangerous as some people think it is (seeing as how the Internet is just made up of the general population, which is not dangerous, typically), but I definitely don't think it's a good idea. I just don't think it would produce the results you're looking for, and I think that it might actually cause great disappointment and make matters worse for you.

I'd like to hone in on one thing you said, in particular:

...therapy isn't really an option for me (I'm uninsured, and in any event have had horrible experiences down that particular path to keep me from ever wanting to pursue it again).

I know you don't think it is, but this is an excuse you've created to keep comfortable. I also know that you don't think that you think you're comfortable living as you do, but the human brain is funny. Part of many mental illnesses is that one is more willing to live with the devil he knows, the illness, than seek out the "devil" he doesn't know, the therapist and/or psychiatrist. However, this, as in the case of most mental illnesses, is not based on rational thinking.

This is clearly an excuse to not get help, because while you're willing to pay for friendship, you aren't willing to pay for real help. And it's an excuse, because you've decided that one or two experiences have shown you what every experience is going to be like. Again, this is not rational. In all likelihood, this is probably part of your bipolar speaking, as bipolar people have a tendency to doctor shop, when they do go to therapy, and rationalize their reasons for not going when they stop attending.

As a regular browser of MeFi, you should know that most people have good experiences from going to therapy. It doesn't always fix everything immediately or ever, but it helps most people cope with their problems and better themselves. Studies constantly prove this as well. Some therapists you aren't going to get along with. It happens. Choose the next. Or better yet, ask your fellow MeFites for therapist recommendations in your area/region, rather than whether paying for friendship will be legal.

You've accepted the fact that, under your present condition, you will not make friends normally and so will need some sort of different method of making them. Please, too, accept the fact that you will never be 100% if you try to do this on your own.

Here is what I think you should consider:

- Getting therapist recommendations on MeFi.

- Going to therapy.

- Making online friends in your region, then, after you've known them for a while, invite them to the nearest public place that you can manage to get to. Tell them the truth about your situation long before you meet them.

In the end, I really can't stress enough that if you're willing to pay for friendship, you should be willing to pay for what's scientifically proven many times over to help people just like you: a good therapist. Friends, paid or unpaid for, and family will never be good enough / well-qualified enough / impartial and objective enough to help you in the ways you actually need to be helped. You said in your other post that you wanted a "psychological kick in the ass." If that's the truth, realize that you aren't going to get it from friends or family, nor are you, being affected by your own issues, going to do it by yourself to a truly helpful degree.

Good luck.
posted by metalheart at 9:16 AM on August 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

I'd just like to post that xammerboy's recommendation is a great one, as they will be qualified to help you. You should really consider it or ask them for recommendations for similar services in your area. I think it'd be a happy medium: it'd provide you with paid-for, in-home friendship, and it would be friendship with a trained professional that could actually give you advice that would hopefully help you.
posted by metalheart at 9:24 AM on August 19, 2009

I just wanted to chip in - I'm not a therapist, I probably don't live in your city... but if you need someone to talk to I'm usually around. I'm always willing to be an 'online friend' if someone needs to talk.
posted by sporaticgenius at 9:38 AM on August 19, 2009

The others are right in that what you're asking for is generally referred to as "therapy". If you don't want to call it thus, or have issues doing so, that's fine--but you'll have to tell people about your previous therapy experiences so they'll understand your aversion to the term. I know others that like you that have had bad experiences with therapy, so you're not alone.

There's a lot of kinds of therapy, and friendship is certainly therapeutic. It seems like someone with your particular problems will benefit from someone who is experienced in dealing with them. Some random person off the street might well do more harm than good, unfortunately.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:38 AM on August 19, 2009

Would you be open to having a fellow MeFite keep you company? Realizing this is something you haven't posted under your actual username and it seems you don't want to burden anyone without what you consider proper compensation, there are a lot of amazing people here. You could contact the mods and find the best way to post this (maybe in Jobs as a volunteer thing?)

Paying someone directly to hang out with you, while probably not illegal, gets weird on a lot of levels, as discussed above. There are people around, either through the abovementioned buddy programs, or possibly MetaFilter itself.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:49 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Bored old people would totally do this for free. Volunteer at a retirement home and at least one lonely old person will latch on to you. Or if that's too much for you right now, get to know your elderly neighbors.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:56 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are community and church groups who can provide "friendship" services free of charge. It would be best to contact a social worker about this.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:59 AM on August 19, 2009

Hey man. Good on you for making this post.

I work for an organization that is part of the Centers for Independent Living network, a non-government-but-works-with-government series of nonprofits who are nation wide. In fact, we're pretty much the go-to for folks with disabilities in many places, even if we just refer to other agencies.

(My job is paying for home/vehicle modifications and assistive technologies like power chairs and screen readers and hearing aids, etc., whatever I can do to keep them out of nursing homes if they don't want to be there.)

Anyway, we have a program here that's of no use to you unless you're HERE, but it does exactly what you're looking for---sort of a bigbrothers program specifically for folks with disabilities. It's definitely a friendship thing and NOT an "aww look at my handicapped friend" thing. We'd probably fire someone if they talked like that.

Anyway, my point is that you need to look up the Center for Independent Living in your neck of the 'hood and call them. Even if they just refer you where you need to go. Alternatively, you can contact your states Department of Rehabilitation Services and ask them (either for the program OR for the CIL's number). I'd be happy to help you look if I knew where you were. I can't even say with certainty that your state HAS a DRS, but most do...although they might call it something else.

Please feel free to meMail me---my job is to operate in anonymity and within HIPAA guidelines every day.
posted by TomMelee at 10:20 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

(I'm uninsured, and in any event have had horrible experiences down that particular path to keep me from ever wanting to pursue it again

The problem with mental illness is that its does its best to keep you from curing it. For all I know youre one simple prescription away from being cured. Im not an expert in the field but I imagine severe agoraphobia is not something you walk off and certainly not curable via craigslist per hour friends.

Youre essentially asking, "I know I should call an electrician, but Ive had bad experiences with them before, so tell me if I can hire someone to give me pointers as I try to figure out 220v wiring in my bathroom next to a water leak. Thanks!"
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:47 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're essentially asking, "I know I should call an electrician, but I've had bad experiences with them before, so tell me if I can hire someone to give me pointers as I try to figure out 220v wiring in my bathroom next to a water leak. Thanks!"

This is a really good analogy.

There are other ways to have trained professionals (or even trained volunteers) help you outside of the traditional sit-in-therapist's-office-and-talk model. Case managers, life skills assistants, life coaches, companions--all of these are much better options than random people you'd get through a classified ad.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:28 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nthing props to you for making an effort and this post.

If you're comfortable with it, I'd ask a mod to post your location in this thread to people like miskatonic or sporadicgenius could help you out. I think MeFites are likely to be WAY less sketchy than someone you'd find on craigslist.

But hanging out with or volunteering for the elderly along with some therapy sounds like a good idea.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:49 AM on August 19, 2009

Anonymous, if you're near Washington, DC, please MeMail me. I know you feel terribly alone, but there are so many of us who want to help. Please let us.
posted by December at 12:34 PM on August 19, 2009

seconding miskatonic's offer: if you're anywhere near nyc, i'd be more than happy to help out, no money required. i was wondering recently how you were doing after your january post and am glad that you're at a place where you can ask for the help that you need, i'm pulling for you and hope that you receive it.
posted by lia at 1:18 PM on August 19, 2009

Re: the emphasizing that the OP needs a therapist or trained professional -

I don't disagree. At all. But let's remember that no professional can solve your problems for you. They can only offer you tools.

The OP seems to want to attempt a self-directed, immersion-type therapy. Seeking an off-the-street kind of person makes sense, given that the specific problem he wants to address is being around strangers and being able to leave the house. And a professional would likely encourage some kind of immersion eventually anyhow.

On the other hand, craigslist may not be the best option. Some help with screening is a good idea. And there are many good suggestions in the 'companion' category above. A therapist or similar professional *may not* be the best solution because without even intending to, he or she *may* interpret the OP narrowly via categories (bipolar, agoraphobe). BTW, these categories are tools to help the mental health professional, not the person seeking therapy. Ultimately, those categories dictate specific treatment paths. The OP, on the other hand, is intuiting what his own 'treatment path' may look like. Without being trite, that kind of intuition is like an inner voice that knows what you need and is tugging at you to go for it. The danger is that in mental illness, what you think is the 'intuitive voice' may very well be the illness, directing you towards things that are counter-productive, to say the least. But previewing this post and the one he references, I don't think that this is the case.

Anyhow, I think the best option is the help of these offering MeFites. If you're in my area (check my profile), you can MeMail me too. I would very much like to help any way I can.
posted by kitcat at 1:21 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I live in Memphis, working in Wichita for a few months. If either works for you, let me know.
posted by raisingsand at 4:24 PM on August 19, 2009

Another volunteer here: I'm no substitute for a therapist, but if you're in or near Philadelphia, I'd be happy to get together and be a friend. MeMail for details.
posted by ms.codex at 4:46 PM on August 19, 2009

Hey Anonymous. I doubt you're in my neck of the woods, but if you are, let's hang out (or in!)

I was housebound for 2.5 years. I wouldn't black out, but I'd get physically ill.
Things are a lot better now for me. It's hard to imagine a world outside of the hole sometimes, but it's there and it's lovely and it's waiting, and you can get there.

If you want to talk, message me.
posted by Lou Stuells at 5:20 PM on August 19, 2009

The problem with mental illness is that its does its best to keep you from curing it.


In my case, it's severe depression that kept me housebound for a period and which still sandbags me more often than I'd like. And this is exactly my experience of it.

I've had extremely good luck with my therapist, who was the first (and only) one I've met with. There are plenty of bad therapists out there, but also many good ones, and a good one can help you learn to take care of yourself.
posted by Lexica at 7:44 PM on August 19, 2009

Um... so yeah, hi. I'm the anonymous poster, outing myself as it were. Turns out someone I used to know online is a regular here, recognized me and emailed me... and, well, it's not like I have anything to lose these days by not being anonymous. (still, as much as I like mefi, I really really wish there was a way for people to continue to post anonymously in their own threads here.)

I definitely get the point re: therapy, but to continue the analogy mentioned above, it's more like the last time I hired an electrician, my house burned down. I know, rationally speaking, that good therapists/experiences outweigh the bad -- just as I "know" that when I go outside, the people walking around aren't thinking that I have no right to be there, and I "know" there's no reason for it to feel like being caught in a trash compactor -- but there's a huge wall there all the same, & honestly, soliciting a stranger *is* less scary for me, now, than seeking professional help. I know it's dumb. (Welcome to mental illness, I guess.)

Anyway, just wanted to thank everyone, again, for the kind feedback, and especially for the offers of personal help. I might take someone up on it if there's anyone else here around south Texas -- it looks like everyone who offered is a few hundred miles away at best, though. But just in case, or something. My emailbox is open.

Okay, now I've officially hit my scared-senseless quota for one day, so here's me going back to shutting up. Thanks for listening, & thanks for being here for people like me at all.
posted by Noah at 10:21 PM on August 19, 2009

Anon, I'm inferring that a social coach might be the best fit for you. I went to a program run by the guy who wrote the date doctor book and much of what I learned first hand was in the book as well.
posted by brujita at 11:08 PM on August 19, 2009

This is what Ellis is running now.....he no longer does social coaching,but he or his colleagues might be able to put you in touch with someone in your area who does.
posted by brujita at 11:13 PM on August 19, 2009

Sorry for the aside here, but to everyone who personally offered to help the OP, I just gotta say: All y'all are f'ing cool!
posted by That takes balls. at 6:34 AM on August 20, 2009

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