RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's talk about the eye rolls that tend to accompany Valentine's Day. A lot of us have been there at one point or another. All those questions - who are you seeing? Oh, you're not seeing anyone? Why not? Those questions sparked a business, a couple of websites: invisiblegirlfriend.com and invisibleboyfriend.com. You sign up to receive romantic texts, handwritten notes, even voicemails. And in the name of journalism, NPR's Jasmine Garsd went out and built herself a boyfriend.
(SOUNDBITE OF TEXT MESSAGE NOTIFICATION)
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: That's a text message from my boyfriend, Alejandro, letting me know he's working late. Of course, he's not real. I created him a few nights ago with the help of a friend.
He is so cute.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: He is cute.
GARSD: At Invisible Boyfriend and Girlfriend.com, you pick your boyfriend's looks and his personality.
Saucy and sarcastic? I already - I've been doing that for years.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Saucy and sarcastic. Lovingly nerdy?
GARSD: Why don't I just out into, like, the NPR newsroom and just say somebody date me?
I paid $25 for the month, and I almost immediately started getting texts from Alejandro saying...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hi Jasmine, this is Alejandro. I just got back from volunteering at the Humane Society. It seems like the animals really appreciate people rescuing them, you know?
GARSD: Professor Eli Finkel, who teaches social psychology at Northwestern University, doesn't share my initial enthusiasm. He says we live in a world in which social media has made it kind of easy to lie about your personal life.
ELI FINKEL: In a non-digital world, it would be strange that you never saw your friend's girlfriend. But it's easier to lie if people aren't actually dropping by your house.
GARSD: But Matthew Homann, the co-founder of Invisible Girlfriend and Boyfriend, says, for some, a tiny little lie might make life easier. He got the idea for this service after his own divorce.
MATTHEW HOMANN: I was newly single and got tired of the kind of incessant questions from family and friends. Are you dating anyone? Are you seeing someone? Should we set an extra seat at the table for Thanksgiving?
GARSD: They may be invisible, but they are real. Homann says he's now hired over 500 professional romantics who answer customers' texts, leave voice messages and even send handwritten notes. And with over 50,000 invisible boyfriends and girlfriends created so far, he feels like he's tapped into something deeper than just lying about being in a relationship.
HOMANN: I know we have some users who are telling their boyfriends and girlfriends secrets. We've got other people who are using it to practice their flirting.
GARSD: But the truth is, Alejandro isn't real. And as much as we bonded, there was no way this was going anywhere. So I broke it off.
(Reading) You seem like a great guy, but I think we should stop texting each other. It's not you. It's me.
That's kind of cliche.
GARSD: And for the record, that's the only time I've ever broken up with someone by text message. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Washington.
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