My Pretend Boyfriend Experiment

I had a roommate once who swore the key to everlasting happiness was to feng shui the love and marriage sections of our rooms.

She put up photographs of Paris and has been with her husband for three years now.

I’ve spent that time periodically rearranging the colors and elements in my section and have so far ended up with bubkes. Or, more specifically, I’ve been the recipient of advances from eligible bachelors like the playwright who tried to woo with a CD of a musical he had written about Cain and Abel and the lovelorn Texan who appreciated my concern and promptly showed me a photo of his penis on his cell phone.

After one particularly disappointing encounter, I left an exasperated voicemail for one of my perpetually single friends. And like countless fictional counterparts before us, we agreed to meet up for drinks to bemoan the New York male.

The male-female ratio in New York is the exact opposite of Alaska — where my parents used to live and my dad is fond of saying, “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

But I can’t say that I’ve been all that impressed by what New York has to offer either. From time to time, I feel like I’m on the verge of something good, but I’m never able to actually close the deal. And it’s these lukewarm men I find most frustrating. (I believe Drew Barrymore, Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long would say they’re just not that into me.) And yet I still periodically get my hopes up, thinking perhaps I will finally meet one who will be.

These are the themes my friend Karen and I discussed as we sketched out ideas about where we could meet viable mates. (Both of our mothers had started sending us self-help books. Time was of the essence.)

And as I complained about the injustice of it all and we tried to determine whether it made more sense to hit up bookstores or gyms, I thought out loud, “I wonder what would happen if I changed my relationship status on Facebook.”

And that’s how the experiment started.

I wanted to know what would happen if I — who always seem to be available for those who can’t make up their minds to never actually have to make up their minds — was suddenly taken.

What’s more, I was about to face my family in Wisconsin for my aunt’s sixtieth birthday and was not looking forward to answering questions about my relationship status. This would solve everything! I could have a career *and* a man!

Karen and I were suddenly optimistic. Perhaps I would be inundated with offers. Maybe someone would kick himself for not saying something sooner and would finally bare his soul. Or, worse case scenario, nothing would happen at all and I could change my status right back to “single.”

I was pretty nervous about officially amending my profile and someone calling my bluff. I had a couple of false starts before I actually made myself do it…and then an announcement went out to my 221 friends and there was no turning back.

“I wonder if anyone will even notice,” I thought.

I needn’t have worried. Within 12 minutes, my college roommate wrote, “Awww, saw your update and got a warm fuzzy. I think there should be an app so you can put a heart around the sig other. ;p.”

I began to worry that this experiment would backfire and I would instead give false hope to single women everywhere. (If I can get a boyfriend, anyone can!)

Her response was typical of women. While my female friends opted for hyperbole — “Finally, a guy who knows a diamond when he sees one!” — my male pals tended to be more cautious and inquisitive. Two asked, “Who is the lucky lad?” Only to follow up with, “Or should i say lass? ;)”

I hadn’t quite worked out all of the details in my head — I just knew that I wanted to have a good story about how I met my pretend boyfriend. I had, after all, been single for a long time and would have to have a pretty good story about why I finally took the plunge.

My friend Charlie jumped right into it. “Oh really? ‘Lisa Lacy is now in a relationship’?” he asked. “Who is it? What’s his name??”

I had to think fast. My friend Carla has a childhood friend, Rafael. I met him at a New Year’s party. We went bowling a few times and I was always the victor (confession: I am actually a really good bowler), but I thought we were getting along well…until he disappeared. (The next time I saw him, I was a little tipsy and yelled at him for not letting me bake him a birthday cake. Which I’m sure filled him with remorse.)

But, back when Rafael was still a romantic possibility, Carla knew how excited I was to hear from him. When he texted her for my phone number, she immediately called to tell me about it. But she was really difficult to understand.

“Are you eating something?” I asked.

“No,” she said, spitting. “I was brushing my teeth! I thought you’d want to know right away!”

This was the story I told. I based most details on Rafael himself – he graduated from Columbia a few years before I did; he’s a reporter at a large financial news organization; he’s working on a book in his spare time – but I was mad at the actual Rafael for disappearing unceremoniously, so I instead called him “Julio” after my favorite bartender at a tapas place on the Lower East Side.

That was my big mistake. It wasn’t until I had already said that his name was Julio and revealed his employer that I realized Google could easily prove me wrong.

I confessed to Carla.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “Haven’t you ever made up a boyfriend before?”

She went to work. “It’s okay. We can fix this.”

First of all, she said he immediately had to quit his job to work on his book full-time.

“Tell them he got a grant,” she said. “And that he has a deadline coming up. And that’s why people don’t see him out in public with you. See? You can’t trace that.”

Carla also made me promise that I would pull the plug after a month or it would get juicier and juicier until I really got myself into trouble.

Karen’s advice? “You be the dumper, not the dumpee.”

On my second day with a pretend boyfriend, messages poured in from my female friends. I found, however, that I couldn’t lie to them.

“Can you keep a secret?” I’d ask before explaining my experiment.

“Oh, I was hoping it would be something like that!” Kathy said. “Don’t leave me alone as the only single person!”

Daphne wrote, “Dude, that’s TOTALLY exciting! I think there is this balance between singleness and dating that optimizes men’s interest in a woman. Like, when someone is dating and about to be ‘back on the market,’ guys seem to suddenly be more interested.”

She went on to say that maybe breaking up with my Facebook boyfriend wouldn’t be so lonely after all. “It’s right out of rom com land!” she added.

Nancy agreed. “It is very How-to-Lose-a-Guy-in-10-Days.”

I would like to say that when I went to Wisconsin my family had a newfound respect for my ability to nurture both a career and a relationship. But they barely asked about it and I felt weird flaunting a pretend man, so I didn’t.

Instead, I was oversensitive when my aunt told me I couldn’t possibly understand what she was talking about at a hardware store because I’m not a home owner…and later asked, “When you eventually have kids, do you want girls or boys?”

I don’t care as long as they’re healthy? Isn’t that the answer you’re supposed to give?

I was scheduled to interview the actual Julio shortly after my return. When I arrived at the restaurant, however, he had forgotten and wasn’t working that night.

I figured this was my big chance. I changed myself back to single on Facebook. (Or, rather, I took myself out of a relationship, therefore implying I was back on the market.)

Charlie — in PR — immediately asked what happened. I gave him the official breakup story: Julio and I had plans for dinner. He forgot because he was so wrapped up in his draft. We got in a big fight…and we finally agreed that it wasn’t working out because he was too busy to spend enough time and attention on me.

“I was sad when I read that you broke up with Julio,” Karen wrote.

Kaitlin asked, “Has it been a month already?”

Men, however, were quieter. There was one lukewarm gentleman in particular I was hoping would notice my relationship status. But, sadly, he never said anything if he did.

In fact, there was not one single bout of jealous rage.

But just as I was bemoaning this experimental failure, the most stunning development of all took place. The closest thing I had to a high school boyfriend, but who was never actually mine because 1) he was monumentally unattractive — my friend Sandra called him the “big, fat, hairy, ugly Greek”; and 2) he had a predilection for horse tranquilizers — wrote, “this ‘no longer in a relationship’ business struck me as nonsense even before i looked at your new picture! someone lost big.”

It almost made me wonder if I’d judged him too quickly on the ketamine. It had, after all, been ten years since we graduated and he still called me “breathtaking.”

When I mentioned I might be in town in a few weeks for a wedding, he finally confessed that he loved me. I was stunned by his sudden effusiveness…and yet at the same time, I guess part of me has always known.

Tranquilizers are still a deal breaker for me. And I don’t know if I can face him after everything he said.

Yet I’d like to think the pronouncement was more than just a cap on my social experiment. Since it was a decade in the making, perhaps his actions finally broke my curse and this spring (the season of rebirth!) will be different. Maybe like with feng shui, there was some sort of movement in the cosmos and other men in my life will now be more upfront.

Maybe I’ll even be able to close the deal for real this time.

Or maybe I should just start writing a screenplay.

About the author


a Brooklyn, NY-based food and business writer who has worked for Martha Stewart Living, Good Housekeeping, the Financial Times and Dow Jones. She also blogs for the Huffington Post and started her own blog – – to chronicle her preparations for the American Pie Council’s National Pie Championships.


  • I LOVED this. When I was in an actual relationship, every man I’ve ever known came crawling out of the woodwork with the texting, calling, and messages. Unfortunetly, I think they have a sixth sense and can sniff out how genuine your moving on with someone new actually is (think of men that don’t even have Facebook, yet still manage to strike at a time that will fuck with your head/relationship). Fuck ’em.

  • OMG, this was so funny. I want to hang out with you and Carla, and Karen. Sadly, I live in Los Angeles. The only city as bad, if not worse, for meeting single men.

  • So my friend forwarded me this post because I have a pretend boyfriend right now! I have taken a different approach, so we’ll see how this works out. I am not pretending to other people that I have a boyfriend, I am pretending to myself. And in my pretend world, my pretend boyfriend is perfect. He’s actually a guy that I work with in a different office (he’s in NY, I am in DC) and we talk in IM a lot, help each other with projects, razz each other about baseball teams. But in my head, he’s my perfect boyfriend. He can do anything. Like I have this crazy idea that I want a man to take me sailing. However, I don’t want to actually learn how to sail, so odds are I won’t meet a guy with a sailboat. But in my pretend world, my PB takes me sailing, gives great massages, likes the same foods that I do, and loves to have sexy quarrels. Funny, huh? Kind of sad, but I’m on a relationship hiatus and this is really entertaining me.

  • Haha i did this once. when i was a teenager. actually a couple of times. all my friends had their boyfriends, and i just couldnt meet anyone perfect enough for me haha. so i made up this boy, absoloutly wonderful. his name was jareth and i loved him so much. the trouble was, i started writing emails to myself from him and showing my friends, and making and buying little presents from ‘him’ and you know writing little notes to myself from him!! and i got so carried away i thought he was actually real. well, not really real, but he wasnt just a joke. it was like he was part of me. and i was always really dramatic so when i finally told myself enough, i said that jareth was dead. killed in a car crash. bahahahahaha
    so just remember is you ever want to try this, break up after a month, dont kill him and tell a couple of your friends haha.
    btw very funny story and i loved reading it.

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