*Whatever you do, don’t make any references to Marvin Kingsland using such terms as “procurer” or a moniker infinitely unacceptable, “pimp.” Not even in jest. The mere implication raises his dander. “Would you refer to a waiter or a cab driver as a servant?” he asks rhetorically. “I am a businessman.”
And what a business it is. Kingsland is CEO of Mr. Right Now, Inc. (MRNI). For almost ten years now, the privately held Dallas-based firm has represented men who, for a fee, make themselves available to women for personal and/or professional activities.
I know what you’re thinking. Shame on you. This is not about sex. Mr. Right Now is strictly about the business of appearances.
“You’d be surprised at the number of women who want to have a man around just for the sake of how it looks,” says the affable, mild-mannered Kingsland. Tall, impeccable in a gray suit and mostly silver-haired, the 61 year-old entrepreneur strikes a distinguished pose. Think a “Dynasty” era John Forsythe or a younger version of TV game show legend Bob Barker. “Some women who aren’t married or otherwise involved [with a man] only want a man’s presence on certain occasions.”
Like when she’s attending a wedding–or going to the movies, going to see a play or out to eat–but doesn’t want to go with a girlfriend and feels uncomfortable going alone. Or the professional event where she might find it advantageous to be in the company of a man.
According to Kingsland, Mr. Right Now’s core female client is aged between 30 and 65, is generally professional but not exclusively so, comes from every cultural background and is not the person most people would assume she is because she uses his service.
“This woman can get a date,” he says. “The problem is she is tired of meeting ‘good guys’ who turn out to be bad apples–men who misrepresent themselves. This woman is done with men in the romantic sense. Now she uses them the way she uses her washer or her juicer.”
Or her computer. In fact, the Apple Store at Los Angeles’ Beverly Center mall is where I happened upon Kingsland, both of us perusing lap tops. He asked me what I used mine for; when he told me what he did with his, I was intrigued. A week later, in his West L.A. office, Kingsland shared with me some details of his unusual enterprise.
The seed was planted early 2003 in Las Vegas, where Kingsland and his wife Maureen, successful restaurateurs and owners of a small insurance firm, resided at the time. A cousin of hers, in town for a business convention, asked Marvin Kingsland if he’d join her at her company’s dinner. “She wasn’t afraid to go solo,” he says, “but the rest of upper management was married and she didn’t want to be the only single woman there. My presence also kept some of her tipsy coworkers off her.”
Later, the cousin and the Kingslands joked about the idea of Mr. Kingsland “renting” himself to single women as their “partner.” The laughs ended when, a couple months later, the cousin called and asked Kingsland if he wouldn’t mind accompanying two fellow female execs flying into Vegas for a business event. Says Kingsland, “Maureen, the most understanding woman in the world, said to me, ‘Somewhere in this is a real business.'”
The Kingslands relocated the operation to Dallas, and almost a decade later operates in some sixteen states, though Mr. Kingsland refuses to say which ones. “The people who use us know how to reach us. A hallmark of our service is discretion and illusion.”
Kingsland says he owes the success of his endeavor in part to the changing times. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, married couples now represent 48 percent of all U.S. households, down from 52 percent in the last Census.
The fast-growing older population is more likely to be divorced or widowed later in life, and 20-somethings are putting off marriage for longer periods.
Unemployment fears, a growing labor market for women and not having kids at a young age are some of the reasons people in their 20s and early 30s are not marrying. “Women are having a problem finding Mr. Right,” Kingsland says. “I’m giving them someone they can spend some time with and then throw back into the pile.”
Kingsland is reticent to divulge details of how his client and Mr. Right Now connect, only saying that a client chooses a man from a collection of photos and background info of the type of man she requests. Remarkably, the firm has no Internet presence. Kingsland would only concede that MRNI clients and men use email in a limited fashion.
He maintains the company’s unique service is nationally marketed unobtrusively through select women’s salons, health spas, woman’s groups, beauty resorts, book clubs and oddly enough, some churches. “There’s the Christian lady uninterested in a relationship but who wants male companionship for a day or an evening without the pressure that can come with dating.”
Regarding his men for hire, Kingsland insists he’s got a substantial pool, including a retired silver-haired CEO of a fortune 500 company; 30-something law enforcement types; a former Olympic swimmer, an airplane pilot, several firemen and a couple of plumbers.
“I’ve got big men, little men, medium sized men, white men, black men, Native Americans, a couple of guys from the Ukraine. I’ve got Average Joe, I’ve got your metrosexual. I’ve got young guys for women who want to look like cougars. I got a fella who used to play Arena football. I’ve got ’em all.”
The men find Kingsland largely through the recommendation of other men at the service. Sometimes he’ll stop a guy on the street “who seems to have it together” and invite him to consider joining Mr. Right Now. “This is not a full time job; it’s something they can do in their leisure.” All are required to be single, as in not married. Most don’t survive the company’s ferocious background check. “We background check our female clients, too,” says Kingsland. “Crazy comes in both genders.”
And there is absolutely no sex. Both parties sign contracts agreeing that transactions are casual and that neither will attempt to form liaisons outside of the written agreements. Hand holding and hugs are figured into some contracts for the sake of appearance.
Why would a guy sign up to do something like this? “Ego,” says Kingsland. “Men like attention. He doesn’t have to worry whether he’s enough for this woman–she’s hired him for just that reason.”
There’s also the money. The men are hired by the hour for a minimum of three hours for rates Kingsland won’t reveal, although he admits some men earn more than others. He points to a member of the Mr. Right Now pool who
recently learned to ball room dance. “That’s a marketable skill; I can get more for him.”
Kingsland says he doesn’t worry about the creepy factor–the idea of women renting men as they would a U-Haul, or the condescending, sexist notion that women don’t feel secure enough to do things socially without a man. “Plenty of them do,” he says.”We’re just here for the women who don’t. And they’re out there.”
Kingsland bristles at the C word. “You call this creepy? The online dating rage, to me, that’s creepy. Meeting murderers on Craig’s List, that’s creepy. Facebook’s pretty scary to me. On TV, they’re advertising peter enhancers in prime time. That’s just nasty. What I’m offering is an option for women to be with men that is legal, safe and sincere. I’m saying, ‘Can’t find Mr. Right? Come meet Mr. Right Now.'”
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].