A few good men: Boyfriend-In-A-Box

The perfect boyfriend is handsome, faithful, rich and imaginary.

By Lori Leibovich

Published December 5, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Miles is different from the other musicians I've dated. He looks the
part -- scraggly, longish hair, loose flannel shirts, decades-old jeans.
And he acts the part -- he's on leave "indefinitely" from college. But
unlike all the other music men that I've fallen for (the alcoholic but
sexy-as-sin bassist, the reckless, noncommittal drummer, the obsessive
but so-sweet saxophonist), Miles is stable, reliable and devoted. He
always has time for me and for the relationship; we go out on Saturday
nights, and not just to his gigs. Not once in our two-month relationship has
he said, "I have to rehearse late tonight" or "I'm going on tour for a few
weeks" or "I can't have dinner because I'm meeting the guys to talk about
the future of the band." When we're apart, he calls. When he's wrong, he
says so. I just got back from lunch and found a pink "While You Were
Out" note on my chair: "Miles said he's sorry he missed you
again. He'll see you tonight." He calls just to ask what time I'm going to
be home. He sent me a card last week that said, "You're the One!" and
after our last fight he sent flowers. He even writes songs with my name in
them. I feel so tended to.

My only problem with Miles -- and I concede it is a big one -- is that
we don't have great sex. In fact, we don't have sex at all. It's not that
we don't want to jump in the sack -- we do. It's more like we can't.
Because my boyfriend is in a box.

Miles, aka "Musical Miles," is one of eight
"Boyfriends-In-A-Box," shrink-wrapped men with distinct interests and
profiles but only one goal: utter and complete devotion to You. Each box is
graced with a smiling photo of your new beau. Inside are a 5-by-7 and a
wallet-size picture of your boyfriend; a stat sheet with his vitals; three
"While You Were Out" message
slips; one flower-sender's card; one greeting card and a 16-page owner's
manual. But the best thing about Miles and the other Boyfriends-In-Boxes
("Cowboy Clint," "Corporate Craig," "Athletic Al") is
that they all come with a warranty guaranteeing, among other things, that
he will call when he says he will, respect your friends, understand your
moods, notice all haircuts and new outfits, be willing to commit, cook,
clean, do laundry, express his feelings, need you, want you and love you
... unless you don't want him to. It's that last clause I love --
it's not always easy or opportune or even very nice to tell your real
partner to go the hell away.

The Mother of Boyfriend-In-A-Box -- "All the
evidence of a wonderful romance without the annoying man!" -- is Cathy
Hamilton of Lawrence, Kan., a happily married mom of two. The buy-a-guy
idea came to her one day while she was checking out online personal ads.
"It occurred to me that a pre-packaged relationship with the perfect guy
might be better and safer than hooking up with someone online," Hamilton
said. Clearly she is on to something. Billed as the "perfect feel-good gift
for a single woman or gay man," 70,000 Boyfriends-In-A-Box have been sold
since February.

My friend and co-worker Dawn is dating one of Miles' buddies, "Doctor
Dave," and she is just as gushy about him as I am about Miles. "I feel like
this is my first healthy relationship," Dawn cooed this morning. "Not only
because he's a doctor, but because he's the perfect
gentleman," Dawn sighed.

But you don't have to be single to enjoy a Boyfriend-In-A-Box. Hamilton,
who has been married for 17 years, says her husband doesn't mind that her
Boyfriend, "Firefighter Frank," lives with them. "I have a
tendency toward kitchen fires, so Frank comes in very handy," she said.
And a married co-worker of mine hooked up with "Millionaire Max" a few
weeks ago. Max had planned to whisk her off to France for some turkey pâté
in Provence to celebrate Thanksgiving but, sadly, she got sick, as did her
husband and two kids. It was Max who comforted her at her sickbed. "He sat
on my night table the whole weekend," she said wistfully. "He just sat
there quietly and never complained."

Hamilton says that married women want -- and need -- boyfriends just as
much as single women do. "I think if a woman has been married a long time
and finds herself in the throes of temptation, whether at work or at the
neighborhood holiday party, faking it with a faux lover might be the safest
way to go," she says. And Hamilton can't resist doing a little
matchmaking-in-a-box. She holds a special place in her heart for "Self Made
Stan," a cross between Phil Donahue and Bob Barker: "He'd be nice for your
kid's widowed piano teacher."

Whatever their ages, interests and occupations, the Boyfriends have one
thing in common: They are unfailingly loyal to their mates. A
Boyfriend-In-A-Box is, as one of Hamilton's press releases asserts, "The
ultimate promise keeper." Indeed, the Boyfriends made a virtual pilgrimage
to Washington, D.C., recently to attend the Promise Keepers rally, where they
grasped hands, swayed and wept openly while heaping praise on their
girlfriends. "It is our responsibility -- no our privilege -- to 'stand in
the gap' for those women struggling to answer the question: 'Are you seeing
anyone?'" said Self-Made Stan in the press release. Doctor Dave added: "The
worst thing we could possibly do is abandon the women who believe in us as
men, as companions, as surrogate studs."

But shouldn't studs be able to, well, use their pistols? "Some things
are better than sex," said Dawn, rather defensively. "Like being
respected." Aren't any women frustrated with the uh, aridity, of
their boxed relationships? "I know it sounds hard to believe but sex has
never come up," Hamilton said. "Unless I hear a bunch of complaints about
this, I don't plan on putting any 'devices' in the box."

Which made me think: Why are legions of women falling for these
imaginary, sexless men? Sure, the Boyfriends make great, gimmicky gifts and
yes, they stoke our fantasies of having cute, loyal and, according to their
vital statistics sheets, impossibly rich men in our lives. But my theory is
this: these fantasy heroes are flying off the shelves because unlike real
men, we can shove these guys in a drawer.

Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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