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Buying Mr. Right

He’s handsome, he’s buff, he’s thrilled to talk about your problems, take you to parties, even cook you dinner. The catch? He’s your trainer (or massage therapist, or Pilates instructor). But there are plenty of New York women who don’t mind keeping their perfect man on the payroll.


DINNER COMPANION: Ed Morand joins some of his Pilates students out on the town.  

It’s close to midnight, and Ed Morand, a handsome, heterosexual, 34-year-old Pilates instructor with a winning smile and washboard abs, is still on duty. He’s perched at a bar in Tribeca swigging a cranberry juice and ginger ale, chewing gum, and chatting amiably with a host of young professionals at a magazine writer’s 31st-birthday party.

Morand is there with one of his students, a pretty banker and friend of the birthday girl’s. He flirts with his student and her friends, talking animatedly about salsa dancing and Sarah Jessica Parker’s fabulous body. He’s not there on a date, exactly. Rather, he’s serving as a companion to a woman who pays him $360 a month. Ostensibly, she pays him to help her keep fit with reverse curls and roll-ups—but that’s only where the job starts.

Morand says hanging with his clients is part of the occupation. He exchanges lengthy e-mails with them, listens to their work woes on the phone, gives them advice on everything from bad backs to bad boyfriends. He calls it “value-added service.”

“I do it all the time,” he says, waving a sculpted arm nonchalantly into the smoky air. “Sometimes it’s the whole gang. We go out as a group.”

He fishes a card out of his DKNY leather business-card holder, a gift from another client.

Throughout Manhattan’s gyms and massage studios, practical-minded women are learning that in terms of men, you get what you pay for. In a city where finding Mr. Right is, to some, an onerous burden, these guys can be better than dating, more satisfying than sex (and even sex, in a few cases, isn’t out of the question). After all, the reasoning goes, don’t you deserve a man who’ll rub your shoulders, listen to your worries, and look good on your arm? It’s just one more luxurious, feel-good perk in a city that’s predicated on serving up the best. And New York is certainly swarming with willing guys—massage therapists, Pilates instructors, holistic chiropractors, aromatherapists, and personal trainers—who are enlightened, available, and clamoring to love, not judge, their clients.

with willing guys—massage therapists, Pilates instructors, holistic chiropractors, aromatherapists, and personal trainers—who are enlightened, available, and clamoring to love, not judge, their clients.

“Ed’s got a great personality,” explains the banker, who had her first one-on-one extracurricular outing with Morand on Valentine’s Day, when her boyfriend was away on a business trip.

“I don’t know how Ed does it,” says a petite brunette from the Upper East Side who regularly attends Morand’s Pilates class. “He deals with all our problems.”

Johanna Abreu, a 32-year-old attorney who’s had a fulfilling two-year relationship with her doe-eyed 37-year-old massage therapist, Lance Williamson, says she’s gained something beyond relaxation from her time with him: an escape from the dating life.

“Dating in New York is a pain in the ass,” she gripes. “People are so pretentious. The guys either think you are looking for someone who’s making a gazillion dollars—or that’s what they’re looking for. It’s a big city and you can feel so lonely in it. Lance is someone to talk to. When you’re with him, it’s not like you are going to wake up the next morning with a hangover and say: ‘Oh, I should not have done that.’ ” Abreu and Williamson do Sunday brunch a lot, go to parties, and e-mail regularly; this summer, she asked him to take a house with her on Martha’s Vineyard.

I do not have one client I do not like touching; I love every one of them,” says Williamson, who cat-sits for out-of-town clients, attends their birthday parties, sends notes, and calls them when he knows they’re feeling blue. “If clients come in depressed, I give them a big hug. Then I’ll follow up with a phone call or a letter. I’m not just a massage therapist. I’m a voice and a good listener. Sometimes, when clients go on vacation, I’ll call them and say: ‘I miss you—hurry home.’ ”

In return for his caring, Williamson gets a lot of free stuff from the well-to-do whose backs and necks he kneads for a living: hotel stays in Thailand, pricey dinners at Craft and Babbo, weekend stints in mansions in Bridgehampton, tickets to the theater and concerts.

“My clients have money. I don’t,” he says. “They have good taste in restaurants.” He pauses. “I know it sounds conceited. But I almost look at myself like a beacon of light. I love to take care of people. I’m a giver. I like to enhance people’s lives because it enhances mine.”

Holistic chiropractor Craig Martin, a Russell Crowe look-alike whose cozy Greenwich Village office is decorated with miniature elephants and plaques that say things like expect a miracle today, goes boating in Maine with his clients, attends their opera and art performances, and is often invited to their out-of-town weddings and showers.

So are these people patients, clients, or friends? The question elicits a euphoric look. “It’s a relationship,” he replies.

Williamson, who lives in a tiny two-bedroom on the Upper West Side, is equally puzzled by the question. “I never really thought about it much before,” he confesses over lunch at Viceroy in Chelsea. Williamson beams as he recalls his first client friendship, the first enormous New York City apartment he entered, the first celebrities he met. “And you just love spending time with these people!”

Certainly, the financial rewards are substantial. In a city where networking is key and personality is marketable, providers of health and fitness services say their businesses grow more rapidly when they aggressively network in nonaggressive settings (e.g., people’s homes, private parties, summer houses).

That kind of networking has helped Williamson expand his relatively young business fast. When he started four years ago, fresh out of massage school, his clients would call in the afternoon and get an appointment that night. Now, with a regular client base of 60 and rates that go as high as $200 for an at-home massage, he is booked almost a month in advance. His annual salary is approaching six figures.

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