Within the past year, Rebecca* has developed crushes on a lawyer, a cafe owner, and a freelance writer.
They shared interests and talked about "normal things" like feeling miserable after watching La La Land and discovering that a particular nasi lemak restaurant which initially seemed overpriced turned out to serve good food.
But Rebecca holds back.
After all, these are her clients, whom she met in her line of work as a social escort, not men she crossed paths with queuing for Starbucks or in a bookshop.
"Playing the part of a loving, fun girlfriend is not hard, but during times like these - it becomes a little too easy. I don't act on my crushes because I like to remain professional, but can I really control who I develop a crush on?" shares Rebecca.
The first time it happened, she wondered why they had to meet this way.
Quit and live happily ever after a la Pretty Women you might think, but Rebecca points out that privacy and trust are core issues.
"Pursuing this vocation comes with dealing with the stigma that comes with it. Protecting my identity is the most important thing to me. What if we have an ugly breakup and the ex-client threatens to expose my real identity to everyone? Conversely, it would also be extremely unfair to date a client in a purely non-work context but for him to never get to know my real name or meet any of my friends."
In reality, Rebecca is 21 this year, a university student pursuing a bachelor's degree.
"I felt that I wanted some excitement in my life, and as an escape from strict conservative parents, where I could relax and let go," says Rebecca.
An eye-opening experience, it allows getting pampered and experiencing new things that would normally be out of reach for her.
Personal details aside (think: real name, home address, and university), she is as real as it gets - "I don't like being fake, in the sense that I share things about my perspective and my opinions on things, which don't change."
Initially a sugar baby, she realised that the boundaries weren't as easily enforced and asserted throughout.
"I very quickly realised that it was too much for too little. The sugar daddy had several emotional issues that he could not work out on his own and projected them all on me."
As someone who is very clear and upfront about what she loves, enjoys, dislikes, and hates, the escort life better suited her.
She treats it as a brand, posting both professionally taken and candid photos of herself on her website (using Tumblr when she first started out before moving to a proper website host) and social media account.
Rebecca could have as many as eight requests per week.
Pre-screening names, birth dates, and occupations aside, she's a firm believer of trusting intuition, especially her own because her gut instinct has never failed her.
"I think my biggest indicator is how clients approach me over email. Tip-top etiquette goes a long way."
Her clients mostly consist of professionals with mid to top level positions. With a regular client whom she meets whenever he is visiting Singapore for instance, it's a mix of dining at fine dining establishments and/or couples spa sessions.
Her most peculiar request to date?
"A client booked me as one of his final wishes was to see me before he passed on. He felt that something about my website and the way I carried myself professionally resonated with him. We went out for dinner and he just wanted me to listen to his life story. It was all super touching and way more emotional than I expected it to be as I was struggling to hold back my tears by the time it was time for me to go. The moment I got home, I bawled my eyes out. Maybe I was mourning," she says.
"Being a social escort has done wonders for my confidence. It's my way of letting my hair down," says Rebecca.
It helped her realise that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and she doesn't have to consciously think or behave a certain way just to seem more "ideal".
Not to mention it has been great for her finances. With some prudent planning, she found herself with a very decent amount of savings.
"It's improved my life in the sense that I now have some sort of focus - by having a full life, it forces me to prioritise to do the things that I really want and need to do in order to achieve my goals."
But her double life has meant missing out on friends' and relatives' birthdays, shopping dates and countless dinners.
Rebecca lives with her parents but they're in the dark about her double life.
"My family is pretty conservative, and I attended prestigious schools my whole life. I suppose it mostly has to do with maintaining one's personal reputation amongst peers and maintaining my family's reputation. I've also not thought it necessary to share this at all, considering that I'm just trying to lead a private life, creating my own private space where only I can access, like special memories that I'll hold onto when I'm older," she explains.
"On a darker note, the societal stigma against my profession means that people automatically believe I'm unworthy of basic human respect."
Adventurous and business-savvy as she is, Rebecca is acutely aware of how people get ostracised from their family and friends.
"I do not wish to subject myself to such treatment, be on the receiving end of violence."
"The biggest challenge is convincing people that what I do is considered real and professional labour. It can be hard to see past the champagne, the Michelin stars, and pretty lingerie as a non-sex worker," says Rebecca.
"People tell me all the time, 'damn! I've failed in life, I think I should just be an escort!' as if it's so easy."
What they don't see is the months spent brainstorming on a brand identity, answering numerous emails, as well as the physical and emotional demands when it comes to managing one's time and money.
Not to mention the amount of effort and money she spends on this - going for healthcare checks, investing in advertising, and personal grooming.
In short, according to Rebecca, it takes a high level of adaptability to do it all, while maintaining professionalism on the job. Can't say that's everyone's cup of tea.
*Rebecca is a moniker.
This article was first published in Her World Online