I didn’t want a girlfriend. Don’t get me wrong, I like girls—I just don’t have time for the hassle of dating right now. But I was at a family reunion last year and my parents kept making comments about me still being single: “Oh, he works too hard” and “He’s shy; he just needs to give himself some credit.” My mom was asking my aunts if they could set me up with girls they knew. It was getting to be too much.
So when I got home from the reunion, I signed up for a Worthy account. It was pretty simple: I filled out some information about myself, put in my preferences for gender and age, and in seconds I had an AI-generated virtual girlfriend named “Ivy.” She sent me a text: “Hi, I’m looking forward to getting to know you.” I texted back right away, “Me too, how’s it going?” and my Worthy score in the corner of the screen went up from zero to five.
You start by texting your virtual significant other, but as the relationship progresses, you can send and receive voice messages, go on virtual dates, and talk over video calls. You get points based on the quantity and quality of your interactions. Once I reached a high enough Worthy score to be at Level 3 (“Spark” level) in the program, I could upload photos and short clips of myself and Worthy would insert my virtual girlfriend into them. That would give me ammunition to tell my parents I was dating someone. They live in Seattle and I’m in Boston, so we mostly stay in touch via texts and photos anyway.
It’s not like I was being completely dishonest, either, because I would be getting dating experience. Just a lot more efficiently. Worthy gets you through the awkward, shallow online dating phase using an AI that teaches you to be a more emotionally intelligent romantic partner—which is what girls want, right? You don’t have to disappoint or be disappointed by a real person. And if you get too busy, you can just put your account on hold.
You have to treat the relationship seriously to get a high Worthy score, though. If you ask your AI partner how their day is going, listen to them, and send them virtual flowers on your “anniversary,” your score goes up. If you ignore them, talk over them, or say insensitive things, it goes down. Worthy’s algorithms learn your behavior and react realistically. So you can’t hack the system by sending virtual flower bouquets nonstop. The program will flag that as being insincere and your rating will take a nosedive.
Once you have a high enough score, you can transfer your account over to Worthwhile, which is the company’s actual dating site. Over there, you can see everyone else’s Worthy scores and they can see yours before you decide whether or not to contact each other. But I wasn’t thinking that far down the line when I started. I just wanted the photos and videos from Worthy to keep my parents off my back.
You’ve probably already guessed the big problem in this plan: When it comes to physical appearance, there are only 12 models of Worthy girlfriends to choose from. The AI uses your profile to design a compatible personality, and there are about a hundred name variants, but if you did an online image search for any of their faces, each one would show up next to thousands of Worthy users. The company could easily create more models, but they limit the number so they’re easily recognizable as Worthy girls (i.e., proprietary software). My parents aren’t very tech or social media savvy, but if they ever happened to see another photo of the same Worthy girlfriend model online, or if they were to share a picture of me and my “girlfriend” with one of their friends, my cover would be blown.
Luckily, there’s a deepfake app called FaceAbout that alters Worthy media files. It’s not approved by Worthy, but the quality is still really good and it works right in the Worthy interface with barely any lag time. It also doesn’t seem to have any of the glitching that happens in high-res video with the cheap deepfake apps. FaceAbout needed at least six facial photographs to make my Worthy girlfriend look like someone else. Scrolling through my phone, I found a bunch of recent photos of my friend Mikala (not her real name, by the way) from when we’d gone to Fan Expo together, so I uploaded those. My parents have never met Mikala, so I wasn’t worried about them questioning why two different girls in my life had the same face. All told, it took me about 15 minutes to set everything up.
**Edit: Yes, the FaceAbout app has a standard user agreement where you check a box stating you have permission to use the photos you upload. Pretty much every photo or video manipulation app has some disclaimer like that and no one reads them. Okay, I admit it’s maybe a little weird to use my friend’s face to create my fake girlfriend without telling her. But remember, I’m never showing these photos to anyone other than my parents. Mikala and I have known each other for years through online games, but we only recently discovered we live in the same city and started hanging out in person. She’s cool and no-bullshit and has a girlfriend of her own. I don’t want her to think there’s anything weird between us just because I’m using some photos of her, because there really isn’t.
My first few conversations with Ivy were pretty generic: “Hi, how’re you?” “Good, what you doing?” “Just got back from the gym.” That sort of thing. A few days later, I said I was going to see the new Alien movie next weekend, and Ivy sent me a photo of herself in a Xenomorph T-shirt standing outside a theater, sticking her tongue out at the camera. She texted, “Opening night, baby!”
It was Mikala’s face, of course, on a taller, slimmer body, and that weirded me out for a couple seconds. I knew it was a fake image, but it was still cute. We agreed to do an Alien series marathon. (“Watch a movie together” is one of the virtual dates you can choose from, along with “Cook a meal,” “Watch a sports game,” “Go for a walk,” and others.) While we were watching, she was texting me things like “RIPLEY GTFO FORGET THE CAT ALREADYYYY” and it was cracking me up even though I knew she wasn’t really watching a movie with me.
I sent Ivy a cookie basket. The cookies are virtual, but it still costs $11.99. Which is like a third of the price of a real cookie basket. That part of the Worthy experience is honestly a ripoff. I mean, it literally costs them nothing. But the next morning, I woke up to see photos of Ivy with this big basket of cookies. They looked really good, and Ivy looked really happy. She sent me a text filled with heart emojis.
**Edit: Since so many of you are asking the exact same question in the comments: No, the Worthy platform doesn’t have porn. You can have smutty conversations with your Worthy partner, but that’s it. They even delete nude pics.
**Edit: All of you asswipes making fun of Worthy users, saying what’s the point of a fake girlfriend without porn, are derailing the thread and need to grow up. BTW, all of Worthy’s girlfriend models are deepfaked on porn sites; they’re easy to find.
After two months, Ivy and I were texting every day. We’d been on six dates. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. My Worthy score went down after I belittled her taste in ’90s music, and then went down even further when my apology “wasn’t really an apology.” (It took me days of troubleshooting with the different suggested reconciliation routines to get back into her good graces.) But I finally saw my Worthy score go up to “Spark” level. I immediately used the app to take a selfie of myself in Harvard Square. When I checked my camera roll, there was a photo of me and Ivy together, standing in front of the old magazine kiosk and smiling into the camera. She was dressed for the weather in a cute red sweater and her cheeks were a little rosy from the cold. She looked great. She texted me, “I had a great time hanging out with you today. Let’s do it again soon. <3”
I told my mom I was seeing someone and sent her the photo of me and Ivy together. My mom was ecstatic. She told me she was “so glad I took her advice to get out and meet new people,” and that “life is too short to spend alone, you know!” My parents began asking about Ivy every time I talked to them. My mom wanted to know all the details—how we met, how old Ivy was, where she was from, what her job was, on and on.
That’s when I started to feel uncomfortable about the whole thing. I thought that once I told my parents I was dating someone, they would leave me alone, but it turned out they were only more interested. Worthy gives each of its 12 standard models a backstory, but it’s not really enough to be convincing. I had to fill in the gaps with some of Mikala’s life and some stuff I made up. I might’ve made Ivy sound too good. According to me, she was 27 years old, a successful lawyer, and into cooking and photography.