A man told The Independent he pays $100 a month for a girlfriend experience / Getty Images/iStockphoto

'It makes things feel normal'

A man has told how he spends up to £1,000 a year on mundane 'fake girlfriend' texts - and insists he feels a connection with the woman he's never spoken to.

Ben, a 28-year-old software worker, pays $100 (£81) each month for his favourite Snapchatter to send him photos, messages and emails.

He's one of growing number of people paying for the attention - and nothing more - of minor Snapchat glamour stars.

And while cam sites and raunchy picture exchanges are nothing new, the apparent rise in people paying for basic human attention is rather more unsettling.

Because rather than demanding nude pictures or racy messages, the deal is for Ben's virtual girlfriend to send him the more vanilla and mundane communications - the type that you settle into in a longer term relationship.

Money problems main reason for relationship breakdown

"In the morning I could get a Snapchat selfie with 'good morning baby' written on it, later in the day she might message me on Kik (a messaging app) about how her day at work has been. It's not crazy stuff," he told The Independent.

"If she's come down with strep (a throat condition) I'll know about it, if she's got a headache she tells me, and if she's out partying I get Snapchats that no-one else sees.

"There's never really any hot stuff ... for most of the time it's the sort of thing you'd find in any regular relationship."

Sending texts and Snaps to a man you've never met can be lucrative (File pic) (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It isn't a regular relationship, though. Ben, who does not wish to be fully identified, has never had a steady girlfriend ("too busy"), and says the arrangement makes "things feel normal".

It's not all one-way traffic though. Ben sends her messages, too, and as part of the deal they can have occasional text conversations during the day.

He says the closeness makes him feel happy, and he genuinely cares about the part-time model, who has more than 20,000 Twitter followers and a Snapchat following.

The virtual girlfriend business started booming in 2014 with the rise of online firms like Invisible Girlfriend and Dream Lover.

But since then canny women - often low-level models or adult performers with sizeable social media followings - have capitalised.

Ben - who The Independent made contact with via Reddit - said he does not pretend to anyone that he has a girlfriend, and that the messages are only ever seen by him.

"I don't think it's as strange as it first sounds," he added. "It's a connection."

And does he think he's his 'girlfriend's' only guy?

"I don't really go down that route."