Thursday, September 19, 2013

Do You Have a Best Friend that You've Never Met?

Do you?  Of course you do.  It's wonderful to be disembodied -- to be all mind, all wit, all language.

I first became aware of the best-friend-you've-never-met syndrome back in the late 1990s when ICQ became widely available.  One of my college students showed up to class as everyone was leaving.  She pleaded with me to understand that she lost track of time because she got into an urgent conversation with her BEST FRIEND EVER.

After further discussion, it emerged that because of the time difference, she rarely had a chance to chat with him.  He lived in Australia.  They had never met.

Exchanging thoughts, feelings, and ideas in letters, email, and instant-message web conversations is a powerful way to create intimacy.  Face-to-face meetings and rubbing up against one another also create intimacy, but embodied intimacy seems riskier.  Approval or judgement can be seen in the eyes or heard in the tone of voice.  Embodiment demands attention and presence which can distract us from being our most honest, authentic selves.

My mother and father met at a wedding in 1946, but they fell deeply in love through the daily letters they exchanged.  My father was in NYC and Washington in various veteran's hospitals and my mother was in university in Toronto.  Without their correspondence, my mother would have ended up with one of her other suitors, and I would not be writing this now.

I had two best friends that I had never met.  We exchanged ideas and collaborated on projects including podcasts and writing.  They also helped me by linking discussion on their website to this blog.  Recently, I met my two best disembodied friends. How adorable they are.

The only problem was getting over the border to the Mercury Bar, a block away.

Border Guard:  "You are coming to Detroit to meet some people you've never met?"
Me:  "Well, yeah, but they're our best friends."
Border Guard:  "And you're meeting in the Mercury Bar?"
Me:  "Right."
Border Guard:  "Then you're going back to Canada?"
Me:  "Exactly."
Border Guard:  "Let me get this straight:  you drove four hours from Toronto to spend four hours in a bar with people you've never met?  Then you are going to turn around and drive four hours back to Toronto?"

At this point, Cadell Last, who was in the passenger seat, reached across me waving his iPhone at the border guard, and said, "Here's the meetup invitation.  Look."

Did meeting my new best friends in person make a difference?  Not to me.  Their embodied selves were indistinguishable from their disembodied selves, although perhaps a little drunker.

What about you?  Do you have a best friend that you've never met?  What's it like?


  1. There are extensive comments to this post. They don't come up immediately though. By clicking this, you should be able to see the conversation that ensued.

  2. this is so lovely! "Do you? Of course you do. It's wonderful to be disembodied -- to be all mind, all wit, all language." I agree wholeheartedly - I have some relatives that have such contempt for people like me who have friends around the world I've never met. but the dynamic is so authentic and kind that geography is irrelevant. (and I prefer these folks to said relatives ... but don't tell! :) )

  3. p.s. sorry to shamelessly link to my own blog here, but I offer a similar sentiment in this recent review I posted:

    and again here: