My best friend, let’s just call her Anais – both for privacy’s sake and because she loves speaking French – and I met over four years ago and upgraded each other to, “Hey bro, let’s wear matching lockets,” status not long afterward. Most of my high school friends don’t know she exists. When someone does know who she is, she’s the nonchalant, “friend from New Jersey,” or simply, “my friend.” Here’s the reality, though: Anais is the Miguel to my Tulio and the Scully to my Mulder. We have exchanged thousands of texts and our Skype calls last for six hours straight. They nearly always end with an admittedly corny repartee wherein we try to convince each other to hang up first and go to bed already.
Also, we have never actually met in person. In fact, we are separated by a distance of over 1,000 miles.
You might be thinking that such an arrangement would totally suck – and sure, the distance means there will always be stuff we can’t do. I’d love to bring Anais to a local production of “Heathers,” or scour thrift shops together, but it just isn’t possible. I’m always baffled, however, by the idea that an online friendship is somehow less worthwhile than a “real life” friendship. We can play hundreds of games, watch videos or read together. I've got her back, and she's got mine. For example, we both have phone anxiety but I've called Nintendo Support on her behalf (that's how you know it's for real). Most importantly, Anais and I do the thing that really matters: we talk.
Being long-distance best friends also has its unique advantages. Here’s one that’s pretty fantastic: we’re mutually quarantined from each other’s social circles. We are free to vent, dish and divulge our true feelings, free of the fear that something we’ve said will rage through the high school rumor mill. I've been with her for several star-crossed romances where this fact has proven very useful. In addition, Anais has taught me how to maintain a true friendship. In high school, I sometimes worried that my relationships sprung from convenience, obligation or a lack of other options. I didn’t really gel with a lot of my friends. Maybe we just didn’t click, they’d done something sketchy to me in the past or we never hung out outside of class. I’d ask myself, does this person really like me or is it just the mere-exposure effect at work?
This question isn't easy to answer except in Anais’s case. On the Internet, it’s a lot easier to just cut someone off cold turkey and replace them. It’s not like you have to see them again. Anais and I have fought over the years, and we certainly don't agree on everything, but in the end we typically reconcile, apologize if necessary and move forward. I have no doubt that what ties us together to this day is the natural harmony between our personalities plus good communication, and I am extremely grateful to have that kind of friendship. Some people in my life have friends that don't treat them well at all, and it hurts to see. Continuing the theme of gratitude, the thing I marvel about a lot with my LDBFF is the sheer improbability that we connected at all, along with whatever serendipity kept us talking past that fragile, initial contact. I never set out to make friends online; she blindsided me. It’s totally humbling and baffling.
This summer, we've finally arranged a visit where we do the whole New York tourist experience. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic. I’m also nervous, because this “physical presence” thing will be new for us. That may sound weird, but this will be a major change in a four-year friendship, and change is always both exciting and terrifying.
And this year, it’s just another change to add to the list. As some of us gear up for college – either a couple miles away, or in my case, well over 1,000 miles – it’s easy to worry about leaving our high school friend group behind. I do, too, but I also know that for my best friend, location has never mattered. We’ve walked through high school simultaneously far away and side by side, helping each other through bad times but mostly sending each other ironic, extremely compressed Minions meme images. Not sorry, Anais.
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