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I can’t be the only one who has close friends I’ve never met

In an unexpected twist of lockdown life, Bryony has discovered that meeting people IRL is not the only way to forge special bonds

Bryony is enjoying online life a little too much
Bryony is enjoying online life a little too much Credit: Isabelle Maroger

I was on the phone to Louise 
recently, a colleague I speak to so regularly she has become a friend. Our relationship began as professional, but quickly became more friendly, our work chats serving as an excuse to have a good catch-up. You know the kind of person I’m talking about – a colleague who is more of a ‘frolleague’. (Did I just make up the worst word in the world? Yes, I think I quite possibly did.)

Louise and I were well into our 20th minute of chat – about children, schools, washout holidays to Ireland; the actual work chat having been dealt and dispensed with after 45 seconds – when the strangest thing suddenly occurred to me. I felt incredibly close to Louise, but I had never actually met her. Ours was a working relationship that started just before lockdown and, as a result, we have still not encountered each other face to face. But as I mentioned this to Louise in astonishment and she agreed that this fact did indeed feel very strange, I wondered if – in an age of social media and social distancing – face-to-face contact even really mattered any more. Catching up with friends used to be something done over coffee or a meal at a restaurant. In the time of coronavirus, it has become something we increasingly do over Zoom.

Louise isn’t the only ‘frolleague’ 
I have made this year that I have 
 never met – there’s also Louisa, the producer of my podcast Mad World, who was assigned to me on the day she started at The Telegraph, which also happened to be the day that lockdown was announced. I find it hard to believe that I have absolutely no idea what Louisa looks like. I feel I know every part of her, thanks 
to the bond we have made over 
rubbish internet connections and failed Skype calls.

And then I started thinking about all the people I follow on Twitter and Instagram, the people I chat with regularly on these platforms, the ones I feel I know intimately… and yet have never been in the same room as. The other day, I found myself thinking about my ‘friend’, the mental health campaigner, the one I regularly swap texts and Instagram messages with, the one I have never, ever met in person. And I thought about the girl I love who is always at a mutual friend’s Zoom pub quiz, 
the one who has me giggling as she sends me hilarious private chats, the one I have only ever seen on my grainy laptop.

How many of us have developed these ‘friends’ during lockdown, or perhaps even before, thanks to the weird connectedness you can feel on social media? And how many 
of us are desperate to meet them? 
Indeed, sometimes I find myself daydreaming about the day I am 
finally allowed to come face to face with Louise and Louisa and all the other people this pandemic has kept from me… and yet also, in a funny old way, brought me closer to. The circumstances our friendships have been forged in have made said friendships feel truly special and, for that, I will always be grateful.

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