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Michael* is one of the greatest guys that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is not only genuinely kind, but hilarious, empathetic, and a great listener. He knows more about me than 95% of my other friends.
The thing about Michael though, is that I’ve never met him in person.
I was 15 and on MySpace when he sent me a friend request. Michael was attractive, and I thought it would be of no hurt to strike up a conversation with him. In my earlier years, I was painfully shy and as I saw more and more of my friends become tangled up in their first loves, I yearned some male attention and validation.
He was 19 at the time, and we immediately hit it off. I can’t even really tell you what our first conversations were about because that’s how natural our friendship was. Before long, we started texting everyday from the second that one of us got out of bed to the second that Michael passed out on his bed for the night.
Our discussions became more deep and personal, involving our romantic lives, home lives, and dreams for the future. He was constantly confiding in me when he would have problems at home (he lived with his parents and would occasionally fight with them about bills, rent, and his personal freedom) and I remember even helping him with his geometry assignments over the phone. I would tell him about new guys in my life, and when the relationships would go down the toilet, he was always a call away to reassure me how beautiful I was, and how I deserve better.
Michael professed his love for me when I was 17 and in my first year of college. At that point, we both had deleted our MySpaces and had just decided to contact each other via text and call. I had never asked him about his Facebook account, and when he answered my initial Skype request with “My webcam isn’t working right now,” I dropped the subject and haven’t asked him since.
During this time though I had just gotten out of a (albeit short) relationship, and after shortly realizing how much I wanted to be independent, I wasn’t in a hurry to replace my ex (especially with my best friend). He replied to my gentle rejection in a way that I never thought he would: with a confession.
“Megan*, I have something to tell you,” he texted me. I was expecting the worst, and I had never felt a bigger lump in my throat than I had at that moment. Michael proceed to tell me that he lied about his pictures, and his reason for lying to me was to protect himself from his crazy ex-girlfriends who would constantly harass him online.
I’m not entirely sure why I wasn’t angrier at him for lying to me; instead, I was more pleased with the fact that he was able to come clean. Ironically, in some twisted way, this made me feel like I could trust him more. He then sent me a picture of what he really looked like, and after my overly shaky hands opened that image attachment, I sighed a breath of relief.
Although admittedly not as attractive as his previous identity, he wasn’t some overweight, 40-year-old single pedophile who preyed on underage girls. He looked his age, with short brown hair, a little scruff around the face, and a kind smile. I convinced myself that this was the first and last time that he would ever lie to me about anything, so I let it go.
As in most other friendships, there were some rough patches where we did not speak. Nothing was more strenuous on our relationship than when I realized that I loved him, too. I guess our professions of love were both badly timed as he used the cliché “I’m not ready for a relationship” and “You’re too good for me.”
This happened my junior year of college, and I was mostly just annoyed at myself for not knowing how strongly I felt about him earlier. I tried my absolute hardest to put my romantic feelings aside and continue with our friendship. My heart rebelled against me and, unfortunately, conversations became more awkward and painful as he later started telling me about girls that he was dating ("not ready for a relationship," my ass). This culminated into me ignoring his texts and shortly after, deleting his number.
Not talking to him for about 3 months allowed me to reflect on our friendship as well as our possible future as boyfriend/girlfriend. I soon realized that it wasn’t practical for us to be romantically involved. I was taking turns between going to school in Boston and visiting my family back home in Los Angeles. He was still living in Ohio with his parents, and although he works full-time in a warehouse, he had always informed me of how broke he was due to all of his expenses.
We neither had the time nor the money. Also, I was terrified of visiting him by myself if he didn’t end up being who he said he was. My friends knew about him (mostly due to the fact that they would walk in on our phone conversations and give me a wink, thumbs-up, and occasional elbow nudge after realizing that it was a boy on the other line), but I was afraid of being judged so I never told them that we had never met face-to-face.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about fighting for love and for giving it the best chance, even in a long-distance relationship. However, after dealing with rejection coupled with the sad realization that a healthy romantic relationship would be highly unlikely (especially considering the circumstances), I decided to face facts.
I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t miss him during the time that we didn’t talk, but I had thrown his number into the digital trash and had no other way of contacting him. Thankfully, he hadn’t rid his phone of my digits and one day texted me a simple “Hey!” to which my face lit up (and I possibly did a little happy dance around my room, don’t judge).
We both apologized for our mishandling of the situation and agreed that all we wanted was to have each other in our lives. Michael and I slowly got back to texting almost every day, and it was like the very beginning of our friendship: playful, light-hearted, and simple. We still text often, and I am nothing but happy and thankful for that.
People who have seen "Catfish: The TV Show" and who followed the Manti Te’o scandal could be understandably cynical about me and Michael’s friendship. Even I, as an avid watcher of "Catfish," sometimes doubt my judgment and wonder if anything that Michael is telling me is actually for real.
Up to this day, I don’t have his Facebook, his Skype information, Instagram, or any social media of any sort. All that I’ve ever used to get to know him (besides our deleted MySpaces) are the texting and calling functions on my Samsung Galaxy SIII. I have since lost the picture that he sent to me of his real self after I switched phones, and I haven’t asked him for another one since.
So why do I chose to be completely ignorant about this guy that I have known for 6 years? How can I actually have a friendship with someone that I’ve only seen through pictures? The answer, to me, is simpler than most expect. At this point in our lives, I couldn’t care less about what he really looks like or what he does for a living (and I hope he feels the same way about me).
Michael listens to me when I have anything that I want to talk about, and I to him. He’s never once asked me for money, risqué photos, or anything exploitative of that sort. Because of this and other reasons, I don’t feel the need to constantly ask him to validate his real identity with me. At worst, it would be a shallow attempt to undermine our friendship, and at best it would just be irrelevant.
He’s my best friend; he is someone who I can whole-heartedly trust with my deepest secrets and no matter what, I will always want to keep him in my life.