imaginary friend
June 21, 2005 4:06 PM   Subscribe

I've been having an imaginary friend post to my blog. One of my readers, who is a friend of mine, believes my IF is real and wants to have an email relationship (pen pal) with him.

He's kind of opened up to the IF via email (Emails to the IF go to me.) I want to stay in this person's good graces but I hate to see him feel duped. Is there a way out of this sitcom-like predicament? Something halfway between finding a real person who will playact the role via email, and having the IF just ignore him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total)
Isn't it obvious? Kill off the imaginary friend. Either by really having them die, or have them move to a some deserted wilderness to track the mating habits of the lithuanian spotted wallaby, something like that.
posted by fvw at 4:10 PM on June 21, 2005

I think it will just get worse if you start playing the role with your reader further. The IF should just stop posting and not reply to the emails.
posted by keijo at 4:24 PM on June 21, 2005

I'm with fvw. Kill the character before you jump the shark.
posted by snsranch at 4:24 PM on June 21, 2005

contact a screenwriter friend and write a romantic comedy about this as soon as you can. seriously. you'll thank me.
posted by matteo at 4:52 PM on June 21, 2005

Put an end to it, as quickly as possible. Death is a little dramatic, but make some excuse (computer troubles?) and fold the character away.

ALTERNATIVELY, if you simply must keep the character on your blog, the imaginary friend could have sudden ethical issues with email. The character gripes about them on the blog and announces his boycott of the whole concept.
Close down the actual account.

Under no circumstances do I recommend playing along via email. If you feel you need to send one final email from your sockpuppet email address to your friend to wrap it all up, do take some basic precautions (use a computer at a public library or somewhere else, make it short, etc.)

I hope your sockpuppet account isn't on one of the big internet behemoths (MSN Hotmail, Yahoo!, etc). It could be harder to shut it down without a trace.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 5:05 PM on June 21, 2005

The whole point of having an imaginary friend is to say what you can't say yourself, and do what you're not allowed to do. I'm sure you've been keeping that in mind, though, especially considering you've already done all the setup work and a good bit of misrepresentation. It would be fun and easy to keep this up for a while, but you had better recognize that you will be submerged in shit when your real friend figures out what is going on (and he will figure it out). If being Damocles is your idea of a fun time, then go for it.

I am totally the little devil on your shoulder. The forward-thinking, boring devil.
posted by jenovus at 5:14 PM on June 21, 2005

IF disappears, you make profuse excuses for the IF and get quite angry if the matter is pressed because, come on, friend don't even know him and IF has a lot going on in his life right now, JEEZ.
posted by fire&wings at 5:21 PM on June 21, 2005

I think you can just say to your friend that you don't think IF is a real person - that it's come to your attention that it's probably just someone playing around on your blog, and you can't really talk about it more, but that your friend should probably look elsewhere (it's a big internet!) for a penpal.
posted by judith at 5:24 PM on June 21, 2005

I'd play along. It's a fascinating situation. If your friend understands that this friendship cannot ever be translated into the physical world, and if you are capable of fleshing out this identity as a genuine facet of your being, I think you can provide him with something real. The only moral issue is that of trust, but that his friend and penpal are conflated should and could never be revealed anyways.
posted by ori at 6:01 PM on June 21, 2005

Wow, this is extremely funny to read. I think I would just make the imaginary friend disappear. But wow, this is fun, almost tempting to do myself! I already have an imaginary friend, now all I have to do is make them talk to my friends... :-)

To stay on topic, if I was in this situation I would send one final email giving some excuse for not being able to stay in touch and then make your imaginary friend disappear forever. Or, alternatively, if you haven't been playing with your friends head for too long, then maybe you could just tell them the truth.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 6:26 PM on June 21, 2005

this is a horrible manipulative mess. if you were my friend, and i ever found out, you would lose my trust completely. i'd suggest simply not replying further.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:30 PM on June 21, 2005

Are you sure your friend isn't fucking with you? The friend knows the IF is really you and is doing this to see if you fess up?
posted by birdherder at 7:01 PM on June 21, 2005

I'm amazed how ethically, er, unconventional all these answers are. Now, I'm not saying lying is an absolute moral wrong, but really. Just confess now. If you played along for a little while as a joke, and you apologize sincerely, I think it wouldn't wreck your friendship.
posted by abcde at 7:12 PM on June 21, 2005

I'm tempted to post to AskMe next week, claiming that a prospective Good Friend, whom I'd met via blog and with whom I'd been exchanging email, suddenly claims to have to move to Lithuania to document the mating habits of wallabies... and whether I should follow him/her.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:16 PM on June 21, 2005

fvw writes "Isn't it obvious? Kill off the imaginary friend.

ori writes "I'd play along. It's a fascinating situation. If your friend understands that this friendship cannot ever be translated into the physical world, and if you are capable of fleshing out this identity as a genuine facet of your being, I think you can provide him with something real. The only moral issue is that of trust, but that his friend and penpal are conflated should and could never be revealed anyways."

If you haven't heard the Ballad of Kaycee Nicole, I suggest you read up. Then think about what choice is best for you.
posted by macadamiaranch at 7:21 PM on June 21, 2005

Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of The Importance of being Earnest, but I suppose life imitates art.
posted by fvw at 7:27 PM on June 21, 2005

matteo's right: Screenwriter. Proposed title: The Truth About Chats and Blogs.
posted by SPrintF at 8:49 PM on June 21, 2005

I would just come clean to my friend.
posted by rafter at 9:21 PM on June 21, 2005

Response by poster: I'm with andrew. This is terrible. Just stop replying and let it die.
posted by Anonymous at 9:26 PM on June 21, 2005

I wonder how long this has gone on, & how much you've talked about the IF with your real friend?

If I were the friend & caught you playing this out I'd feel extremely betrayed & probably never capable of trusting you enough to rebuild our friendship. Yet what ori says is also partially true, if only from a non-emotional standpoint. If this were a Neal Stephenson novel I'd have it on request at the library 2 months before it came out.
posted by soviet sleepover at 9:35 PM on June 21, 2005

Hmm, I'm with the "fucking with you crowd," but this is a really interesting dilemma.

It sounds like your friend who wants to be friends with your IF has a "need" to have a friend (??). Maybe have your IF introduce your friend to another like-minded (real) person?

If your friend isn't too badly off in the mental stability thing, I'd 'fess up and say that you've been playing the 'blog's audience with an imaginary poster.

If your friend *is* of the "the IF is the only friend I've got," ... *I'd* feel obliged to try to be the friend's friend and ween him/her off of off the IF.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:22 PM on June 21, 2005

To me, the best solutions lie at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Minimal: confess to your friend or just email as IF, saying that you can't correspond because you (IF) are not really what Friend thinks you are, and it wouldn't be fair.

Max Power: make up a whole wonderful whimsical game with this, one that's fun and playfully mysterious, but very, very obviously a game and a lark. It should be amusing and lighthearted, and your friend should actually be guessing that it's really you. With this option, though, you need to take pretty strong control from the very start so that Friend doesn't start confiding in IF, or otherwise communicating in any way that might be embarrassing to Friend later. So straight from the top it needs to obvious that this character is a persona, and that something fun is going on.
posted by taz at 2:20 AM on June 22, 2005

how's that go...hmmm... "oh what a tangled web we weave..." and so on...

drop it, you've already messed with someone you call a friend, what would be the point in making it worse?
posted by HuronBob at 4:25 AM on June 22, 2005

I think you're underestimating the possibility of your own getting hurt in this, as well, anonymous. I point this out in case an appeal to your own self interest is stronger than one to your altruism.

Friends talk about mutual friends. They don't always say the nicest things about mutual friends, even if they overall still like the mutual friend. Could you handle hearing not so nice things about yourself from your friend? Because if the main thing your friend and your persona have in common at the moment is you, you're bound to be a common topic of conversation.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:46 AM on June 22, 2005

I'm with andrew cooke, this is bad news.

If you confess, the friend will be an exfriend in all likelihood. I know I'd sure as heck be gone tout suite.

If you value the friendship, drop the IF now. And for good.
posted by Radio7 at 5:59 AM on June 22, 2005

What andrew and Radio7 said. And why didn't you tell this person you call your friend the poster was imaginary in the first place? Do you value your blog over your actual friends?
posted by languagehat at 6:27 AM on June 22, 2005

The character may be imaginary but to anyone who thinks it's real, the connections they make with that character will feel real.

Drop the character. Don't even respond to your friend's e-mails. There is nothing but deception here. Don't play along, or you'll end up poking both yours and your friend's eyes out.
posted by Lush at 7:43 AM on June 22, 2005

Don't play along. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I watched a similar situation go up in flames many years ago and it was not pretty. Both parties ended up getting hurt, and badly. There is no way I know of that this can end well if you try to keep the charade going, no matter how good your intentions. As Lush said, the IF may be imaginary, but the connections are real, and as jacquilynne said, there is a very real possibility that you'll get hurt too (if from nothing else than the knowledge that you are lying to your friend).

Depending on how far along it's gone and how close you are to the friend involved, you may or may not want to tell the truth. For instance, if it's a good friend, and the IF hasn't sent any replies, you may want to just bite the bullet and tell your friend the truth. If you haven't lied to your friend directly, you might be okay. Some people will react better than others. If I were your friend, I'd probably be embarrassed, maybe a bit hurt that you didn't tell me about it beforehand, but I'd probably be okay. If your friend is like andrew cooke or Radio7, they probably won't take it well. You know the situation and you know your friend - think about it.

Telling the truth is the least problematic as it's the most honest. Will it be awkward? Yes. Are there going to be consequences? Yes. Is it better than leading your friend on until things get out of control? Definitely yes. It's also the best route if you really, really want to keep the IF persona on your blog (though unless the friend reacts extremely well, it's probably best to kill off the IF anyway). It's going to be really sticky if your friend wants to know why the IF is still posting but not responding to e-mail - isn't he your friend? Can't you ask him to e-mail me? Et cetera.

If you've sent even one reply, it's going to be a hell of a lot harder to extricate yourself from this without someone getting hurt. It can be hard even if all you've done is tell your friend that you're having a guest blogger. If you decide it's best not to tell your friend that you're behind the IF, then the IF needs to disappear. Now. Pronto. For good. I don't care how you explain it as long as it's permanent. Just remember that if your friend is pretty attached to the IF you might have to keep up the cover story for as long as it takes for the IF to truly "die".

Good luck - this isn't going to be easy.
posted by Aster at 8:26 AM on June 22, 2005

I think if you haven't ever claimed to know the IF in real life, judith's solution is the best. Tell the real friend that something seems fishy, you emailed the IF about it, and he's hasn't responded.

It makes the IF disappear and puts you on equal footing with your friend, since it makes it seem that you've both been duped.
posted by occhiblu at 12:42 PM on June 22, 2005

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