The idea of "meeting" someone I already feel like I know has a lot of appeal to me. It lets you skip over a lot of the in-person small-talk get-acquainted awkwardness (well, it lets me skip it - maybe you don't have that problem, you fortunate socially-adept person, you) and get straight into conversation, and I suspect that my being a reader is a big factor in that. After all, when you're getting to know characters in a book, it's nearly all laid out there for you, so learning about a new person via the written word feels like a natural extension of that.
Back when I was in high school, I sent in my name and address for a pen-pal swap that a teen magazine I subscribed to was having with a British magazine for teen girls, and through that, I was introduced to Wendy from Nottingham. We wrote back and forth every month or two over the years, sharing news of marriages (both of us), children (first mine, later hers), divorces (hers), houses, and health...but we fell out of touch several years ago, and it was my fault. If you noticed, I didn't mention my own divorce back there. By the time my first marriage was into its long, slow death spiral, it just felt too complicated to explain to anyone who wasn't around to bear witness, and it really felt like too much to write in a letter (or more than one), back in those pre-blog, pre-MacBook days - so I just didn't do it. I let it fade away. But I thought of Wendy often, and I guess she reciprocated, because a couple of months ago, I had an e-mail from her saying she'd found me...through the blog! We've exchanged the requisite catch-up e-mails, and I hope we'll pick our correspondence back up this way, although blogging has sadly taken a toll on my keep-in-touch e-mail habit (I write so much here that I tend to want to keep it simple and just ask people to read it here too) - so once again, I'll be at fault if it fades away. And that reminds me - Wendy sent the last e-mail, so I owe her one in return.
I've never expected that Wendy and I will ever meet in person, but if that should ever come to pass, I think I would feel pretty well-prepared for it. We wouldn't be strangers at all. Since I'm not the most outgoing person, I really do like being prepared when I meet someone new, and I'm most comfortable when that preparation happens through writing. I think I present myself better - more self-confident, and definitely better-spoken. I usually even finish my sentences...
I know I've mentioned that Tall Paul and I met via an online-dating site, and I love the fact that we corresponded through the site for a week and a half before we met in person for a lunch date. In that case, it was fully intended as preparation for a face-to-face meeting, and when it happened, we already knew so much about each other that the conversation just kept going easily - for five hours. And it hasn't slowed down much in almost three and a half years - we still love talking together. (I suspect some of the people who know us wish we'd shut up sometimes.) And even though we live in the same house, we still enjoy communicating with each other in writing; we'll e-mail each other during the day, he reads my blog (although he makes any comments he has in person), and he's occasionally written for it too.
I realize that not all instances of meeting someone via writing evolve quite the way mine and Tall Paul's has. My pen-pal relationship with Wendy was never going to evolve that way. But having had some good luck with it, I'm all in favor of friendships that develop without a face-to-face meeting; if and when one happens, you've already got a personal history together.
Have you had the chance to meet in person with someone you've gotten to know through letters or online, and did you feel like you were old friends when you did, even though you'd never spoken before? Where have things gone from there?