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The first time I discovered that I was not the only Katie Powalski in the world I was a college freshman.  It was the Spring of 2000, and I’d been assigned to research my name’s online history.  I had never met a Powalski I wasn’t related to, and I knew there wouldn’t be anything about me online, so I didn’t think I’d find anything.  As expected, I found nothing on myself, but was shocked when I discovered another Katie Powalski.  I found a few articles that included her and one that was written by her.  From what I could tell she was an accomplished high school student who lived somewhere in Indiana and was a couple of years younger than me. I thought about online friendships and how this would turn out.

Online Friendships

Fast forward to October 2008.  My (now) husband, Jon, was on Facebook to link our names as a couple following our engagement, and when he searched for my name he found another Katie Powalski as well.  He was so excited about this discovery that he quickly shot off a message to the “other” KP to see if she was, in fact, real.  I figured that if my fiancé was going to send private messages to a pretty girl who shared my name I should “friend” her too and thus a Facebook friendship was born.

When we became “friends” I was newly engaged and living in New York City where I’d been teaching at a public middle school for five years.  She was a single mom with a beautiful five-month-old daughter and was living and working in Florida.  To me, our earliest days of friendship were awkward, at best.  Other than our name and a few television shows that we both enjoyed we seemed to have very little in common.  It felt so weird, so foreign to be scrolling through my newsfeed and to see “myself” starring in posts that were not at all my life.

A few months into our online friendships the “other Katie Powalski” (as I’d taken to calling her) posted a message on my wall that said, “I know we don’t know each other at all, but I love seeing all your pics and updates! It’s fun having a name twin!”  And that’s when I knew that the silent Facebook stalking was not a one way street!  We started “liking” each other’s posts and commenting occasionally.  We found that we had more and more random things in common.

I kept up with interest as her baby girl grew and they moved from Florida to Chicago.  She was genuinely excited for me when I announced that my husband and I were having a little girl, telling me that “Us Powalski girls have to stick together!”  We bonded further over the fact that my due date fell on her daughter’s birthday. The day before my due date I joked with her about how strange it would be for our daughters to share a birthday. Oddly enough, the next day my daughter was born – bonding us even further!

Katie Powalski-Parsons (left) and Katie Powalski-Morris

As time passed two things happened that helped to cement our online friendships.  First, we continued to connect as we discovered that there were many small, random things that we had in common.  And more importantly (in my opinion), we eventually found ourselves living in the same stage of life.  Over the course of our online relationship we both got married, added children to our homes, made huge cross-country moves away from the support of our loving, Powalski families and entered our thirties.

I’ve followed the “other Katie Powalski” faithfully throughout the years and though I can’t pinpoint the moment it happened, as I read her blog and “liked” her Facebook posts eventually it felt less like I was watching the life of a stranger unfold on a screen in front of me and more like I was keeping up with a friend.

As friendships go, ours was solid … except for one small thing.  The Katie Powalskis had never met in person. So when my family decided to vacation in Florida one of the first things I did was look up how far away we would be staying from “the other Katie Powalski.”  When I discovered it was relatively close, I sent her a message asking if she wanted to meet. I got an I WOULD LOVE TO!! in response and plans were made for my daughter and I to go to her house for lunch.

The night before our meeting I joked that the world might implode when both Katie Powalskis were finally together… after all, there’d be too much awesomeness in one place!  I also answered a lot of questions.  “What were my expectations?”  “Would I be disappointed if I didn’t like her?”  “Did I feel weird going to a stranger’s house?”

Honestly, I hadn’t really thought much about it. Mostly, I think, because it didn’t feel like I was going to visit a stranger. It felt like I was going to visit a friend.  (And yes, I certainly would’ve been disappointed if I didn’t like her!)

The morning of our meeting I gave “the other Katie Powalski’s” address and phone number to my husband, put my daughter in the car and drove the hour and a half from my in-law’s rental home to meet her. I wish I could say that there was some initial thought or feeling I had when I got out of the car and hugged her. But it truly felt natural.  There was no awkwardness, no forced friendliness, no strained conversation … just two friends who were finally in the same place at the same time.

She welcomed me into her home with open arms and I never felt out of place.  In fact, I felt at home.  My first five minutes in her home found me, my preschooler, her and her toddler all crammed into a small bathroom since both girls decided they had to use the potty at the same time. And it all fell into place naturally from there! I chopped salad, held her baby girl, and relaxed with my feet up on her couch. I wanted to wash dishes, but she wouldn’t let me!

Erinn Parsons (left) and Grace Morris

As our daughters played (and, let’s be honest, watched Peppa Pig on our phones) we chatted about everything and nothing. Some of our conversation was surface and introductory – like when we talked about where we grew up or our shared dislike of cooking.  Other times we hit on more intimate and personal topics such as birth control methods and miscarriages.  Our conversation flowed like conversation with a good friend should.  There were no awkward silences or fake laughs, and whenever we were interrupted (which was often, with three girls ages three and under in the house!) we picked right back up and carried on where we left off.

I could’ve hung out with “the other Katie Powalski” for a lot longer, but after a couple of hours our girls were getting tired, her big kids were due home from school and she needed time to prepare a birthday celebration for her stepson that evening. As we said our goodbyes we quickly chatted about the next time that we could possibly get together. Because now that our online friendships have moved from the virtual realm into the real world, I can guarantee that there will be a next time!

Have you ever formed one of these online friendships? Have you ever found your name twin?

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