Rhonda Simpson and Pamela Hinson have moved beyond virtual friendship
While online chat rooms have garnered a reputation as pits of deception and dissemblance, Rhonda Schalow-Simpson and Pamela Schulnburg-Hinson sowed the seeds of deep friendship when they deflated a "snert"-someone who heckles chatters-after he made nasty comments about women. According to Simpson, "Pam and I were each putting this guy in his place and I thought, 'This gal's alright! She's feisty like me!"
Simpson, 33, sent Hinson, 35, a private email, which soon led to extended online chats and phone calls. They discovered that they're both Geminis, and that, according to Hinson, "We like the same television shows and movies. We have the same taste in men, food and what constitutes a good time, and the same taste in clothes, shoes and even perfume!"
After endless hours of laughter and telephone conversations, Simpson and Hinson decided to meet. Simpson made plans to fly from Toledo, Ohio to Hinson's home in Valrico, Fla. Simpson admits to feeling a bit nervous on the flight, "but a good kind of nervous, like the kind of nervousness you feel as a kid the night before Christmas." Hinson describes their meeting as "icing on the cake," and says, "Online, you make the mental and emotional connection first, and the physical meeting is the final connection, which brings the friendship into 'real' life."
During that initial visit, and between trips to places like Universal Studios and Planet Hollywood, the friends spent a lot of time just...chatting. "The best time we had was sitting out on my back patio over coffee and being able to talk without the constraints of long distance phone costs or typing online 'til our hands hurt!" Hinson recalls. Adds Simpson, "There was never a quiet moment between us."
Simpson, who married her high school sweetheart and has three sons, testifies that their friendship is more than just talk. "On New Year's Eve 1998, when Pam was here on a visit, I decided to whip up some strawberry margaritas. They ended up being stronger than I'd intended, and pretty soon I started doing imitations of Reggie from The Nutty Professor for Pam until the poor girl was in tears from laughing and choking on her drink!" Hinson is close-mouthed about their antics, and says only, "Interstate 4 from Orlando to Tampa will never be the same."
Hinson, a demolition company vice president who is divorced and has two boys, pinpoints the defining moment in her friendship with Simpson as the point when "it became apparent to me that we were not friends because we had kids in the same school or because we worked together or because we were neighbors; we simply are friends because we want to be." And she credits Simpson with helping her to adjust to her divorce. "Rhonda taught me how to believe in myself again. She showed me the way back to embracing life and getting the most out of each and every day."
Simpson appreciates being able to depend upon her friend for unconditional acceptance, as well as "brutal honesty, with a tactful approach." Saying that Hinson provides a voice of reason, Simpson concludes, "Even if I told her I was going to run away and join the circus, she'd still be my friend and not judge me. She'd tell me, 'Okay, great,' but she'd also tell me that the monkeys and elephants stink at the circus, that I'd have to help with the big top, that it's dirty and definitely not fit for a diva, and would I really want to do that? As a result, I'd see things in a different light and decide against it."
Although the distances separate them, they email each other frequently, talk at least weekly, and visit each other twice a year. With the support each gives the other, Hinson says, "We don't even acknowledge the miles between us. I feel as though Rhonda is as close as my next door neighbor." You know you're best friends, she adds, "when one of you calls the other at six in the morning while on vacation in Hawaii, just to say 'Hi!'"