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Acquainted in Real Life

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Mr. Freeze: Nora was the owner of a mom-and-pop cryogenics lab, and I was determined to squash it. You see, as the CEO of a multinational corporation, I had a duty to my shareholders: expand or die. Now, seemingly unrelated, I had really hit it off with an enchanting stranger online. You'll never guess who it was.
Doctor Psycho: Your wife.
Clayface: Meg Ryan?
Harley Quinn (2019), "Thawing Hearts"

Anonymous relationships can be a funny thing. Two people can develop relationships online or through letters without ever knowing one another, or knowing that they already know each other very well.

This trope has been around for years, initially with pen pals and anonymous letters. With the advent of the internet and the prevalence of anonymous online chat systems, the scenario is growing more common. Now we can develop relationships with hundreds of "total strangers" online without the faintest clue who is really behind that avatar.

This is fairly often a mechanism for building a positive relationship or romance between two people who have trouble working together face-to-face. With anonymity as a shield, the two are able to take down barriers that they set up, step around issues between them and look at each other in a more frank manner. Ideally, they thus wind up developing a close relationship which, once revealed in real life, may have a positive impact on their real relationship. On the other hand, it may also result in a situation like Loves My Alter Ego, or Date My Avatar, or Two-Person Love Triangle. Online, one may be more open, but one may also rewrite themselves, creating an idealized self or even a made-up character to interact with people, leading to all kinds of conflict when friends, foes, haters, and admirers find out how little reality existed in said characters.

Sometimes this may be linked rather closely with It's A Small Net After All, if notoriety and shared interests prove insufficient to explain how the two met up.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Boys Be...: one single-chapter story in this series centers around a boy and girl engaging in an old version of chat. The two can't seem to get along in class though the boy does have feelings for the girl, but they get along great online. Then one day they argue and talk about what a great friend each has on the chat system, and both are shocked when the girl sends a message and the boy's device buzzes.
  • In Detective School Q, the killer believed himself to be in a romantic relationship with a girl, engaging only on the school's local network. When the online individual says she's going to "kill" herself due to bullying right as the real girl disappears, he begins a crusade to murder said individuals, only to later learn that the girl online had been a separate classmate who'd chosen a name out of admiration for the previous girl.
  • In Diamond Daydreams, Karin begins receiving emails from a "fan" who she believes to be her doctor at the hospital, on whom she develops a crush. She later finds out that she's actually been communicating with the doctor's nurse and girlfriend, who'd wanted to help her gain the courage to receive life-saving surgery.
  • Fuuka: Yuu's band has just recruited a new member, the cold, stoic Sara. After the other band members leave he's stuck alone with her in a family restaurant when she starts texting. He receives a tweet from a good online friend called "The Admiral" about eating with friends and begins a conversation. Then The Admiral sends a picture of a sundae identical to Sara's and asks "could you perhaps be sitting across from me right now?" Once she realizes it's him, Sara's personality does a total 180, becoming incredibly friendly and chatty, to Yuu's astonishment.
  • Good Night World: The same group of four people is a Dysfunctional Family in real life and a Family of Choice in a virtual reality game. Part of the tension comes from how likely they become to find out about each other when the game, of which the father of the family is the creator and the older son a die-hard player, suddenly turns into The Most Dangerous Video Game.
  • Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl: Ryou and Nina had no clue they'd known each other online.
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun:
    • Mayu's friend started a blog under the name Mayumayu, which Mikoshiba then began to follow under the pen name "Mamiko". Both believe the other to be a girl and continue to text back and forth.
    • Something similar also happens in the manga-within-a-manga, as a girl has a terrible relationship with a jerk at school but finds one of her greatest comforts being phone conversations she has with a kind, gentle young man in the evenings, never knowing that they're the same person.
  • In one volume of the manga Naisho no Tsubomi, the titular Tsubomi befriends a mysterious girl online (and meets a mysterious girl in the real world with the same name). She eventually learns that the girl online is actually her hospitalized mother who deliberately set up the account to be able to interact with her more.
  • In Recovery of an MMO Junkie, Moriko and Yuuta first meet in an MMO, but unknowingly meet in person not long after, becoming closer in both settings, without a clue of their other connection due to both trying to hide being such an MMO geek and both using different gender avatars in-game. Taken even further when it's revealed that they also met and became friends in a different MMO prior to the anime's beginning.
  • In one arc of Sket Dance, friends and club members Bossun and Himeko got to know each other through online email as "Pudding" and "Samurai". Despite being together all the time they remain ignorant until the end of the episode. The realization drives them away from the email system.
  • Attempted invocation in UzaMaid: Our Maid Is Way Too Annoying!; maid Tsubame wants to get closer to her seven-year-old charge Misha by playing the online game she loves, befriending her in-game, and eventually revealing her identity in real life. It fails when she lets her mode of address slip.

    Comic Strips 
  • In FoxTrot, Jason has been World of Warquest buddies with a player named "Sgt. Neelie" for three weeks, and he's shocked that not only is the player a girl, she is his "real-life nemesis" Eileen. She later reveals that she knew his username from the get-go and had tricked him to prove a point (that they could be friends if it weren't for his real-life hang-ups).
  • In Phoebe and Her Unicorn, Phoebe and the (relatively mild) Alpha Bitch Dakota bond online over a favorite tv show. While they don't become fast friends after this, it does mark the turning point from Enemy to Frenemy.

    Films — Live Action 
  • You've Got Mail: Joe Fox, an executive for a bookstore chain, and Kathleen Kelly, the owner of a small bookstore, can't stand each other. At the same time as the two are competing in the real world, they slowly court each other online. When the two are considering a face-to-face meeting Fox discovers who she is and begins attempts to court her personally.
  • The Shop Around the Corner: one inspiration for You've Got Mail, itself inspired by Miklos Laszlo's Illatszertar (also known as Parfumerie), the story centers around two bickering coworkers who are unknowingly also pen pals in love.

  • Darkly played in American Monsters, a sequel to Demon Road. While Amber's on the run from her parents who want to eat her, she attends a convention for her favorite television series. While there, she goes online and enters a chat room for the show and discovers that someone she's been chatting with since the first novel is there. She goes to meet her and discovers it's her mother.
  • And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?: Hideki is a hardcore gamer in an MMO and a member of a four-person guild. One day the guild master declares that they'll have an offline meet and Hideki is shocked by his guild members.
    • The cocky swordsman Schwein is actually the cute, petite Tsundere Akane, Hideki's classmate who never stops telling him how gross his gaming and other interests are.
    • The flashy guild master Apricot is actually Kyou, the student council president of Hideki's school.
    • Later, Hideki discovers that Nekohime, the Cat Girl he proposed to online who claimed to be a cross-playing old man, is actually his attractive female teacher.
  • Eromanga Sensei stars a young novelist and his younger stepsister, who fits this trope on two levels. First, she'd been his illustrator for years, with her never meeting the publishers or him in person and thus him never knowing her identity (or her his). Second, she developed a powerful online relationship with him when he was writing his first web novel, a relationship that helped both of them deal with difficult times and also led both of them to decide on their futures.
  • In Gamers! (2015), main character Keita initially has only two people he's close to, whom he considers very important; one is a fellow player on his favorite MMO, and the other is an aspiring game creator by a different name. He doesn't know, but both of these are a single girl named Chiaki, who also only associates with him and values his companionship. They meet at school and are frequently at each other's throats when they disagree on minor differences of opinion, despite being Birds of a Feather any other time. True to form, when Chiaki hears Keita talk about his online persona and how much he values her online self, her opinion of him visually transforms; their friend, who knew about this, bemoans the fact that she'd finally fallen in love for the first time only after he'd gotten a girlfriend. Complicating the issue is that when Keita comes close to learning the truth, Chiaki obfuscates it by making her little sister stand in for his online best friends, which contributes to said little sister also developing feelings for him.
  • If Her Flag Breaks: Main character Souta meets upperclassman Rin while training for an athletic meet. Rin keeps telling him what a pathetic guy he is and how her childhood friend Soda is the only real man she's ever known. After talking for a while about that she decides to text Soda. Souta immediately receives a text from his long-separated childhood friend "Rin-kun" saying "I was just talking and started thinking about you. Wish I could see you". The two stare at each other for a few seconds before both freaking out, all the more so since Souta thought said childhood friend was a boy.
  • In Sword Art Online, Suguha was trying to get over a long-term crush on her cousin/foster brother, Kazuto, partly because he was in love with someone else and partly because she knows their family would disapprove. When she met the player, Kirito in the MMO Alfheim Online, she gradually fell for him and felt like she might be able to set aside her love for Kazuto. She was heartbroken all over again when she realized they were the same person.
  • In Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online, LLENN/Karen faces off against Team SHINC as her final opponents in the Squad Jam tournament. The next day she discovers Team SHINC are actually the girls from the rhythmic gymnastics team she has frequently passed by in real life. All of them want to be her friend and they vow to fight again at the next tournament.
  • Darkly played with in Welcome to the NHK. When Satou becomes obsessed with an MMORPG he stops working with Kaoru on their game. He then meets an incredible, sweet, fun player with a Cat Girl avatar who he quickly develops a crush on. He refuses to listen to anyone who tries to stop him from obsessing over this player's character. Then one day the character says she's coming to visit him, and Kaoru walks through the door with his computer, revealing that he was just trying to teach Satou a lesson and get him to start making the game with him again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Aquí no hay quien viva: In one episode, Lucía sets up an erotic hotline, and is surprised when one of her customers works up the courage to meet in person. While she's waiting for her secret admirer outside the building, she sees her ex-boyfriend Carlos there, who was also waiting to meet someone, with both of them thinking they have been stood up... until Carlos lets slip some line from their conversation, with Lucía utterly horrified upon realizing they were each other's mystery date. She promptly closes down the hotline.
  • Boston Legal: In a modern take on the Pina Colada song, the firm got involved in a divorce where a husband and wife were both carrying on online affairs, not realizing that the person they were seeing online was their spouse.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Overlapping with Relative Error, one episode had Hilary and Carlton each flirting (separately) with an online admirer and ultimately set up a date with this person... only to find they'd agreed to meet each other.
  • Hot Line (a softcore series from the '90s) has an episode about two coworkers who exchange erotic text emails without knowing each other's real identity. They finally agree upon a Real Life Meeting, get an Elevator Failure situation along the way, then one of them lets slip some sentence from the chat, and... well, they get out of the fixed elevator in a considerably better mood than one would expect.
  • My Name Is Earl: In the second season, the witness in Joy's case is killed in a bizarre accident. They hold a funeral for him and are saddened when nobody shows up, not even his neighbor. They later do some investigating and discover he had a strong presence on the internet. One of the people he knew online was a fellow player in an online game...the aforementioned neighbor.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: in one episode, Zack is surprised to discover that his MMORPG partner is Mr. Moseby.

  • Escape (The Pina Colada Song) features a version of this. The song tells of a man who's grown tired of his current "routine" relationship and wants something new. He finds an ad looking for a man who, among other things, must like Pina Coladas. He responds with an ad of his own and they agree to meet, only to find that it's actually his current lover. The two thus learn that they had more in common than they realized.
  • In the music video for German singer Bluemchen's "Herz an Herz", the two main characters Jimmy and Patsy met on the internet not knowing they were living wall to wall. Apparently, they never find out.

    Video Games 
  • In NEO: The World Ends with You, the protagonist, Rindo Kanade, has an online best friend known only as Swallow. The two play a game called FanGO(a stand-in for Pokémon GO), and often text each other, but Rindo doesn't know Swallow's real name or gender. After Rindo winds up in the Reaper's Game, where dead people compete for a chance to return to life(although it turns out Rindo and a couple others never actually died), Rindo is able to communicate with Swallow through the Reapers' messaging app, so he deduces that Swallow is also playing the Reaper's Game. Eventually, it is revealed that Swallow is Shoka Sakurane, one of the Reapers running the game, who'd switched sides and joined Rindo at the end of the second week, but didn't confess her identity until she was dying near the end of the game. After turning back time and saving Shibuya, Rindo reveals that he knows that Shoka is Swallow, and they become friends in real life.
  • In Persona 3, if you max out the male protagonist's Hermit Social Link with the gamer Maya, in the epilogue you learn she is the male protagonist's homeroom teacher, Isako Toriumi. The protagonist plays it off coolly, whereas Toriumi has a Freak Out—namely because the MC was her online boyfriend Tatsuya in the MMORPG they played together, and her last action before logging out from the game for good was to leave the words "i luv u" in the sand for him... which she recognizes as the background image on the MC's cellphone. Things get even more awkward for Toriumi, as she already told Tatsuya she has a crush on one of her students; three guesses which one. She actually invites the protagonist to dinner once their online identities are revealed, only to completely lose composure and storm out of Gekkoukan's faculty room after shouting "Oh, to hell with this!"

  • In General Protection Fault, Nick gets to know a woman on an online chat who goes by the name of Pookel. He finds a soulmate in her and even tells her everything about his crush on his workmate Ki. The same happens to the latter, only that her online friend is male and calls himself Gort. What they don't know, but what the reader finds out after a short while, is that Pookel is Ki (she named herself after her teddy bear), and Gort is Nick.
    However, even when both Nick and Ki find out that their chat friends live in their hometown, they suspect nothing. Hilarity ensues when they both want to meet their chat friends at a cinema and watch Attack of the Clones with them. When they meet each other in front of the cinema, they still suspect nothing. Instead, they wait patiently for their chat friends and eventually decide to watch the film together since their chat acquaintances probably won't show up anymore anyway.
  • In Bill Holbrook's Kevin & Kell:
    • Both Kevin the rabbit and Kell the wolf receive an invite to be on-air guests on the Jerry Springer Spaniel Show starting on the Thursday 21 May 1998 strip. Once on camera, Jerry tries to intimate that Kevin has had an online affair behind Kell's back. "Think back. Last year. With someone named 'Deathpaw.'" Deathpaw was Kell's online persona while tutoring Kevin, a/k/a Incisor, on ways to be more predatory.
    • Kevin's first wife Angelique had actually cheated on him online with someone that had an extremely generic username, and after the divorce, she found out it was Kevin's dad.
  • In User Friendly, At one point AJ plays an online game and gets mugged repeatedly by a female player character called "Lady Shady". He talks to her a bit but often ends up just getting mugged. Later he sees Miranda at the water jug and asks her how things have been, and she cheerfully tells him about this new game she's playing and how she'd stripped some twerp of all his possessions "courtesy of The Lady Shady".

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Marge Gamer", Marge gets into an MMO titled Earthland Realms and meets the Shadow Knight. While doing laundry, she soon finds out the Shadow Knight is in fact her own son. Upon this discovery, she starts treating Bart in the game the same way she does in real life, and even declares vengeance toward everybody who took part in killing her son's in-game avatar.
  • Miraculous Ladybug features this regarding its main characters. Ladybug and Cat Noir work together to defend Paris from the evil Hawk Moth. The heroes' secret identities are Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Adrien Agreste, who just so happen to be in the same class in school (this setup serves as the basis of a Two Person Love Square). Additionally, Hawk Moth's civilian form is Gabriel Agreste, Adrien's father. None of these characters have yet to discover the others' secret identities, Reset Button notwithstanding.
  • Parodied on Harley Quinn (2019): Mr. Freeze and his wife's love story is a straight riff on You've Got Mail (he was trying to kill her company in real life but fell for her online), except replace "bookstore" with "cryogenics lab". He's telling this story while she's frozen solid to a table of prisoners. Lampshaded when Clayface namedrops Meg Ryan.
    Mr. Freeze: Like I said, it's better when she tells it.

    Real Life 


Video Example(s):


"Annoying Username!"

Chisato and Takina are playing an online game but are unaware that their opponents are fellow Lycoris Agents (& Rivals) Fuki and Sakura (Both of whom are also unaware of who they're playing against).

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / AcquaintedInRealLife

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