Meet my mind-friends, the ones I know really well but have never met
Updated: Nov 12
Last week I made some new friends! Their names are Jake, Van, Abby, Chris, Wolf and John. We didn’t start the week particularly intimately acquainted, but they spent so much time in my living room that I began saying things out loud like:
- Don’t let that bloody Rick talk over you, Abby!
- John, seriously, even I know where Eyrie county, PA is by now…
OK, the hosts of CNN aren’t actually my friends. But the amount of air time you need to fill with talking points when Nevada is counting their ballots very
very slowly, meant they became my mind-friends. As in, people I'm friends with in my mind even though they have no idea who I am. Am I the only person who has mind-friends? I hope not.
My past mind-friends have kept me sane
I spent 6 months of a management training program working in a factory. The office was full of lovely people who made me feel incredibly welcome and taught me a lot: if you want to know about the lifecycle of the garden pea from seed to frozen, I’m your woman. But I was the youngest person there by at least 15 years and felt it.
When I drove to work in the mornings, with no other traffic for miles at a time, I listened to BBC Radio 1. The breakfast crew became my mind-friends. I knew which football teams they supported, the names of their spouses, their feelings about the best breed of dog… the important topics you would cover in friendly work place conversations. One where you don’t hear whispered as you left the room “that’s the TRAINEE from HEAD OFFICE I told you about!”
Authenticity is key for a mind-friend candidate
Some use social media as a sanitized PR exercise, and why not? It’s a brilliant way of reaching millions of people with your latest endorsement, and if the price to be paid is sharing a few carefully curated family shots every now and again, so be it. Like Brand Beckham.
The Beckhams are not my mind-friends. They are the masters of the carefully crafted front, one of the original personal brands in the Beyonce/Sasha Fierce mould: what you see isn’t what you’d call real. Before the polish, David from East London and Vic, who used point in videos, got married sitting in thrones, wearing matching purple outfits. If you were a couple of 20-something millionaires getting married in a castle why wouldn’t you fulfil all your wedding fantasies? I was never mind-friends with that iteration of the Beckhams either, but I could understand all the people who were.
Now there’s Instagram David Beckham, face of Tudor watches, and Instagram Victoria, VB founder and CEO. And they have a perfect family, and Harper Seven loves to wear matching sweaters with her dad. And even the dogs have glossy coats that look like they’ve had a keratin. It’s all so carefully positioned it almost comes with a grimace. I’m definitely not mind-friends with them, I can’t imagine us going to the pub for a pint. I dare say they won’t lose any sleep over it, and why should they? It works. They are Brand Beckham. It must be kind of exhausting, but they seem to do just fine.
Common ground helps too
On the other hand, there’s Chrissy Teigen who’s famously “good at Twitter.” She openly talks about her struggles with her kids and her fertility problems. She’s not the kind to tolerate trolls and she claps back. She seems real, which sometimes means she’s annoying and says stupid things, and that’s OK with me.
Chrissy is half-Thai but grew up in Idaho, so she has as much love for drunken noodles as she does for crispy smashed potatoes, and her cook books are a reflection of that. I lived in Asia for a number of years. I felt homesick when I moved to Atlanta until I found the Buford Highway farmers market. There I found all the leafy vegetables whose names I didn’t know, enough to make me feel like I was back at the wet market on my former street in Shanghai. But without the added hazard of fish flapping along the road because they’d escaped their bowls of water.
But I also love to go to the local biscuit shop for a fried chicken biscuit with a butter pickle. I’m also a whole heap of contradictory influences, of which my food choices are just one example. And I love food. My mind-friend Chrissy and I would surely be best friends!
My quarantine house of mind-friends
Did you see the challenge going round during the stay-at-home phase of COVID? Or, the first stay-at-home phase for people who live in countries with an actual coordinated response to COVID infection rates instead of ignoring it and hoping it goes away? The concept was predefined selections of people in a choice of quarantine houses, and you had to choose one to move into. I held at least one team meeting to discuss our choices, and I remember a heated debate over whether J Lo would be a better roommate than Ellen de Generes.
In that spirit I present to you my current top mind-friends. I’m not sure about all of them in one house, for a start all the charisma might cause some kind of vortex. But if you believe, as I do, that you're at least in part the sum of the people around you, I can’t think of better influences.
1. Helen Mirren
Sir Helen (as she is known to me, she’s never seemed much like a Dame) took on playing THE QUEEN for god’s sake, and made her seem relatable, and like she might actually have had conversations with Tony Blair in a Range Rover. She’s also never been shy about “wandering round topless” (as my dad is fond of saying) in a very kick-ass “and so what if I want to wander round topless?” sort of a way.
She first established her presence on my list playing Jane Tennison on the Prime Suspect TV series in the UK. Tennison was a female police officer, a woman in a man’s world who had to be twice as good to get half the credit. She earned the (grudging) respect of the men around her by solving murders that nobody else could, while showing flashes of humanity like celebrating her first ever collar with a fist pump behind closed doors. Obviously, Helen isn’t actually Jane, but they’re fused in my mind.
Sir Helen’s Instagram is delightful. She has selfies with the top of her head cut off. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a filter, never mind a facetune. She’s a 75-year-old woman who’s OK with being a 75-year-old woman; being beautiful and confident no doubt helps a lot. What cemented her place in my mind-friend house was the answer to the interview question:
What would be your advice to your younger self?
“Say “Fuck off” more, and stop being so bloody polite."
YES SIR HELEN, we would have such a good sweary laugh over a plate of nachos, I just know it.
2. Tina Tchen
From one of my oldest mind-friends to one of my newest. Tina and I met – in the sense that I listened to her talk and she had no idea who was listening – at a virtual conference a few weeks ago. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of her, but within a matter of a few sentences, we were firm mind-friends. If you aren’t yet friends with her yourself, Tina is the CEO of Time’s Up, the movement against sexual harassment founded in the light of #MeToo. She was also the Chief of Staff to my other mind-friend Michelle (more of which later). But what convinced me that we would be great friends wasn’t her resume. At a time in history when we're crying out for leadership of any type (someone, anyone, PLEASE), Tina radiates it.
The fireside chat was a panel about diversity and inclusion. Powerhouse women from across industries gave good, thoughtful answers about the detrimental impact that working from home and home schooling is having on women’s employment levels. And Tina sat politely and nodded. And when it came to her turn, she launched into the best kind of politician’s response, the type that is perhaps 20% relevant to what the question that was asked was, and 80% your own message. That message being: register to vote. By the end of her remarks, it was clear from the reaction in the chat box that not only was voter registration going to be happening, it would be unsurprising to see write-in ballots for President for T Tchen.
My mind-friend Tina and I would have some probably deep and intense chats about leadership and politics. But she’s also another person with multiple cultural influences: she grew up as pretty much the only Asian person in her hometown in Ohio, the child of Chinese immigrants. So I feel like maybe she, Chrissy and I would bond over confusing identities and where to get the best xiao long bao in the mid-West.
3. Michelle Obama
I discovered this week that my actual-friend Kelly has met my mind-friend Michelle IRL. I was pretty jealous. Learning that she’s just a down to earth and thoughtful in real life as she is our mind-friendship was a huge relief. Imagine being mind-friends with someone who turned out to be an ass?
I won’t claim to have been a lifelong Michelle fan. I wasn’t in the US when Barack Obama became President, and while you can understand the achievement of being the first Black family in the White House from a distance, I didn’t come close to fully appreciating it until I lived here. Michelle was for some time the woman with the great arms who seemed very smart and approachable. Oh and didn’t she touch the Queen and there was some kind of treason incident?
Then I read her book Becoming and we became BMFFs – best mind-friends forever. There were lots of things about Michelle that endeared her to me, but one stuck out. She saw what her husband was capable of, and despite the fact it meant sharing him with the world when she’d honestly rather he was home to put the kids to bed every night, she put that aside. She talks about believing that you don’t cling onto someone you love for your own selfish ends; you help them to become more of themselves, no matter how hard it is. That’s exactly the way I was raised and how I’ve always tried to live, so I felt like we’d have a lot to bond over. Michelle is my mind-workout buddy, she would for sure make me stick to my app scheduling, and maybe share her best tricep exercises.
4. Reese Witherspoon
Again, Reese and I aren’t exactly friends of old. I knew that she was the kind of woman who knows what she wants, to the extent that she greeted Ryan Phillipe at her 21st birthday party with the words “I think you’re my present.” Wow. Imagine that kind of confidence. Maybe that’s what put me off, Reese and I are about the same age, there’s absolutely zero way that I could ever have come out with something like that at 21. Or 31. She does admit now that it was after seven Midori sours. Which sounds a lot more like something that would have happened at my 21st.
What first won me over to Reese was her arrest. The wholesome America’s sweetheart-type and I aren’t typically mind-friends, but all of a sudden there she was, verbally sparring with a police officer at the side of the road after her husband was stopped for a suspected DUI. Is drink-driving something I support? Absolutely not. Is defending someone you love, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically after a few drinks, something that I can understand? Hell yes. And THEN she publicly apologised for it and what an insufferable dick she’d been and sounded genuine about it.
There’s plenty of other things that make Reese and I mind-friends. She named her book Whiskey In a Teacup about the combination of beauty and strength that makes southern women formidable; as an honorary (if atypical) southern woman, I am all about this idea. She is a Renaissance woman with her finger in many pies, from clothing lines to book clubs. Anyone who can go from the girl in Legally Blond to the Forbes 100 Most Influential list would have plenty to talk about over a glass of lemonade.
It’s November, the nights are drawing in and we’re either facing lockdown or about to spend time in close confinement with our families for the weirdest holiday season ever. Deciding your own mind-friend list might be just the distraction you need to keep it together to the end of the year, why not give it a go?