Once upon a time, circa the era of Spock, it was seen as a classic symptom that you were a troubled kid with social problems. But if you had one, then you'll know that there were many reasons you had an imaginary friend that had nothing to do with your popularity. (Hey, some of us were even extremely popular, but still preferred to spend some one-on-one time with an imaginary friend over the flesh and blood variety every once in a while.)
Statistics now go some way to support what you always suspected. According to a 2009 study, imaginary friends boost children's language and social skills, since they're forced to maintain both sides of the conversation, which improves their communication abilities. The same study suggested that the same children with imaginary pals were also often very creative and were statistically more likely to be first or only children.
But that's just the science behind it. You'll know, if you experienced this phenomenon first hand, that there were a bunch of emotional reasons that didn't feel totally connected to improving your language, social, and communication skills. Mostly, you had a friend that didn't, y'know, physically exist because it made for a great time.
1You Wanted A Little Extra Magic In Your World
If you were anything like some kids with an imaginary friend, your non-existent pal wasn't a boy or a girl. It was a unicorn or a giant cat or a family of bears, right? The beauty of this very special type of friend was that you were free to make them as whimsical as you wanted — and you did.
2You Enjoyed Playing
According to Evan Kidd, a researcher at Australian National University, "...it all comes back to play. Having an imaginary companion is really just a form of what developmental psychologists would call social dramatic play." It was a great way of turning something necessary (learning how to make buddies) into something fun.
3It Was A Great Way Of Avoiding Your Parents
Playdate fallen through? Scared you were going to get taken to do something like heading to a museum or going on a hike? Somehow, this was always the moment when Amadeus (or whatever your friend's name was) chose to show up and invite you to play in the garden.
4Your Friend Got To Be Bad Cop
If it was too cold, it was Amadeus, not you, who needed to go home early. And if you weren't feeling the vibes at a sleepover, somehow it was Amadeus who really needed to sleep in his own bed. You, meanwhile, retained your street cred and went home unscathed.
5You Were Really Sociable
Despite the stereotypes, you didn't have an fake friend because you couldn't make a real one, but because you loved talking. If you felt like talking to someone and none of your human friends were around, you could confide in someone else.
6You Let Your Imagination Run Free
Some kids don't just create imaginary friends, but a whole world with a totally different climate, new laws of physics, and a whole new society. That's just proof that you weren't just a little bit creative, you also were capable of getting into Tolkien level detail about your pal and where they came from.
7Your Buddy Helped You Discover Who You Were
An Aeon article refers to Donald Winnicott's theory of the "transitional object," like a comfort blanket or toy, that keeps a kid feeling at ease when she or he is trying to sleep or is alone. It's argued that imaginary friends could play a similar function since "they help children to find a sense of themselves, and accompany them through crucial years of development and adjustment as they become their own individual beings, separate from their mother."
8To Be The Scape Goat
When you messed up, you didn’t have to accept the consequences. “No Mom, I didn’t borrow your dress and spill chocolate ice cream down it. Amadeus did!” Sure, she rolled her eyes so hard you thought they'd come out from the sockets. But you still got away with it. Just.
9To Prep You For Superstardom As A Bestselling Novelist
A study published in the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality in 2003 argued that the closest equivalent to the process of engaging with an imaginary friend in adult life is when a fiction writer creates their own character. So you know this was all just practice for becoming the next J.K. Rowling, right?
10They Could Be Everything You Weren't
You wore your sister's baggy hand-me-down sweaters; Princess Amelia got that pink agora sweater you saw at the mall. You suffered the indignity of a pudding bowl haircut, while Princess Amelia wore her red hair so long it went all the way down to her bottom. Basically, an imaginary pal got to correct the injustices of the hand the universe had dealt you.
11Because You Wanted To Creep Out Your Parents
Not necessarily your main reason, but, if you wanted a little extra attention that day, you knew a few too many mentions of Amadeus would make them uneasy enough to ensure you'd get more cuddles and ice cream that day.
12Because They Were So Much More Easy-Going Than Your Other Friends
With your other friends, there were rules. Your friend from Scouts was vegetarian, so you couldn't eat pepperoni pizza together. Your friend from swimming class got scared easily, so you could never watch anything creepier than kids shows together. But, with your fictional pal, you were the one who set the rules. They loved pepperoni pizza and horror movies, just like you.
13You Knew That, When You Guys Outgrew Each Other, It Wouldn't Be Sad
Unlike real friendships, the ending of this one was all sweet, no bitter. You tended to outgrow each other when you were a little older and had so many friends you forgot about your imaginary BFF. And that was OK.
So spare a moment today to ruminate on that incomparable pal. Sure, they didn't actually exist. But it was as rich and fun a friendship as any you had in the real world.