A student travelled more than 5,000 miles to meet a stranger whom Facebook suggested he should befriend.
Victor Van Rossem, 24, was curious when Neal D Retke, 49, popped up as a ‘suggested friend’ on his Facebook feed because the two had never met and had no obvious connection to each other aside from a single mutual acquaintance.
After browsing through Mr Retke’s pictures Mr Van Rossem, of Ghent in Belgium, became intrigued by the artist’s eclectic interests.
Mr Van Rossem said: “Facebook suggested we become friends, and I thought that was pretty absurd.
“I became fascinated by him. He had a long beard and looked a little unusual. He did art performances and paintings of mythical creatures and strange beasts which only made me more interested in him.
“He looked like someone I wanted to meet – a very eccentric person.”
When Mr Retke, of Texas, failed to respond to him on Facebook, Mr Van Rossem decided to take the friend request to a whole new level and travel more than 5,000 miles to ask him in person whether they could be friends.
He said “These days you can be friends with anyone anywhere just by clicking that friend request button. I wanted to take it back to the real world.”
After a lot of planning Mr Van Rossem set off with his friend, Bran Van Bree, 27, who took a video camera with him so that they could document the experience.
The pair kept costs down by buying cheap airline tickets and staying with strangers they met on their travels across America on their way to find Mr Retke.
Mr Van Rossem and Mr Van Bree spent a week searching for their unsuspecting friend, scouring the city of Austin by putting posters up on every street and asking passers-by if they knew him. They even wore t-shirts carrying the slogan ‘Neal D Retke for President!’ in the hope they would help them find him.
Mr Van Rossem, said: “At first we thought our chances of finding him were very slim, but then we visited some places in Austin that we knew he liked to go – and we eventually found someone who knew him.”
Mr Retke’s associate suggested looking for him at a book signing. The pair attended the event, and finally came face-to-face with the stranger which Facebook was so keen to introduce them to.
Mr Van Rossem, said: “We were nervous when we first saw him.
“We didn’t know how he would react – but after we explained the whole thing he just laughed and said ‘well, you found me’ as if he was expecting us.”
Facebook’s algorithms were vindicated as the pair spent three weeks with Mr Retke forming a genuine friendship.
Mr Van Rossem said: “We had a lot of fun with Neal, and I consider him a real friend. We’re still in touch through Facebook, and he might be coming to visit us next summer.
Mr Van Rossem and Mr Van Bree’s short documentary can be seen at https://vimeo.com/76253142.
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