First, the bond. I'm fairly certain that I picked the exact phrasing and terminology up from the Vulcan custom of marriage, which is a combination of legalities, telepathy, empathy, and runaway biology. Since I am willing to believe in fluffy things like empathy, telepathy, and an assortment of other New-Age-type stuff, I'm also willing to believe that I can "feel" certain of my friends and acquaintances in my head.
Generally, the "feel" is limited to things that I could know through other avenues such as simple observation, coupled with a feeling akin to the sound of an open phone line without static or any immediately distinguishable background noise, but unmistakably a live line with a live human being on the other end. Very occasionally, things that I could not have known through any other avenues show up through the bonds, but these incidents are relatively infrequent and often somewhat drastic in nature. Owing to their highly personal nature (to all parties involved), I do not often discuss details.
Most of the bonds I experience are limited in duration and scope, are familial, professional, or are the result of friendship, and are either thrust into my attention by circumstance, or have to be specifically focused upon and called up in order to be sensed. I have innumerable narrow, rarely-used bonds that connect me to family, friends, and old professional connections. When getting to know someone, especially another Practitioner of the arcane or a potential romantic match, I am likely to form a temporary broadband bond to get to know them on all the levels I can, even if I'm unlikely to use all those levels again. When I'm romantically involved with someone, especially when we become physically involved, a bond forms. This can either be temporary or longer-lasting. Most are temporary. It takes time, patience, and effort to evolve most bonds into a permanent form.
Because I form temporary bonds with such ease, and can dissolve them with equal ease, I do not consider everyone I have a bond with a "bondmate". In order to consider someone a bondmate, I have to, at minimum, expect the bond to continue indefinitely or never expire, and be able to touch the bond at any time of night or day, in any state of mental preparedness to sense the bond, and be able to connect immediately or near-immediately. I also have to consider the bond personal rather than professional or familial.
At the moment, I have three bondmates. In order of seniority, they are: Darkside, Mr. Shallow, and Figment. (This is also reverse order of age, which amuses me.)
My bond with Darkside formed sometime in November or December of 2000, along with another bond, the bond with Sis, which would become familial. The bond with Sis was shut down for safety reasons preparatory to a particularly energetic event, and never returned to full strength even after it was turned on again. The bond with Darkside was maintained and encouraged until it became automatic, and is persistent even in the event of full brain crash or bruising of reality. This bond is occasionally sealed temporarily for privacy and safety reasons, but must not be left sealed for longer than perhaps an hour at a time lest emotional/energetic trauma result.
My bond with Mr. Shallow formed somewhat after the bond with Darkside, especially considering as I met him after I met Darkside. We hit it off at once when we met. Mr. Shallow discovered, somewhat to his disconcertion, that I could "find" him no matter where he was; no one else he knew could do this. This bond fluctuates between latent and patent more or less in sync with actual contact with Mr. Shallow, but I still consider him an active bondmate because of assorted history and other personal factors.
My bond with Figment had been lurking unconnected since slightly after I met him, and abruptly jumped into contact after some personal disasters lowered our mutual defenses against forming additional permanent bonds. We were able to identify the bond as having been made sometime early in the morning of February 24th within five to fifteen minutes of connection. To date, it has intensified in ways that are only to be expected under the circumstances, and shows no signs of dissipating. As it has been reinforced by pledge of indefinite mutual aid, we are to consider it long-term or permanent unless deliberately dissolved (which I can't anticipate doing -- deliberately dampen, definitely, but not dissolve).
"Bondmate" has always meant more to me than a simple connection. I've made the decision that I won't consider a long-term relationship with someone who isn't a bondmate. I'm very happy with that decision.