Does anyone remember a time when girlfriends and boyfriends tended to be real, live, human beings? Perhaps there were moments you wished he or she were just of figment of imagination, but for the most part, reality seemed to be a positive thing.
Enter the bizarre story of Notre Dame football superstar Manti Te'o, who apparently was duped into a longtime online love affair with some messed-up dude portraying Teo's dying supposed girlfriend, Lennay.
It's one of those creepy, skin-crawly stories that people can't get enough of, though honestly, I can't see what the big deal was.
Even if Manti had entirely made up the whole story, he's probably not the first college bro to invent a story about having a awesome girlfriend, and then having to fabricate some exit strategy when people started to ask questions why they've never seen this gal with him.
And if he was just a completely naive, backward, lovesick goof who was played for a fool by a scammer, he's not the first by a longshot to fall for an online scheme.
Yet somehow this story got massive enough to virtually wash Lance Armstrong's shocking admission of drugging his way to seven Tour de France wins right off the front pages.
It all came as something of a revelation to me. Now I was aware that according to those online matchmaking services, one in every five love relationships is now born online rather than people actually meeting each other. And I'm no online newb here, I have my share of chats on Facebook with people I will seldom if ever see face to face. I think I went to kindergarten or played sports with or was once a friend-of-a-friend of these people who now live in other states and countries - but how do I really know it's really them? I get how this kind of thing can happen.
But to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, a committed longterm romantic relationship, with someone you never meet or see in real life? I don't get it.
What's the attraction to someone who's really nothing more than a collection of keystrokes?
If we are being told the truth, Manti was actually talking to a man on the phone all that time he was romancing,
well over a thousand phone calls, many of them lasting for hours on end. He was looking at pictures of some girl the scammer used to go to high school with, and later, when Manti pressed for more, a photo of an entirely different girl innocently duped into posing.
Maybe one would think a senior educated by one of the finest universities in the world would be smart enough to get suspicious eventually, but then again, there is something to be said for wide-eyed naivete, too... though in today's world, such innocent, unjaded faith and acceptance isn't likely to survive unscarred for long.
As far as I know, there was no extortion going on, just people desperately looking for some kind of human connection in a really weird way. So it's not a crime, exactly... just a shame.
I listened to the tapes of the phone calls that fooled Te'o, this week, and I have
to say, they sounded pretty
female to me too - all full of tortured emotion and, at times, wounded love. Creeps me out, don't mind saying.
I wonder how many people have online love affairs with people that aren't what they seem?
I did a bit of investigating, and came up with several companies that actually specialize in creating online people, such as Fake Internet Girlfriend.
According to this firm's owner, men pay them $250 or more per month to provide a woman to portray their online girlfriend - sending the client loving text messages, posting on their Facebook page, calling and leaving "I miss you honey" phone messages at their office or dorm room, even appearing with them in online gaming.
Why? According to the owner, "to make life less complicated."
Huh? Some employers are biased against single men. Sometimes guys get tired of their families or friends pressing them to date or get married. Some guys want their real dating preferences kept in the closet, some want to make an ex-girlfriend jealous, some just want to have the feeling of having a girlfriend without the expense or hassle of a real relationship, I'm told.
There is nothing sexual about the relationships, the owner says, and the pretend girlfriends never meet the male clients in real life - they simply take the scam out of the pretense. Most of the employees (all actually female and all said to be well-educated and accomplished at their acting roles) are college students or stay-at-home moms, who find relationship posing a handy way to make a well-over-minimum-wage income.
You can even customize your fake girlfriend relationship - "It can be distant but loving, social and upbeat, quirky and misunderstood... we bring her to life," the owner says.
Sounds like kind of a frankenstein workshop for girlfriends. This is a new concept - rather than learning to love someone for what they are, you just special order them to your specifications - like a sandwich at Burger King with extra pickles or a Silverado with extended exhaust pipes.
You can even hire a gamer fake girlfriend who is as adept at World of Warcraft as you to accompany you on imaginary guild raids, for a few extra bucks, or, you can prescribe faked, very public lover's quarrels, if a drama queen is your thing.
All of this gives me a bit of a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I'm glad I'm not a college-age guy in this era of digital relations, which sounds to me to be anything but "less complicated." And yes, I did check to see that my collegiate son's girlfriend is actually a genuine human being.
Te'o may be making headlines as a disgraced, confused, starcrossed-lover numbskull at the moment, but I'm afraid this is just the tip of the iceburg, as we continue to blur the line between what it is real and what is cyber-reality.
We're in a time when more and more of our lives are lived electronically. Our heads realize this, but our hearts haven't caught up... even fake relationships cause real feelings.
As it ever has been, it is best to be honest.
Keep it real, fellas.