Many who know me will immediately understand why I felt compelled to weigh in on the Manti Te’o story, but for those who do not know me as well, it will require me to share something more personal about myself as a basis for the credibility of what I am writing.
Make no mistake. This story is not so much about Te’o as it is about the internet and internet relationships. A few years back I considered writing a book about my internet experiences but thought better of it when I realized that there were some very good, real people whose lives would be unfairly exposed. In 1996 when my marriage ended, my internet world became an important part of my personal life. The second woman I dated after my marriage was someone I met in an AOL chat room. Since that time I went on to have 3, in person meaningful relationships with women I met on the internet. Two out of the three were long distance since, as we know, the internet transcends all time and space. I have since sworn off long distance relationships but will still entertain any realistic scenarios from someone I meet on the internet, as long as I can enjoy the woman’s company without having to take a plane or an overnight bus trip. What’s important to know about these relationships, is that they are only the ones involving women I actually met in person. In 16 ½ years since my marriage ended, there have also been women I have become very close to just through online chatting. Pictures got sent, stories got told, and questions popped up. Some questions were answered, but many were not. Long gone are the days that the only thing you had to worry about was whether or not the person on the other end was truly the female she claimed to be or unmarried as she so genuinely proclaimed. We live in a world where even lies become more sophisticated. Now you have to be weary of elaborate scams designed to either take money out of your pocket or damage your image or standing in whatever community you live in.
I personally never was victim to anything very devious or harmful as a result of deceit online. I had my techniques and methods to determine that things were as I thought they were, consisting of phone calls and revelation of personal information. Everyone I ever met was at least some semblance of what they claimed to be, and in 2 cases, women I had gotten close to revealed a hidden truth when the time drew close to an in-person meeting. Even in those cases they were still nice women who were just different than they had claimed to be physically. So I can honestly say that I never got fooled as Manti Te’o did.
However, in 1996, when my marriage ended, I was a 34 year old man with some harsh life experiences behind me and not a high-profile person on the verge of making millions of dollars. Manti Te’o is experiencing this as a 21 year old, college football superstar months away from an NFL draft that can earn him more money than most people ever see in a lifetime. He was the captain of a Notre Dame Football team that played for the National Championship. Needless to say he was always a potential target. Do I think he lied about some of what happened? I would not be surprised if he has, but I don’t believe his motivation would be causing anyone harm or self-promotion. If anything it would be embarrassment. I won’t even say whether or not I was smart or lucky for never being fooled on any major level, but I know enough people who have been fooled for me to say that in some ways I know Manti Teo’s girlfriend. She’s that image put forth by people who are either so devious, so angry, or so sad that they create a fake persona for a sociopathic personal gain.
So what to do about Manti Te’o? For me the answer is simple. Leave him alone. He did not kill anyone, he did not rape anyone, and he did not run a drug ring or physically assault anyone. What did he do? He sent flowers to a funeral that never took place for a woman who never existed. At worst he is guilty of stupidity. Unless someone reading this has never been guilty of the same, my feeling is that we should just learn from this, move on, let the guy play football, and move on to stories that really matter.