Once upon a time, back when cell phones were the size of bricks and nobody had ever heard of the internet, lonely but intrepid teenagers would sometimes invent themselves a significant other—using nothing but their imaginations, a random photograph, and an unverifiable story about having met their soulmate at summer camp.
Sigh. Simpler times, you guys.
Now, perpetrating a good Girlfriend Hoax is a completely different beast: just look at the bizarre (and still-unfolding) saga of Manti Te'o, whose relationship with a dying girl became the basis of one of the most moving and uplifting stories to emerge from this season of college football... until it turned out to be an enormous lie.
It's a complicated story, but here are the essentials: Manti Te'o, a linebacker at Notre Dame, became famous last year for overcoming tragedy and leading his team to victory after his grandmother and his girlfriend died within mere hours of each other. The girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was a student at Stanford who had been diagnosed with leukemia after a serious car accident. Over the course of a year, Lennay and Manti flirted on Twitter, talked on the phone every night, and maintained what looked to all appearances like a happy, healthy, loving long-distance relationship, until she tragically succumbed to her cancer in September. Her death was devastating to Manti and to the Notre Dame community—the incredible outpouring of support in its aftermath included thousands of dollars in charity donations on her behalf—and was reported by major media outlets across the country.
Manti, following Lennay's explicit demand that he not miss a game in the event of her death, remained at Notre Dame and did not go to California to attend her funeral.
But if he had, he would have discovered that there was no funeral to attend.
Because Lennay Kekua never existed.
Manti Te'o had fallen in love with a digital phantom, who was created—and then killed—for the express purpose of messing with his head. Or at least, that's the story according to a statement released by Te'o and corroborated by Notre Dame officials. Some, including the source who helped Deadspin break this story, insist that the linebacker must have been in on it. (Others have suggested that if he wasn't, he's still too gullible to live.)
So, what do you think? Was this a publicity stunt that got out of hand? Or could Manti Te'o have been the victim of a cruel hoax, his tale of doomed love inflated and misreported by the media because it made for such a good story? Are suspicion and skepticism necessary for internet relationships, in order to avoid being taken in? Tell us what you think! And if you want a long and disturbing read about this hoax in its entirety, check out the full story on Deadspin.