Forget online dating. Why not just buy a virtual girlfriend on eBay (search) instead?

One enterprising college student decided to create just such an auction for an "Imaginary Online Girlfriend," (search) in which she pretended to be the highest bidder's long-distance love for a month. The auction quickly became legendary on eBay, creating such a buzz that it got 16,000 hits in a matter of days and spawned a host of copycats.

"Are you tired of your friends/parents hounding you about not having a girlfriend??" the virtual girlfriend, Judy, wrote on eBay. "Or do you have an ex that you want to make jealous?? Then this is the auction for you! I am willing to become your 'imaginary' girlfriend ... I will write you one letter a week and include pictures, cards, whatever … so you can get everyone off your back because you are in a 'long distance relationship.'"

Judy, a 22-year-old college junior in Wichita Falls, Texas, said she posted the item on eBay mostly for fun.

"I did it totally on a whim. It was just a late-night idea and I was seeing how it went over," she said in a phone interview. She asked that her last name not be used.

In her ad, Judy even suggested that the lucky winner "break up" with her, and she promised to write a final letter begging him to take her back.

"When the month is up … just think up a crazy story and dump me … should be great fun!" she wrote online.

She did provide a few rules, though: no live contact; all communication must be done online or through the mail; and "by winning this auction, I do not become your girlfriend … this is only pretend."

In real life, Judy has a serious boyfriend ("He thought it was kind of weird but he was OK with it") and said she was inspired by the 1980s film "Can't Buy Me Love" (search), in which a nerdy high school student pays a popular girl to date him for a couple of months.

But she didn't expect the overwhelming response. So many people scanned her auction (16,000 viewers, with a winning bid of $41) and so many imitations cropped up afterward that she held a second (which drew 20,000 viewers and a winning bid of $81) and just launched a third.

EBay spokesman Chris Donlay said auctions like "Imaginary Girlfriend" become legendary — joining others that have gone down in eBay history like one for a set of voting card "hanging chads," one for the world's longest French fry and another for the largest Cheeto. One man even offered up his mother to play mom to the highest bidder for a while.

"What happens on eBay mirrors what's happening in the offline world," Donlay said. "It's kind of the barometer of pop culture in a way."

Though the highest bidder for the first "Imaginary Girlfriend" auction didn't pay up, the second one — who offered $40 — did. So far Judy has written 30-year-old Marc of New Jersey one letter via e-mail.

Marc said in a phone interview that he bid on the auction for fun, not to actually convince people he had a long-distance romance.

"I wasn't really serious about the whole girlfriend thing," said Marc, who isn't currently in a relationship. "It was just funny."

The self-described "Net junkie" said he's gotten some interesting reactions to his participation in the Web fantasy.

"I told a couple of friends that I paid for an online girlfriend and they were like, 'Are you crazy?'" Marc said. "I haven't told my family because they're a bit traditional. It might shock my mom."

The second winning bidder — 29-year-old Will of Florida, who paid $81 — also said he did it as a joke, and because the writer in him saw a good story in the experience.

"There have been a lot of those auctions that are a part of eBay folklore and I thought this was the next one," Will, who is also girlfriendless, said in a phone interview. "I thought this would be a great idea for a story. I'd seen a lot of unique auctions before, but never one like that."

So far, Judy has sent Will a letter and a photo. She sprays the notes, written on pink stationery, with cheap perfume — a scent she doesn't actually wear.

"It's corny as corny can get," said Will. "I did it mostly for grins and giggles."

Judy said she's gotten a few seedy responses requesting things like nude photos, which she won't send, but she's received hundreds of compliments for her creativity. She's even set up a Web site (www.judylovesme.com).

And then there's been the media frenzy: A slew of newspapers and radio stations have called to interview her since she started the auctions in September.

"The attention was very overwhelming at first," said the elementary education major. "I did not expect this at all. I'm just a college kid."