Notre Dame's Manti Te'o points to the perils of 'virtual' dating

Once upon a time a boy would meet a girl and fall in love.  But fast forward to the present. For Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, the age old “boy meets girl” scenario has been turned on its head. In Te’o’s case, it was boy virtually meets girl, falls in love and sadly becomes the possible victim of a ‘sick’ cyber hoax.

“I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te’O said in an official statement Tuesday. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.” He continued, “In retrospect, I obviously should have been more cautious. If anything good [can come] of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.”

Although we do not know if Te’o may have played a role in what he calls a “sick joke,” this bizarre virtual dating scandal has resulted in a much needed national conversation about the pitfalls of online relationships.

Instead of crucifying Te’o, who is, after all, innocent until proven guilty or admits to lying about his relationship, let’s examine how a football star could have been terribly duped and why you may have been, too.

For the last two years, I have written a daily dating advice column for a website.  In the beginning, I was shocked by the emails I received from men and women claiming they were in love with someone they had never even met in person.  How could they make such a claim? Because the idea of being in love seemed to make them lose their ability to think clearly about the situation.

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One woman wrote to me because she noticed a few red flags in her “relationship” with her cyber-boyfriend.  For example, every time she scheduled an in person visit he would need to cancel at the last hour due to an emergency or when they had a “Skype date,” he would bail on her.  Even though the writing was on the electronic wall, this woman did not want to see the truth -- the man she thought she loved was a myth.

You may be thinking people who have cyber relationships must be desperate or starved for attention but that is not the case most of the time.

I watched as a close friend experienced the pitfalls of Internet romance. My friend is an attractive, successful businessman who met a young Brazilian woman in a singles chat room. They exchanged photos, phone numbers and began a correspondence.

My friend was quite smitten.  He even purchased a plane ticket to visit her Brazil.  A few days before his trip, he showed me his lady love’s pictures. My jaw hit the floor.  The woman in the pictures was Victoria Secret’s supermodel Adriana Lima. Either my friend had hit the online dating jackpot or his cyber “girlfriend” was indeed a fake. When I alerted him about this odd coincidence, he confronted the woman. She copped to using a false identity and admitted her motivation was to lure a man over the Internet in order to receive gifts. Ultimately, she never wanted a real life relationship. Since then my friend has sworn off virtual relationships.

The old adage that love is blind has always been true but when it comes to cyber relationships, love is often not only blind, it’s downright dumb.  And it can cause even the most logical people to make illogical decisions.

Perhaps Te’O’s mistake was wanting a fairy tale ending.