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Te’o online love is not only fantasy

Updated: January 21, 2013 2:14AM

Manti Te’o went from being a heroic, celebrated football player for Notre Dame to a national punch line, because his girlfriend, whom he supposedly nurtured by phone in her dying days, never existed.

He got caught up in a hoax. The jury is out on whether he was in on it, but I’m willing to bet those who have been duped in phony online and phone relationships aren’t laughing.

On the contrary, they’re embarrassed for making themselves vulnerable and easy marks for those all too willing to exploit their emptiness.

“You would be surprised how many people do it,” Los Angeles-based psychotherapist and author Stacy Kaiser told me of such fantasy-world relationships. “It’s all sorts of lonely people.”

The key word is loneliness. People turn to match-making services and web connections because they are lonely. “Sometimes it’s someone who has been rejected,” looking for solace, Kaiser said.

I have nothing against matching-making sites. A friend found the love of his life on one and is happily married. The goal of these sites is to open the door to a relationship, one that takes place in person.

Yet when the relationship solely revolves around phone or Internet conversations, it is doomed even if both parties have good intentions.

“How well can you know someone without meeting them?” Kaiser asked. It’s not like a blind date where friends can vouch for your date, she added.

You are heading into an emotional world of the unknown, and that can be psychologically unhealthy and even dangerous, Kaiser said.

She told me the story of a woman who communicated online and by phone with a man in Australia. She thought he was the man of her dreams and took a trip overseas to spend time with him.

Kaiser said that when the woman wasn’t looking, the man hacked into her computer, stole personal information and drained some of her financial accounts.

I, too, know someone who spent his free time connecting with women on the Web. Convinced he had found his soul mate, he divorced his wife and went to Puerto Rico to be with his new pal. No criminal behavior took place, but his new lady friend didn’t like what she saw and soon dumped him. I think he got what he deserved, but I have a bias since the woman he divorced is my cousin.

Even well-rounded men and women can end up emotionally attached to a Twitter picture or text messages. “They might have a lot of friends, but they are lonely in relationships,” Kaiser said.

I used to shake my head at the notion of people corresponding with prison inmates, faceless souls starved for attention and possibly their next victim. But at least then both parties understood the risks.

That’s not the case with social media. With its evolution, social media has opened our lines of communication, and that’s a good thing. “But fantasy and false relationships happen all the time,” Kaiser said.

I would say this to Te’o and others with a proclaimed emotional attachment to a voice or Facebook friend: If you haven’t spent any or much time with your beloved, she’s not your girlfriend. She’s not even really a friend.

The intimacy of social media just makes you think so.

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