Anyone who follows sports has probably heard of Manti Te'o, the linebacker from Notre Dame, and his girlfriend Lennay Kekua. During this past season, Te'o told of the inspiration he received from his girlfriend's fight with leukemia, a fight she ultimately lost. The only problem, it turns out, is that Lennay Kekua never existed.
The story has been all over the news of late, and Te'o claims he has been the victim of a hoax. Whether or not you believe that is up to you, but it does afford us a good opportunity to look at what modern dating has become.
Te'o and Kekua met online, exchanging pictures and communicating by emails, IMs, and sometimes the phone. But despite building up a strong affection for Kekua, Te'o had never met his girlfriend in person. The whole thing seems like something pulled out of the MTV show, Catfish, which is literally about people who set up fake online profiles and pretend to be someone they aren't.
This is the risk of the online world.
Online dating has grown over recent years and more and more people are turning to the Internet to increase their odds of finding a compatible mate. It has also grown more socially acceptable to do so, especially among those who are too busy to spend time at bars, etc. But with the turn to the Internet comes the risk that the person on the other side isn't who they say they are. What can you do to protect yourself?
1. When possible, date locally. If you're both in the area, it is much easier (and cheaper) to ultimately arrange a face-to-face meet.
2. Tell a friend when you are going to meet someone new. While this wasn't the issue in Te'o's case, one should always be wary when meeting someone from the Internet for the first time. A bit of caution and vigilance can keep you safe.
3. If meeting face-to-face isn't possible, consider a webchat. While these are possible to fake, it is much harder, especially if you are talking by audio.
Those are just a few helpful ideas to ensure that the person you're talking to is in fact who they say they are. Some might take the need for all these precautions as an indictment of online dating as a means to meeting a worthwhile partner. To that I would say, nonsense.
Many people have entered successful relationships that began online (and I count myself among them). And in fact, in a world of instant gratification and superficiality, there may be something to be said for letting conversation take the front seat for once in developing a relationship. Perhaps instead of mocking Manti Te'o for meeting a girl online (I assure you, he would have had no trouble finding someone on campus), we can laud the deep connection that he (and many like him) made, even if the person on the other side was not as genuine. Perhaps instead of tearing down the Internet as a conduit for meaningful social interaction, we should accept it for what it is: a tool that can be used for good or for mischief. Ultimately, it is the individual who is responsible, not the medium.
Just a thought.