Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Manti Te’o and the Revenge of the Romantic Fantasy

A sap for sappy love stories

Now that Manti Te’o’s fake dead girlfriend has been exposed as just plain fake, pundits and reporters and bloggers and twitterers are savoring the opportunity to pile on the ridicule. The romantic fantasy has been exposed as a hoax, and a consensus seems to be emerging on how to characterize the whole charade – it is a really bad Lifetime movie.

True enough. But why all the wallowing in the sappiness and why all the credulous swallowing of the incredible storylines before the scam got debunked?

It is usually such a sure thing, this matrimania writ-large. The love stories right out of Love Story. When I wrote Singled Out in 2006 and bemoaned all of the venues that invite the over-the-top celebrations of weddings and coupling and marriage, I quipped that there was at least one night a week, in one domain, when Americans could count on getting a break from it all: “They could turn on Monday Night Football in full confidence that the game will not end with a wedding.”

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Since 2006, matrimania has jumped the shark. Now there seems to be no venue, in the media or in our everyday lives, which is safe from sappy love stories.

In case you haven’t already read about the Te’o story elsewhere, here are just a few of the badly-written lines (from here and here):

  • When Te’o and fake-girlfriend Lennay Kekua first met, “Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.”
  • Lennay had a “volleyball-type of physique…She was athletic, tall, beautiful. Long hair.”
  • When fake-girlfriend was in a coma, her relatives told Te’o that “at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice.”
  • Lennay’s last words to Manti were, “I love you.”

Now, finally, the matrimania is biting back. Was Te’o a victim, a perpetrator, or a bit of both? Regardless of the answer, he was a sap. He bought into the romantic fantasies that elevate one type of relationship above all others. The ones that reliably elicit an outsized reaction to hackneyed tale. Maybe he, or some perpetrators who saw themselves as his boosters and friends, thought that such a story would make him an even more seductive candidate for a Heisman Trophy. Maybe they just craved the rush of other people’s emotions – their awe at what a wonderful guy Te’o seemed to be (never mind that he never was there for Lennay in person, after the car crash or during the cancer or at her funeral), their sharing of his despair over the tragic loss of “the most beautiful girl” he had ever met (even though he never did meet the woman who never did exist).

The Notre Dame coach was also duped, big time. After the dramatic football game that Te’o played in rather than going to his soul-mate’s funeral, “head coach Brian Kelly awards the game ball to Lennay Kekua, handing it to Te’o to ‘take back to Hawaii.’”

Even more devastating, legions of reporters were saps, too. All those treacly romantic twists and turns? They ate them all up.

Now will romance and marriage and coupling get put in their place? Will the greatest awards go to the greatest talents and achievements and not the people claiming the most matrimaniacal tales? I doubt it. Not yet. A few more stories like this one, though, and who knows.

If you are interested in reading more about the psychology of big-time liars, here are some suggestions:

Here are some of my recent posts elsewhere:

Making too much of make-up?

A story of single life you have not heard before

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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