She's Not There

Not to speak ill of the dead, but I'd hit that.

Sometime in the past few years, everybody finally took Huey Lewis seriously and decided that it actually is hip to be square. That explains the nerd chic garbage that you see all over pop culture these days – gorgeous hipsters wearing ugly glasses for no reason, Star Wars-themed Adidas for $160 a pair, and The Big Bang Theory are ample evidence that formerly nerdy pursuits have now been repackaged as ‘cool’ for the in crowd. So no, I wasn’t that surprised when a star quarterback and Heisman candidate turned out to have an imaginary girlfriend who went to another school, because that’s Nerd 101 right there.    

I mean, shit, who didn’t have a fake girlfriend in another state at some point during school? In sixth grade I practically had a harem of made up girlfriends scattered all over the country – it was like a really pathetic version of Area Codes. Go ahead and laugh; I was a prissy, effeminate 12 year old and I had to do everything in my power so people wouldn’t think I was gay. Besides, all the other nerds were doing it too.

Sure, it was probably wrong of me to lie for all those years, but I had a large number of traditionally gay tendencies that I had to cover for – if anything, pretending to have a girlfriend in New Hampshire was just leveling the playing field.

As the resident expert on fake girlfriends, though, Manti Te’o made some choices that I found confusing.

When you invent a girlfriend, the sky is the limit. You can literally have any woman imaginable. He could’ve been going out with fake Scarlet Johansson, but instead he settled for a bookish, imaginary Stanford student named ‘Lennay’ with imaginary leukemia.

It’s your imagination, dude – why concoct a lie that’s more depressing than real life? He invented a fake girl and then gave her fake brain cancer – I’d hate to see this guy play Dungeons and Dragons.

“My character is a level one elf, but he can’t run very fast because he was born with one leg slightly shorter than the other, and he’s got crippling anxiety and self-doubt because his mother was addicted to elf crack and was always really neglectful and verbally abusive.”

Maybe Manti is just more sensitive than I am – when I was making up features for my imaginary girlfriends, it was usually just that they had big boobs. To her credit, I’m sure Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend probably had a really unique imaginary perspective on her imaginary life as a result of her tragic imaginary disease.

Come to think of it, Manti may have completely changed the fake girlfriend game. By giving his nonexistent boo a life threatening illness, he had an easy alibi in case things ever got out of hand – the second people started asking for him to call his girlfriend and put her on speakerphone or invited her to the 6th grade dance, she could just die and that would be the end of it!

Because that’s the downside to having an imaginary girlfriend – sooner or later, the 8th graders who call you a fag in the locker room every day are going to start demanding proof, and that’s really hard to provide. 8th graders won’t just believe a single grainy picture of a girl that you discreetly pulled off the Internet – they want facts that can be verified in order to determine whether what they’re hearing is true or false.

Fortunately for Manti Te’o, he wasn’t dealing with a group of hormonal 14 year old boys – he was dealing with every major news organization in the United States, and they are significantly less adept at separating truth from fiction. If there had been 14 year old boys in the White House Press Corps, we never would have gone to Iraq.

Lennay Kekua might just be the most successful fake girlfriend of all time, actually – because whenever somebody creates a fake long distance girlfriend, the absolute best case scenario is that everybody buys it hook line and sinker and is so captivated by your imaginary fairytale romance that it practically becomes folklore. Hell, CBS even went so far as to quote her on the air before the BCS National Championship – lest we forget, this is a totally imaginary person who never existed and a major news network ran a quote from her in primetime. So many people had so much blind faith in her existence that she may as well have been God.

Of course, all that success and attention just meant that Manti and Lennay had that much further to fall when the truth came out. And that’s where our experiences differ – no 6th grader ever invented a girlfriend so compelling that the entire nation fell in love with her and then had to explain himself once she turned out to be fake.

The worst case scenario in middle school was that people would figure out your girlfriend was fake and then they’d go right on back to calling you a fag. Because even they sort of understood that it was just middle school, and this was a thing that middle schoolers did.

Manti, though, is significantly older than a middle schooler, and now the entire country knows that he essentially spent the last few months playing with an imaginary friend. In the coming weeks and months, he’s going to have to answer a lot of awkward questions about why he did it. And it’s going to be awkward, because he made up a girlfriend for basically the same reasons any middle schooler would:

1)   He, a devout Mormon bachelor, wanted to deflect any rumors that he was gay, so he created a fake girlfriend with the help of his close male friend, and/or…
2)   …he just wanted some attention from his peers, and maybe the Heisman Committee.

Truman Capps is pretty sure nobody ever believed him when he said he had a girlfriend at another school – even in high school when he actually DID have a girlfriend at another school.