THE BLOG

Te'o, Catfish and Believing What We Want to Believe

01/17/2013 04:14 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2013

It's hard to believe that a person like Manti Te'o can lie so poorly. For a man who would presumably have no problem finding a real-life girlfriend, Te'o made the most unnecessary lie in the history of lying.

It's no wonder that the strangest lies we hear involve lovers; they are the people we want and are conditioned to believe and trust. As even the most humble Nigerian prince scam has shown, average people are capable of deluding themselves beyond any rational basis. Now that social media has reduced us to a curated collection of images and ideas, it is also a playground for people to massage the truth about themselves and consume the lies of others. Why? Those reductive personas allow us to fill in the gaps with whatever we want to believe, closer to what we want than what is. For some, this may be more attractive and addictive than a reality-based alternative.

While most people would never reach a Te'o or Catfish-level of lying and self-delusion, the ways we communicate just beg us to 'enhance' ourselves. Whether it be a photo with a filter, a choice of words, or hiding a post from an unsavory family member, social media is a mirror through which we can manipulate our own reflection. It's socially acceptable to curate your public persona, and the way that we curate says a great deal about us. It's not that we lie, but how we lie that reveals the most.

An awkward New York Times piece, "The End of Courtship?" argues that social media, texting and hookup culture has brutally murdered the ritual of dating. But the author illustrates his point in a way that is more troubling than the 'problem' itself: he gives examples of young women who grossly misread their communication with men, and use it as proof that nobody wants to date anymore (one young woman who was shocked and disappointed that an OKCupid date passive/aggressively cancelled a date via text message). What the author really shows is how people misread the intentions of their online connections, resulting in marriage-ready women seeking out sketchy, non-committal partners, or worse. It's as if their own desires stop them from reading critical cues; the lack of human interaction feeds their desires more than it fleshes out a more objective reality. With more romantic and life paths to choose, and more nuanced ways to communicate what you want, it is critical to understand how social media manipulates our ideas of a person, especially when seeking a mate.

Or, in some cases, the idea of a mate.

Delusion is at its best in Catfish, the documentary-turned-TV-show where people meet their online romantic partners in-person (if those people exist in physical form). What's most shocking is how easily these people could have found that their online romance was a farce - but they didn't. Why? Maybe it's easier to believe a lie and make a connection than have no connection at all. Even if that connection is with a janky, crooked semblance of a person, you can fill in the logical gaps with your own hopes and dreams of the perfect lover, dateable guy, or Nigerian prince. The desire to be a certain way, or for others to be what we hope them to be, may just override a basic expectation of truth from the people around us. As long as the Internet allows, these people will continue to lie, and their highest hope is that they find a soul mate who will believe them.

Manti Te'o is still looking for his soul mate.