I found a LiveJournal of an attractive girl who posted a lot of pictures of herself, downloaded them and then, with a couple of friends, created a MySpace account. Created a name, biography, placed her in a city far away from where the real girl lived, made up likes, dislikes and interests provocative enough that they’d be what we thought of as “jackass bait.”
The friend requests rolled in, men and women. I never had a MySpace account so I had no idea “friend count” was an important thing, I naïvely thought people were friends with their, you know, friends. Nope.
Within a few days this fake person had more than 100 friends and people were posting messages on her page like, “Hey girl, thanks for being my friend.” It was easier and weirder than I thought it would be.
Then the messages started.
We made the profile bisexual to see if there was a difference between how men and women talked to someone they didn’t know. There was.
Women were very much like someone striking up a conversation with a stranger on a train. Men were like drunken frat guys walking the red light district in Amsterdam.
I’ve always been pretty quick on my feet and able to rip someone apart verbally to shut them up. That happened in these messages too.
As the unbelievably forward (to put it mildly) messages came in, my buddies and I would rip them apart, and they’d either apologize and go away or just go away. I had thoughts (and still do) of writing a book about it called “I Was An Internet Girl” because all the stories taken as a whole are hilarious, including how we actually used it quite creatively to meet women too (women trust other women, even when one isn’t real, too. And get your mind out of the gutter; it wasn’t exactly what you’re thinking).
About a month or so in we lost interest. I’d check it only occasionally, and my friends never would. What I’d thought was pretty much proven through the aggressive messages it had gotten.
But not all messages were aggressive. One time when I was checking it there was one guy who’d sent a message dripping with desperation for someone to talk to.
After a few messages it was clear he was gay, but he continually denied it. He would tell this fake person in writing things he wouldn’t confess to anyone. I wasn’t a jerk to him (I’m sure I made a few people reassess their lives with some of the mean, but funny, things I said to them in responses). I tried to help this guy become comfortable with who he was. And ultimately, he did.
It was an eye-opening experience to realize how one human being would open up to and trust another they’d never met, never spoken to on the phone and never would. How they’d do that rather than talk to someone they knew, no matter how close to them they were, either as a trail run or simply to relieve themselves of the burden of never telling anyone.
So while I, too, have difficulty believing Te’o’s story, part of me knows how it could be true. Time will tell whether it is, but to simply dismiss the possibility based on how outlandish it is would be folly. I know first-hand how trusting someone can be of a person who doesn’t exist simply because they desperately want to believe they can.
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