Learning A Lesson From Manti Te’o’s Fake Girlfriend


Photography by: McClatchy-Tribune/Getty

Most likely you’ve heard the news of college football player Manti Te’o and the hoax involving his online girlfriend. Te’o, a linebacker for Notre Dame, reported several months ago that his girlfriend and grandmother had died within hours of each other. The girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, a 22-year-old Stanford University student, died of leukemia.

This heartbreaking interest story was covered by multiple news outlets, until the sports website, Deadspin, published a piece raising questions about the existence of Te’o’s girlfriend.

According to Deadspin, “Manti Te’o and Lennay Kekua did not meet at Stanford in 2009. The real beginning of their relationship apparently occurred on Twitter.”

This breaking-news story had people further questioning whether Te’o himself had orchestrated the lie to gain publicity?

In a Notre Dame athletics news conference, director Jack Swarbrick swore Teo’s innocence saying there was no way Te’o knew his girlfriend was hoax because the relationship was conducted strictly online and on the phone. 

Huh? How can you call someone your girlfriend, when you’ve never met?

Te’o tried to clear things up by explaining that he lied to his father about meeting Kekua because he was embarrassed to tell his family he was in love with a woman he’d never met.

“I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet,” he told ESPN. “And that alone, people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her as well.”

So this begs the question, why would you invest yourself in a relationship, for nearly a year, with a woman you’ve never met?

Deadspin revealed that there were no records of Lennay Kekua’s death, in fact, there were no records of her ever existing. 

When this story broke Te’o released a statement:

“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. … In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. …”

Whether we believe Te’o’s story or not, this just proves that relationships are not meant to be developed solely over the internet. Online dating sites serve as a tool for helping members meet their match, but the website is, in fact, just a tool. It should be common sense that any serious relationship is meant to develop in real life. 

If you’ve had regular communication with a person and things seem to be headed on the right track, then you should invite them to continue the conversation with a phone call.

We can learn from Te’o’s mistake, that you shouldn’t let the phone calls and emails go on too long before meeting. One can give away one’s heart through all the phone calls and emails, but then end up disappointed if there is no attraction at the first face-to-face meeting … or to find out that the person doesn’t even exist.

Learn the best practices of using an online dating service by downloading our FREE Online Dating Guide For Catholics.  



  1. Joanne-32108 January 23, 2013 Reply

    Even in the non-cyber world there are folks that can be NOT the genuine article. I know two ladies who were “engaged” to people that were either using an alias and hiring actors as family members, and also another who was irresponsible and doing drugs and alcohol instead of what they said they did. My own spouse was mentally ill and for many months pretended to go to work each day while draining our savings to pay all the bills. BE CAREFUL.

  2. Benjamin-936851 January 23, 2013 Reply

    (Just kidding …)

  3. Benjamin-936851 January 22, 2013 Reply

    I don’t exist at all.

  4. Lucia-551179 January 21, 2013 Reply

    It’s so easy to get complacent in the internet universe! Things we would never find acceptable in the real world are acceptable online. I went through my own version of this here with someone who did exist and honestly was not in my criteria of things I look for. I spun my wheels for a while despite his attempts to show who he was. It took a lot of work to get through the disappointment of seeing reality for what it is. The biggest lesson I took is that if someone I was interested in talks the talk, I had to make sure they walk the walk! A lesson learned from internet dating!

  5. Steve-111719 January 21, 2013 Reply

    I happened to catch that “Catfish” show before this whole situation happened and feel terrible for anyone who gets caught up in an online lie like that. I’m glad that MTV has finally put a piece of quality programming on their network. I believe that online daters should watch that show at least once to see how something like that can happen to anyone (even a star football player) if they’re not overly careful. I agree that we should all strive to meet someone we are interested in as soon as it is practical. After all, you can find out so much more about a person face-to-face than you learn even by speaking on the phone. Also, we may find that the person is not what we thought or that there is no spark. I pray that Te’o’s bad experience will open people’s eyes to this phenomenon.

  6. Laura-56149 January 21, 2013 Reply

    I have been on this site for some time and have seen women get very involved with someone they have never met. I have a dear friend that fell in love through phone calls and wasted many years on an “allusion”. They lived some distance away so she let it go on and on. When they finally did meet he wasn’t the man she had dreamed he was. Please don’t let this happen to you. Unfortunately the emotions and pain you feel are what is real in the whole situation. If someone claims they are interested than you need to meet right away. That is the only way you know if it is real or not.

  7. Maria-759929 January 21, 2013 Reply

    I feel bad for Te’O b/c it is kind of a sad situation (assuming he was duped) and his humiliation and exposure is so public. I agree with what the article above says — there is no “real” relationship unless you meet the other person, face to face, and mutually decide to spend time together, in person, and see if you are compatible and to see if a REAL relationship can develop. People can pretend to by anything and anyone they want to be when they are on-line and protected by anonymity. I, personally, am not comfortable to get “deeply” involved with anyone I have not met in person. It’s just not real . . . I hope that Te-O was not involved in the hoax, b/c it would be even more sad and pathetic if he was. I think that the comments by Robert and Jeff, above are interesting. Lonely and shy people can be very vulnerable. Te’O’s situation IS a lot like the one in the movie “Catfish”. Anyone meeting new people on-line could learn a lot be renting that movie. It is based on a true story..

  8. Jeff-775863 January 21, 2013 Reply

    Yeah I would like to say that I believe this man. I hope he keeps his head up and learns quick. This happens to many people that are hopeless romantics like me. I’ve also seen that TV show on MTV called “Catfish” that shows many people that experience these same situations. He did admit to lying after finding out. I’m sure he did it out of fear and embarrassment of the truth. He did eventually tell his parents and then coaches.

  9. Robert-834944 January 21, 2013 Reply

    I have actually had a couple of friends who had “relationships” with people they never met online. I can’t really speak for any of these situations, but I would think that part of it these guys just want to be able to say they have a girlfriend in front of their peers (regardless if they’ve met her or not) so that they don’t look like “losers”. That said, they may not be entirely serious about the relationship since it only functions as a social tool amongst family and friends. Think about it, perhaps his peers want to set him up with a girl that he really doesn’t want to date. He can fall back on saying he has a “girlfriend” he never met. Or he may have some other reason for wanting to say he has a “girlfriend”. Now I can’t say that’s what was happening with Te’o, but I can accept that part of his story. As to whether he was in on the hoax from the beginning or at some point during the press coverage, only God and Te’o know at this point.

  10. Lois-765906 January 21, 2013 Reply

    Actually, I am very grateful for this article. Thanks for writing it. I have had several on line encounters where I now wonder if the guy actually was real or instead might have been something along the lines of what Te’O experienced. How sad that this is how some people operate. But, it is a lesson learned to be very careful while trying to cultivate a genuine relationship online. Thank you!

  11. Jude-76391 January 20, 2013 Reply

    That guy, needs some psychotherap, honestly! I amvhighly unimpressed with him. To Te’O: Keep weaving the lies!

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