As my wife and I sit here watching Catfish, one of our new favorite shows on MTV, I can't help but wonder a few things. First, how do these people fall in love over the internet with someone they've never met? Second, why does everyone complain that MTV doesn't show music videos anymore? Doesn't anyone remember those things? They weren't very good and this reality stuff is way better. On this particular show, the host finds people involved in these internet relationships who have never met face-to-face and arranges for them to finally meet in real life. Inevitably, one of them is always keeping some huge secret that will no doubt ruin the relationship once it's brought into the open. And the other person is so laughably naive and desperate that they don't see the obvious truth about their bogus relationship even though it's annoyingly clear to everyone on the outside looking in.
It's hard to believe that something like this could ever happen to a star athlete, especially one the caliber of Manti Ta'o. Manti's story dominated headlines when the world first learned that he lost his grandmother and his girlfriend on the same day. But after that story helped keep Manti and Notre Dame in the national spotlight all season, even landing him a seat at the Heisman Award Ceremony, we found out it wasn't real. At least the girlfriend part wasn't, the grandma part seems to check out. After this most recent revelation the sports universe immediately took sides. Some believed that Manti was duped into a phony relationship by someone online posing as someone they're not. Others believed that Manti was in on the whole thing and proceeded to make countless jokes on social media sites that were only semi-funny at best.
Whichever side you're on, you have to understand that things are drastically different for the younger generation than they've ever been before. In the last ten years the world of social media has taken over. You ask "How can you love someone that you've never met in real life?" But for young people today, the internet IS real life. Texting and direct messaging accounts for 99% of their interactions with each other. It's hard to understand because it's not how you grew up, it's not how you met your spouse. But the fact is that online relationships are extremely prevalent in our society, some real and some not. And it's not hard to believe that a college athlete was involved in one. We're at a point where college kids have spent most of their lives online. They can't remember a time when the internet wasn't a way of life. College athletes aren't any different just because they're athletes. So what if Manti's telling the truth? What if he really suffered through the death of his girlfriend on an emotional level, then found out it was all a lie? And now he can't turn on a radio or the TV. without hearing about it over and over, isn't that pretty heavy for a 22 year old? Are the jokes still as funny?
The only thing anyone can take from this is that we all need to be careful. Every episode of Catfish ends similarly. Sometimes the two people develop a friendship and sometimes they don't, but they never find love. So young people need to be careful about putting their trust into a computer screen, because you never really know what's on the other end. And the rest of us need to be careful about how quick we rush to judgment of younger people. Remember, it's a different world now. And just as the generations ahead of you didn't understand your bell bottoms or horrible music taste, you'll never fully understand this generation's skinny jeans, horrible music taste, or online relationships. But just because you don't get understand them doesn't make them not real. Except sometimes...when they aren't real.