In what must be the most jaw-dropping sports story to emerge in a week of jaw-dropping sports stories (hello, OprahLance!), it emerges that star Notre Dame footballer Manti Te’o had a girlfriend who never existed. That would not be much of a tale—who hasn’t had at least one fake dalliance?— except that Te’o, a probable first round pick in the NFL draft in April, became famous when his grandmother and that girlfriend were said to have died in the same 24 hour period in September and he still went out and left nothing on the field for the fighting Irish.
“Love is a powerful mental state that has different manifestations, such as euphoria, loss of appetite, hyperactivity, delay of the onset of fatigue and loss of self-control,” says Stephanie Cacioppo, an associate professor at the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. “People who are in love with love rather than with the person would read their [online] messages as they want them to be, rather than as they really are.” In other words, love may not be blind, but it can lose perspective.
In some ways, the fact that the relationship played out entirely in the digital realm makes falling in love —or at least believing you’re in love—more likely. “Humans have an innate sincerity detector,” says Barbara L. Frederickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and author of the soon to be released book Love 2.0, “but only if we make eye contact.” Our brains and bodies detect authenticity by simulating what’s going on in the other person’s face and posture. When they cannot do this, communication can easily be misunderstood. The connections can feel very real, when in fact, they’re not.