The weather is crazy, the flu virus is out to get everyone, Pres. Obama just unveiled his comprehensive plan to combat gun violence in the U.S., and I'm here to talk about the biggest, most controversial news of the day.
Manti Te'o, a college football player (linebacker for the University of Notre Dame) was victimized by a catfish. You can read more about it here.
Ok, I know, I should've placed quotation marks around that word, catfish. Until this morning, I thought catfish just referred to a fish, one that I enjoy eating. Apparently, now it has a new meaning, one that refers to people who scam others online, pretending to be people they are not, most often to pursue online relationships. I suspect that the choice of this aquatic creature has to do with it being a bottom feeder, which I think is not really fair as it implies that those victimized are bottom dwellers.
This particular news caught my attention because, admittedly, I'm no stranger to online relationships. I love social media, I have 'friends' online I've never met in person (mostly blogger friends), and yes, I've had a serious romantic relationship that all started online. I'm definitely not one who would tell you to refrain from online relationships, although I will tell you it demands a lot of balancing between trust and caution.
There is still some controversy surrounding this news on Manti Te'o, some accusing him of being part of the whole scam. I could be proven wrong eventually, but right now I believe that Manti is innocent. What struck me most about this headline is how the 'victim' (Manti Te'o) admitted how real his emotions are, the love he felt, the pain, and now the confusion as he tries to make sense of it all. Someone noted that the real tragedy about this is that ultimately, it is Manti's capacity to trust that was destroyed.
Betrayal does this to you. It isn't purely about having your pride or ego dented when you find out you've been lied to. It's not as simple as hating yourself for being taken for a ride, taken for a fool. It's more about questioning yourself and your capacity to assess situations and people. It's about thinking of your life's narrative, and wondering which parts of it are authentic and you can thus continue to hold on to, and which parts were lies and mere illusions. You begin to hate yourself or parts of yourself that you identify as those having been shaped by the presence of that other person in your life.
In this entire process, the bottom line is that you will witness your self, your being, crumble right before your eyes, and it's never easy to know for sure where you can get the strength to rebuild, not only your self, but your entire sense of reality.
Since virtual relationships are still fairly new, and we continue to come up with more rules and precautionary measures as we navigate the online world, is it then fair to say that being betrayed by someone virtual is 'easier' than being betrayed by someone you know in the flesh?.....easier to understand, easier to forgive, easier to justify, easier to get over?
I don't believe so. Maybe to an outsider looking in that would be the case. But to the one suffering, bear in mind that everything IS real. The absence of physicality does not make online relationships less real to people who engage in it with good intentions. To borrow from the Sociologist / Symbolic Interactionist W.I. Thomas, if a man believes a situation to be real, it is real in its consequences.
Try to bear that in mind the next time you judge someone as being naive for engaging in online relationships, or when you get tempted to say 'Get over it!' to someone who's been betrayed. It truly isn't easy and truly far from being simple...as is the case with anything that is real.
Any thoughts on betrayal are welcome. Have you ever counseled someone who's been betrayed, whether online or face-to-face? Have you been betrayed? How did you find your way towards healing?
*Photo credit: By Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons