Virginia Tech students may be inventing the future, but when it comes to relationships and dating, they still prefer the old-fashioned way.
Responses from Tech students to a survey in person and online last week revealed that despite recent media hype surrounding “catfishing” and online dating on college campuses, participants do not seek relationships online and most would not consider an online-only relationship “real.”
Media scrutiny focused on the alleged trend after it was revealed in January by Deadspin, the sports site that exposed the truth behind the heart-wrenching story concerning the death of celebrated Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend Lennay Kekua.
In response, Te’o revealed that the relationship had taken place solely online and through phone calls — he had lied about meeting Kekua in person. He claimed to be the unknowing victim of an elaborate Internet hoax, catalyzing national interest in perceived changes in dating habits and attitudes among younger generations.
The Manti Te’o story continues to develop since Deadspin first published its report on Jan. 16. In the article, it was revealed that despite garnering a front-page feature in Sports Illustrated and coverage from major news outlets, the tragic story of Te’o’s girlfriend could not be confirmed.
The Notre Dame linebacker’s saga first captivated college sports fans and the nation last fall. Te’o — after learning that his grandmother and his girlfriend had both died on the same day — went on to lead the Fighting Irish to an improbable undefeated season and a berth in college football’s championship game. He finished Heisman balloting in second place — he could have been the first defense-only player to win the coveted award. While his grandmother did pass away, Deadspin found that Kekua had never existed.
Speculation swirled, but during the past week, new facts surfaced to suggest that Te’o was not involved in the hoax. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted to "Dr. Phil" McGraw on his talk show to creating the fictional Kekua so he could live out homosexual fantasies he claimed were brought on by sexual abuse as a child. He referred to himself as “recovering” from homosexuality, which he compared to a drug addiction. Forensic experts confirmed that the voice Te’o heard during his frequent phone calls with Kekua was in fact Tuiasosopo impersonating a woman.
McGraw concluded that Te'o had been unaware. By maintaining the online-only relationship, he made himself a perfect target for such a ruse.
“Catfishing” and the new Normal
In the wake of the controversy, many began to speculate if relationships on social networking websites or online dating services were the new norm for college students.
During a Jan. 16 press conference about the incident, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick referenced specifically the documentary-turned-MTV-series Catfish — about online dating hoaxes — and strongly implied that Te’o’s online relationship was part of youth culture more broadly.
Many seem to agree with Swarbrick that online dating represents a new and common trend, especially for younger people. In a recent letter to the editor of the South Bend Tribune, an outlet that helped break the original Te'o story that serves the Notre Dame area, a writer referred to online dating as one of "the realities of the 21st century."
It seems to make sense — college students are often pressed for time and money to spend on real dates. They are often more tech-savvy than their older counterparts. The generational gap could explain changing ideas about what dating, relationships and love entail. But do Tech students view online dating in this way?