King Catfish: My Manti Te’o Theory (And How It Could Happen To You)

Two years ago, in conjunction with VSB’s three year anniversary and the release of “Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night,” we threw a huge party in D.C. Titled “Three Deez,”, it was a mix between a book-signing event, a meet and greet, and a swinger’s ball, and 500 or so people attended, some coming from as far as Seattle and Miami.

That day was also the first time Panama and I met each other in person.

After three years of doing VSB together and six or seven years of knowing each other, we just…never met. There’s really no explanation why. I mean, only four hours separate Pittsburgh and D.C., and I’d actually been to the DMV area a few times in the year before we finally met. It just never happened.

To us, it doesn’t really seem like a big deal. I mean, of course you can start a popular blog and a business and write a book together without face-to-face interaction. We did it because, well, we just did it. Others seem to find it a bit more peculiar than we do, though. Some even think we’re making it up to cultivate some sort of mystique. But, trust me when I say that neither of us care enough about this factoid to carry on a lie this long.

Anyway, as odd as our relationship may initially seem, I don’t think it’s really all that unique. I’ve been pretty engaged with the internet for over a decade now, and in that time I’ve seen numerous people cultivate all types of relationships—friendships, partnerships, businesses—online with people they hadn’t even met in person yet. This knowledge and experience definitely helps me understand how a person could have a “girlfriend” they haven’t even met before, and for this reason I do believe that Manti Te’o was just a victim of the most high-profile case of “catfishing” ever.

(Btw, isn’t it amazingly coincidental—or not coincidental at all—that the year when the term “catfish” enters our national lexicon happens to be the same year the most talked about instance of catfishing ever also happened? This relationship began before Catfish aired, but do you think the fake “death” was at all influenced by the presence of the show?)

There are other theories floating around—he knew all along, he’s gay and the online girlfriend was a convenient beard for him—and each can be true. But, knowing what I know about internet goggles and how easy it can be for someone to cultivate real feelings for a virtual person, I think he was duped, found out about the hoax in the last few weeks, and just went along with it—hoping the truth would never get out—because it would have been too embarrassing to admit.

Now, just as it takes a certain type of person to have the type of relationship Panama and I had, it takes a certain type to fall for someone they haven’t even met. Many (if not most) people would have pushed harder for evidence that the person they were in love with actually existed. But, as we all know, sometimes it’s easier to delude ourselves, to believe in the improbable (and likely impossible) than to just admit the truth. In this sense, Manti Te’o is no different than the chick who’s had a “boyfriend” for three years but still doesn’t know where he lives or what he does for a living, or the guy who “believes” that if he just acts nice and waits his turn, the woman of his dreams will finally give him a key to break out of the friends’ zone. What happened to him has happened to many of us and could have just as easily happened to many of those who it hasn’t happened to.

Actually, nah, f*ck that. This shit is crazy, and that n*gga is nuts.

Anyway, you’ve just read my King Catfish theory. People of VSB, what are yours? What the hell do you think is really happening here?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)