Fictions We Tell
January 18, 2013

What's real here and what's not? Eric Hansen asks regarding the Manti Te'o about the hoax or scam regarding his girlfriend.

I'm not really sure why it's national news that a college football star might have manufactured a girlfriend story and then manufactured her death. Or maybe he was scammed into it.

I'm not really sure why whether or not Mark McGwire, Jose Conseco, Alex Rodriguez used steroids to achieve great things in baseball is news. Or why it's news that Lance Armstrong doped, but Armstrong's and Te'o's stories have hit at the same time and it seems that everyone is talking about it.


We are none of us perfect and yet we are often pushed hard to be perfect. And the more you are in the bright hot spotlight of celebrity in this country, the more you are expected to be perfect and the more scrutinized your life becomes.

Why would Te'o manufacture a girlfriend? Maybe because at Notre Dame it's expected that a football player has at least one girl. Maybe he wasn't ready for a girlfriend and simply started saying he had a girl back home. But then people want details. And you either keep the lie going or say you broke up. And when you're getting ready to be under more scrutiny for going into the NFL ... well, you have to end it because eventually someone is going to figure out she doesn't exist. Your grandmother just died of cancer and in the heat of an interview where you're already sad and not at your best, you blurt out that the fictitious girl also died. You've gotten out of the innocent little white lie that got you through school. It's all good now, right?

This is completely a made-up story on my part. I'm not saying this is what went through Te'o's mind or that this is what happened. I'm trying to show how something innocent turns into a trap. I'm trying to show how easily we let ourselves be trapped by caring too much what others think of us. (And having been to ND for grad school and then teaching there for 9 years, I can tell you, there is an INTENSE pressure to fit in at that school. There's not much room for people who are different in any way.)

Now. Another totally made-up story.

You're the kid of a single mom. Pretty good kid, but you've got a lot of time on your hands. You live in the 'burbs where you're looked down on because you don't have a ton of money. Damn yuppie kids always better than everyone else. You start racing your bike and doing well. Suddenly you're special. You work harder.

Grow to adulthood, now riding that bike for a living. You're good, but you're one of the pack. Your determination and hard work only takes you so far. But you have to prove yourself.

And then you get cancer. A really serious cancer with low survival rates. And as if that weren't enough, it's the kind of cancer that eats at your identity. You screw up everything you've learned about hard work and determination and NOT giving in ... and you kick that cancer squarely in the ass.

And you're determined to kick that damned race that you were all right at as well. There's got to be a way to get that licked as well. After all, you've just kicked cancer. You can do this if you work.

You just need a little help.

Again with the traps we walk ourselves into. And if you've walked into those traps because you want to prove yourself or fit in somehow ... you are so, so trapped. Because to admit that you lied or cheated or were wrong is to admit that you don't fit in. That you're not part of that group. And no matter how strongly you deny wanting to be one of the fellas ... everyone suddenly knows that's all you ever wanted.

You're exposed.

You're vulnerable.

And you're outcast.

It's no good saying, "Oh, well, I would never do that." You're not in the same position those people were with the same baggage and the same pressures.

Believe me, I'm not saying the people in my made-up scenarios made the right choices. But I'm calling the rest of us out on this public anger and shaming of people who have proven they are only human.

Who are we to be angry at someone so broken or scared that they continued lying for 10 years, building themselves a fictional life to show just how innocent and "one of the regular folk" they were?

It's a fiction we tell ourselves that we don't do the exact same damn thing. We may not take it to the same levels, length of time, but most people have some skeleton in the closet they've perpetuated.

We tell ourselves when we leave the house in the morning that our house and our stuff is secure. It's a fiction we tell ourselves because we must. But we know, at the very same time, that windows are vulnerable, doors can be kicked in ... planes can fall from the sky and open up us.

But we also cannot live in constant fear. It's a fiction we tell ourselves in order to keep moving. That's okay and in fact, I think it's necessary to live a healthy life.

These folks in my made-up stories simply took the fictions they told themselves ... and us ... to a different level.

They may have lacked integrity in our eyes. But it was a fiction they needed.

And who are we to cast stones?

They are only human. We are fallible.

Let it go.

Posted by Red Monkey at January 18, 2013 6:47 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Cyndy said:

I agree.
We are so quick to judge.
As if we haven't already had our own struggles; as if we have NO skeletons in our own closets. We ALL do.
I would never, ever want to be famous in any way shape or form. I couldn't live my life in a fishbowl.

January 19, 2013 5:37 PM
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