He was 23. He was a professional baseball player. He was a cool, good looking guy. He could've gotten almost any girl.
Instead, he had an imaginary, online girlfriend.
A few years back, while still kicking around the minors, a buddy from another team told me a story. Although a terrific story, I'd forgotten about it until the tide of Twitterverse nearly swept me out to sea with a tall-Te'o tale. From this Te'o swell, it all came rushing back to me. I went back to my journal from that year (yes, I'm that big of a nerd), and this is what I read.
The player met a girl online. The pictures showed a gorgeous girl with a smokin' body. He began chatting with her regularly. Before long, they were talking on the phone.
A few weeks later, he began asking her to come to a game. She kept declining. Finally, she said she would come. She never showed.
He called her after the game. "I got tied up at work," she said.
A couple weeks later, the player had an off day. He attempted to visit her in the City. She was going to meet him when he got off the train. He got off the train. He waited. And waited. And waited. He called. And called. And called.
Finally, she answered: "My grandma is sick. I can't meet you."
He became obsessed with this girl. Pictures were texted to him. He texted pictures back. They talked on the phone for an hour each night.
A month later, he talked her into coming to another game. She never showed. Again, she couldn't escape work.
He kept talking to her each night. His friends on the team--already suspicious--began asking him questions. He told them not to worry about it.
He began distancing himself from these teammates. He had been one of the cool guys. He went out with teammates, played cards, and played video games. Now he just talked on the phone every night.
The offseason came, and most teammates thought the "relationship" would end. But spring training arrived, and there the player was, talking to the girl each night.
By the time I heard the story, a year had passed. The two had never met, but they talked to each other every night. She was still his girlfriend. And he had no other girlfriends and wasn't looking. He wasn't happy, but he couldn't escape.
What does this mean? Even the best of us occasionally have trouble separating the real from the surreal. Some have more difficulty than others.
Take a person susceptible to this and remove them from their family--their support group. Put them in a dream world, in which they're either chasing a boyhood dream in the minor leagues or living a dream by playing college football at the highest level. Fans ask for autographs. Kids yell their name.
The separation between real and unreal becomes blurry.
Suddenly they meet a girl online. They go down the path, as many have done, and they like the path initially. But it begins to spin out of control. They become suspicious no doubt. But they've already gone down the path, and they're too embarrassed to fix things. And they like talking to this person.
So they keep following the path, to nowhere . . .