Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the young football player from Notre Dame who has now divulged that he had been duped by an online relationship for some three years. According to the latest version of the story, he never actually met this young lady who was supposed to be his girlfriend but had a torrid love affair with her through cyberspace. She is supposed to have died of leukemia and he used that tragedy to make himself a better player. Some have opined that he really used this story for publicity and to make his stock go up in the Heisman Trophy selection. Whatever.

This column will try to deal with the idea of online relationships of any kind. In listening to the “experts,” we are being told that today’s youngsters develop friendships and even love relationships with people they have never actually met. We are being led to believe that social media has replaced actual face-to-face meetings and that it is becoming more commonplace.

Well pardon my skepticism. Perhaps it is my age or the fact that I am a father and a grandfather, but I don’t believe anything I hear and only about half of what I see. How many times have you heard about the young girl who develops a relationship with some 15-year-old boy online only to find out that he is actually a fifty year old child molester? But Grandpa, my grandchildren have said to me, I have seen their actual picture online. Well guess what, so did this young football player. The problem of course is that the picture he saw was lifted from some stranger’s Facebook page and the girl in the picture apparently knew nothing of any of this.

Today, because of my blog and my newspaper columns, I have developed many long distant acquaintances. In most of these cases I have never actually met these people face to face. They are generally friendly to me. They often say nice things and sometimes they have disagreements with what I write. Are they my friends? Do we have a relationship? Maybe my idea of what a relationship is and what the kids of today think a relationship is are quite different.

I am pleased that people have responded to my writings. I am also pleased that we often call each other friends. Some truly are close and personal. Some, however, are cyber friends. We probably will never meet. That’s okay with me. I don’t plan on loaning any of them money or trying to borrow any either. My hope is that they will continue to read these columns and respond when they wish. I also hope they will be friendly, but at the same time also feel free to criticize.

When I was a very young boy I was given a wallet. In the picture section was a photo of a famous movie star. For quite some time I carried that wallet with the picture of the star. I made sure to show the picture as often as possible as if the lady in the picture was somehow acquainted with me. I am pretty sure I didn’t trick anybody. Maybe it’s just me. In those days possibly that was what passed as an online love affair.

There is a clear lesson here. Fantasy is fine but only if it is recognized as fantasy. Love relationships can only develop when you actually meet. In the cold light of day, imperfect fantasy disappears and perfect reality takes its place. And that’s as it should be.

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