The Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax has spawned a raft of parodies, spoofs, and articles that tease out both the oddity of having a girlfriend you’ve never seen or been with to the absolute normalcy of meeting, knowing, even marrying people we hardly know (think of Indian arranged marriages, war brides, wartime romances, leap of faith “friend of a friend” relationships; yenta-inspired relationships).
Frank Bruni, a columnist for the NY Times, has written one of the more insightful pieces in the wake of the Te’o tempest and referenes the Philadelphia-based “End of Courtship” piece by quoting Temple University historian Beth Bailey that letters, just ink on paper, were considered “an essential way to get to know people,” in the 19th century to the point where self-help books offered “phrases for how to communicate your true self.” An update for social media would net a gold mine, I think.
The point is we are all configuring and reconfiguring ourselves in everyday life as we present ourselves in our various roles and relationships. We act one way with our friends and peers, another with our parents, another in romantic encounters, another in the workplace, and myriads more. Erving Goffman, the noted sociologist, wrote a groundbreaking and still-relevant book on the diversity of masks, personalities, behaviors, and expressions we use as we navigate amongst our many selves by ourselves and in groups. It’s called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and we will be discussing it and social media in upcoming classes.
That doesn’t beg the question as to who we are and what our “true selves” are, though. Social media is not going to resolve that issue any more than speed dating, blind dates, dating services, or more old fashioned ways of getting together.
As Bruni concludes in his timely piece (both for us and Te’o followers) getting together, for the short or the long haul, “is a wager, because people have hidden layers, hidden intentions…Not knowing what’s in store is the very soul of romance: what makes it so scary, and what makes it so thrilling,” Te’o notwithstanding. Microsoft used to have a slogan, “Where do you want to go today?” Facebook might just as easily have as theirs, “Who do you want to be today?”
Here’s Bruni’s piece in full: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/opinion/bruni-manti-and-the-mating-game.html?ref=opinion