The whole recent media flap about Manti Te'o's fictional girlfriend gave me a severe flashback to high school.
My boyfriends were never imaginary...but some of them were transient, for want of anything more closely descriptive. I usually dated boys from other schools, the dating pool being a bit shallow in Smalltownland in some respects. The only boy of whom I later became aware as having had any remote interest in me didn't work up the courage to ask me out until our senior year, when it was too late because I was dating someone else.
My bully was ruthless about it until a friend who knew my "foreign" boyfriend interrupted one of her little attacks and said, finger held aloft as he made his point, "He's real. I've met him. He goes to (school in our sports district)." A few weeks later, we played them in football, and after some expensive late-night long-distance telephone begging on my part, he sallied forth the sixty-plus miles for the game. I was in the band and not allowed to leave my spot in the stands, but he came down to talk to me during a break in the second half. I thought Bully was going to choke on her mouthpiece when he walked up and asked, "Which one of them thinks I'm a figment of your imagination?" A dozen accusing fingers obligingly pointed her out. He flashed a huge grin and said, "Well, I'm real. You've seen me for yourself now. I'm going back to my seat before I get her in trouble."
There was steam rolling out of her ears. She had made a big deal out of it, harping on how I couldn't get a local boy to go out with me because I was too fat, blah, blah, blah, and how pathetic I was to have made someone up. Oops. Wrong.
You'd think she would've learned on the previous guy, who went to a school slightly further away...he was a chronic cheat who dumped me because I didn't "put out". Well, no boy on Earth who demands that to keep him is worth it, and at least I had enough sense to know it. I started dating the new guy two days after the breakup. So much for mourning that "loss"... Plus, I had dated a local boy before, which ended badly my sophomore year in very public humiliation just before the Junior-Senior Prom (a boy from church took pity and asked me at the last minute). I really didn't want to suffer through it again, so it was safer to date the Unknown Quantity and quietly dispose of him out of sight of my classmates if necessary.
So, here's the thing...if you know somebody whose spouse/significant other never seems to show up/be available/et cetera and have joked that the person must be "imaginary"- well, it may very well not be the truth. People accused me of it because they couldn't believe that anyone could possibly want me...but it wasn't true. I just had to cast my net out farther to find that proverbial "other fish in the sea".
I've also been in a situation in recent years when I dated an extremely good-looking, well-educated and well-off man who treated me like dirt (for about ten seconds before I cut bait). I remember being asked, admiringly, by women and gay men alike, "Is that yours?" That wasn't too much fun either, because it begged speculation as to why he was with me, often in the negative. Sometimes you just can't win. If you can't get your mind around it, go see Parental Guidance and watch the baseball game proposal at the beginning. Yep, she sure has a great...personality. Wocka, wocka, wocka.
I have a lot of sympathy for this Te'o. For whatever reason, he didn't have the ideal real woman everybody thought he should; who knows, maybe he likes women who wouldn't be "cool" by his friends' standards? Maybe he can't find anyone who's a good match for his values and interests. There are a lot of reasons. I don't think he should have fabricated a woman altogether, but he did it to keep from being shamed by his peers as being somehow 'defective'. In my heart of hearts, I understand. I just hope that he can find somebody nice to date now in spite of this brouhaha.