I married into a Notre Dame family (go figure: my husband is Jewish) so of course the conversation all week has been whether or not Manti T'eo is an idiot or worse-- a fraud. Even Hubby thinks he's "immature" for being taken in, or possibly for considering the relationship valid, but I don't concur.
Case in point, January, 2003: after one abortive attempt to adopt, we receive a picture of the most beautiful, angelic, amazing newborn boy anyone could wish for. His name was Rene Ottonial. They called him "Otto" and at the time we were addicted to a cartoon called "Rocket Time" and nicknamed him "Rocket Boy" after one of the characters (Otto Rocket). I pasted little Otto's picture everywhere. I showed it to whoever would look. I built a future up in my mind where I was his mother, and I watched him grow up into a man. I loved him. He was mine, as assuredly as any biological child. Yet I had never held him in my arms, listened to him babble, or even looked at him with my own eyes.
And then he died.
Let me tell you, folks: grief is real. He was my son, and he died. I felt as if I would never be happy again. I questioned whether I even wanted to be a mother. I wanted to crawl into a corner and die, myself. And I'd never met him.
Manti T'eo never met "Lennay," but she was his, and he lost her. His love was real and his grief was real. His belief in the relationship wasn't "immature" or "gullible." He asked for proof and "she" gave it to him: long phone calls, rather than walks in the park; personalized pictures rather than video chat. She made herself real to him. He wasn't an idiot to love her.
In fact, he was even less of an idiot than I was for loving my "son." How many of us spend long, uninterrupted hours with those we're dating, without distraction? Those phone calls were more "personal" than a movie date, more intimate than watching television together. How many of us spend time with our significant others without an excuse? Something to keep us involved, if we're bored with one another? Dinner, movie, a walk, a state fair... anything, as long as we have something to do if the conversation peters out? Manti T'eo spent more personal time with "Lennay" than most of us ever do with our partners.
He's not an idiot. He's not immature for falling in love with her or considering her his girlfriend (I was 31 when I fell in love with a little boy and called him my son), he's not gullible (he asked her for proof), he's not a liar (his grief over losing her was real, even if later he knew she wasn't dead, what he went through was what anyone goes through in that situation). He made a misjudgment, choosing to keep silent about his personal embarrassment even though he made his personal tragedy public, that is all. That is not a crime. So, what is he?
He's a young man who loved not wisely, but well. End scene. Exit Manti T'eo, stage right, quietly humbled.