In case you missed it (and if you did, you live in a cave) Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o recently got himself in a whole lot of hot water after he got a lot of sympathy and attention by announcing that his girlfriend had died. When reporters discovered that the girlfriend had never existed, Te'o claimed he'd been "catfished" and that the girl was someone he'd met and fallen in love with, without ever actually seeing her in person.
Catfishing is a relatively new term, and basically it means creating a fake online personality in order to fool someone you're attracted to into liking you. (Before the Internet, the phenomenon of pretending to be something you're not to win somebody's heart was simply known as "dating.") According to news reports, which have jumped on this story, it's happening more and more. The State Department has even issued tips for online dating so you don't get caught in a sweetheart scam.
A big part of this phenomenon is that more and more these days, people are meeting over the Internet. Recent studies show that somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of couples who get married today actually met online. This is a very disturbing trend and goes against nature. Over hundreds of thousands of years, nature has developed a very efficient breeding system: You mate with someone you find physically attractive. Most often, that results in a strengthening of the species. It's nature's way of weeding out the ugly. People with, let's say, weak chins are attracted to people with chins that are too big. You want to have children with someone who has the qualities you think you personally lack.
I was first attracted to my wife at a college frat party because she had a great smile and hair. Some part of my genetic makeup knew that I had a rapidly receding hairline and tiny teeth that would be more appropriate on a doll than a full-grown man. I desperately needed to find a mate who could counteract those traits, or I would have tiny-toothed, bald children. (If you want proof of this phenomenon, look at your spouse, then go look in the mirror. Bet you look nothing alike.)
Internet dating, however, is based on solely on shared interests, and that's where the problem arises. People who spend a lot of time on the Internet usually end up spending way too much time on one particular thing. You may have an obsessive interest in something like Harry Potter, or possibly Star Trek.
If you followed Mother Nature's time-honored tradition, you are unlikely to meet someone with the same weird, obsessive interest, and your obsessive interest in that subject will be curbed when your new girlfriend tells you have to choose between her and your Griffindor sweater. The mating process will dilute your own weirdness, and you will end up with children who only have a mild interest in learning fake spells or becoming fluent in Klingon dialect.
If two Potterheads or Trekkies get together, however, their children are basically doomed by genetics. They will be so quirky and weird that they will have no choice but to marry another weirdo, creating a whole subspecies of ubernerds.
The one exception to this rule is, as everybody knows, those people who like to go to conventions where they dress up as furry animals. Those folks have to interbreed because no non-furry would have them. If they reveal their furvent interests to non-furrys on a first date, they will fake an illness, ignore calls and warn their friends. And if they wait, say, until after marriage, their spouses will probably put arsenic in their puppy chow, and no jury would convict them.
The other big problem is that people aren't themselves on the Internet. Most spend at least a few minutes trying to come up with the funniest or most touching or most interesting thing they can say before they start typing on Facebook. And nobody puts an unflattering picture of themselves up, either. Whatever picture you're seeing, it's one that made somebody stop for a moment, say, "I look gooood!" and hit upload.
So Te'o isn't just a victim of catfishing, he's a casualty of our times. You can order a pizza, watch a movie and buy flowers over the Internet. I guess the next logical step is doing all your dating on the Web as well.
All over this country, people who have similar interests are dating, marrying and reproducing based on similar Web interests but without any thought to genetics. It took more than 100 years, but computer science has overtaken evolutionary science.
In just a few generations, things are going to be pretty weird around here. Also, it's gonna get ugly.
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.