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Earlier this week, against all my good judgment, I set my DVR to record Katie. What’s Katie, you ask? Why, it’s Katie Couric’s boring, uneventful, did-i-mention-boring syndicated talk show! In my defense, the only reason I planned to watch it was to follow up on my blog about the crazy circumstances surrounding the Manti Te’o story. It was all in the name of journalistic integrity! (Something 99 percent of reporters of this story severely lacked, I might add.)

Katie Couric and Manti Te'oDid anyone else watch the interview? It was a bit strange. Manti seemed genuinely hurt and confused by the whole fiasco. But I was left wondering: How could anyone be so naive? Katie even played a few voicemail messages left from “Lennay” — the fictitious girlfriend — and it was revealed they were actually left by a man. How creepy is that? It seemed evident that Manti’s publicist trained him well. Every time a question was difficult to answer, he reverted back to talking about his parents and how important they are to him. The interview left me wanting more answers. But it also left me believing that Manti was the victim of a hoax, who then was so embarrassed by it that he continued to perpetuate the lie even after he knew the truth.

This crazy story got me thinking about imaginary girlfriends and imaginary boyfriends. It got me thinking about how some of us may have these very ghosts in our lives right now… without even knowing it. Oh, dear — I can hear you laughing right now through the computer screen:

“Ruth, get real! I would never be tricked into having an imaginary girlfriend,” one male reader says.

And a female reader adds: “Ruth, you’re crazy if you think an imaginary boyfriend would ever appeal to me. I’m not that needy!”

Touché, friends. But let me start by confessing something to you — something embarrassing and enlightening at the same time.

I, Ruth Rutherford, have had an imaginary boyfriend in the past.

Actually, now that I think about it, I do believe I’ve had two.

“What?” my readers collectively exclaim. “How can that be? You are so wise and level-headed? How could you fall for such a hoax?”

Give me a couple hundred words to explain.

You see, I too have been the victim of imaginary boyfriend hoaxes. But my story is slightly different than Manti’s. It was of my own making. It was perpetuated by my desire to have a boyfriend — to be loved, to offer love. And in both instances it all started out as friendship.

My imaginary boyfriends evolved from really good guy friends. I slowly started hanging out with them more and more, becoming their “right hand woman,” their go-to speed dial whenever they wanted to hang out, go grocery shopping, run errands, grab coffee. It resulted in lots of one-on-one time, lots of arriving to parties together, lots of hanging out with each other’s friends. And naturally, my mindset began to change.

I started to treat these guys as if they were actually my boyfriends, even though nothing romantic had ever happened between us. I started to take care of them in ways that should be reserved for relationships. I crossed little lines all the time, taking me further and further away from the platonic — but only in my mind (and my heart).

I’d pick up his dry cleaning.

I’d call his mom on her birthday.

I’d bring over chicken noodle soup when he was sick, and then quickly clean up the apartment, because “that’s what friends do.”

I’d link arms with him while walking around town, because it felt right (but perhaps because it felt right to have others see us and think, What a cute couple.)

I’d give him advice on how to deal with girls he was interested in, all the while feeling jealous that he was cheating on me.

I’d do all these things under some delusional hope that one day something would click in his mind and he’d think, “Oh, wow. How did I not notice this before? Ruth is gorgeous… and smart… and kind… and funny… and I love her.”

What was wrong with me?

Just WrightIn the end, these friendships never morphed into anything romantic. I came to the abrupt realization that I am not a character in a romantic comedy — I am not Jenna Rink or Sally Albright or Leslie Wright. My romantic life isn’t a perfectly scripted sequence of hilarious events, eventually leading to that long-awaited kiss at the end of the film.

But sometimes I act like it is.

And what does that get me? Where does it leave me? Usually with a lot of time wasted that I’ll never get back. Months and months spent pining after a friend, treating him like a boyfriend. All the while I could have been dating men that might actually have been interested in me. Now that’s time I’ll never get back.

So, yeah, I’ve had imaginary boyfriends. And typing this right now, I’m starting to feel the embarrassment that Manti Te’o was talking about. Wow. This is awkward.

I doubt anyone reading has been involved in an elaborate hoax that caused you to fall in love with someone that literally does not exist. I do wonder, though, if anyone has ever been in the same boat as me — letting your emotions get the best of you while having an imaginary relationship with someone who’s just your friend.

At one point during the Manti Te’o interview, he confessed, ““What I went through was real. The feelings, the pain, the sorrow, that was all real.” Sometimes we can convince ourselves that something is real, even when it’s clearly not. On that point, Manti, I truly empathize.

~Ruth