Matei Te’o: A Lover For Our Time

Share This Article

Forget the hoax, forget Notre Dame, forget college football.

What I notice is that this guy was in love with someone he never met, devastated by her supposed death, and everybody thinks that’s perfectly reasonable.

Get out the horse and buggy and ‘scuse me if I sound like an old curmudgeon, but this is one of the problems with today’s young people: high school and college kids don’t date. Many don’t actually date in their 20s, either. Instead, they show up at clubs. They hope they run into someone at a party. They don’t make plans. They tweet “Hey, ‘sup?” on Saturday night and wait for a tweet from someone, somewhere.

In short, they don’t look forward to being alone together. This is developmentally reasonable—for 10-year-olds.

According to the New York Times, many students and young adults have never been on a conventional date. They haven’t experienced the excitement, the disappointment, the longing, the courage, the insecurity, the loneliness, or the triumph of connection that late-20th-century courtship customs (imperfect as they are) require or bring. Young people are thus deprived of the growth such experiences offer.

It appears that many young men and women don’t entirely recognize each other as fellow beings. They’re just not that curious about each other, and so they don’t see face-to-face, personal communication as a wonderful opportunity. Rather than being a familiar, foundational activity, face-to-face talking is an intrusion into what really matters—checking your iPhone.

And that’s what I’m here to complain about: we’ve stopped teaching our children how to communicate face-to-face with other human beings. We take children too young to have fully learned how to participate in relationships, give them the most advanced technology for impersonal, asynchronous “communication” in the history of the world, and let them use these devices at the dinner table, while being driven to school, and any other time they have to interface with adults—people who might actually help them learn something about relationships. And kids naturally use them with each other, too—an average of 93 times per day.

What happens? When the time comes, they have little idea how to date, court, or create one-on-one, face-to-face relationships. They haven’t learned how to ask a real person real questions—watching that person’s face as they listen to the answer. They’ve never experienced the risk of reaching out to take someone’s hand—and watched that person’s face as they agreed or declined.

If we don’t teach children to relate, don’t demand that they engage, and give them the means for endless solitary entertainment, they cannot and will not learn to relate in a deep way.

For dozens of centuries, people have had their marriages arranged for them, and they’ve managed just fine. But they never thought they were in love, and they weren’t pursuing the grail of “intimacy,” which people today claim they desire. In contrast, today’s young people (eventually) want to fall in love, and say they (eventually) want intimacy. You need to skills for that. And today’s young people simply aren’t learning those skills. It’s easy to have sex. It’s way harder to have a relationship in which you have sex.

Now don’t blame porn. While it’s true that some men expect women to be porn stars, and some women are trying to compete with porn actresses, that’s not the point. If porn now provides a template for the non-relationships that young men (and increasingly young women) value, we have to ask why such a template looks attractive. The answer is that they have nothing more intimate to compare it to. Young people aren’t learning to embrace anyone—because they’re not learning to want to embrace anyone.

So moms and dads, don’t give your kids smartphones and unlimited digital access until they’re at least 40 years old.

OK, here’s Plan B: demand that your kids learn how to interact with actual people. I’m afraid you’ll have to be some of those actual people. Those phones your kids use are your phones, not theirs, so establish phone-free hours in their lives (including between bed-time and breakfast, when millions of childhood text messages are exchanged).

Was Manti Te’o in on the live/dead girlfriend hoax? I honestly don’t care. But we’re all participating in a much crueler swindle—depriving our kids of the need to see the human face, hear the human voice, and sense the human heart while communicating. That has to be part of learning to love an actual human.


Share This Article

Previous Post
Next Post