In an article published on TIME Health & Family, the science behind falling in love online is examined after the recent story of Manti Te’o being apparently fleeced by an imaginary online girlfriend was reported. According to the piece, love is a mixture of many complex processes. Chemical, cognitive and goal-oriented behaviors all make up the feelings that surround being in love. Further, the feelings generated by love activate and release dopamine, the chemical responsible for making us feel good and euphoric.
So, how can one seemingly ignore all the red flags and forge ahead in an imaginary, online relationship? According to Univ. of Chicago Associate Professor Stephanie Cacioppo, love can be a very powerful mental state. Those who love simply being in-love often see their relationship the way they want it to appear, rather than see the realities of what is happening. (Think of the State Farm French model commercial- Ugh, Bonjour!)
With the dangers of online relationships surfacing, you may wonder why anyone would become involved online. However, Professor Cacioppo points to research from the late 1980s that shows couples who met online or in a dark room first were more likely to be satisfied with their relationship down the road. This could be because those couples were not distracted or slowed by feelings of physical attraction initially, but rather, shared more personal information about their beliefs and outlook on key issues.
In the end, we may never know the full truth surrounding the Te’o story. Was he truly a victim of a cruel hoax, or did he somehow play a part in the production? Regardless, one thing is certain: in today’s increasingly virtual word, the opportunity for both stories of true love and catfish tales continue to grow.