The story of Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend is really nothing new. I had fake girlfriends. In fact, the majority of my girlfriends were fake.

The difference in my case is that the girls were real. Some didn't know they were my girlfriend. Others wouldn't admit to their families and friends that they were seeing me. There was one who, after I started talking about a future, suddenly remembered she was "kind of" engaged to someone else. Really? She forgot she was engaged?

I started out with fake girlfriends early on in life. There was a girl I used to chase around at my older brother's Cub Scout meetings. I think she was an albino. She was very pale. If you asked her now if I ever was her boyfriend, she would deny it. She also would claim not to be an albino but Scandinavian.

The girl in second grade who gave me Oreo cookies from her lunch every day would probably claim she had blood sugar problems and couldn't eat the cookies. She would claim not to remember me. If I ever gave someone cookies, I would remember them.

After second grade, there was a shortage of girlfriends both fake and real. The problem is to be a girlfriend, there has to be shelf life. I'm guessing that you must be with them longer than a month to qualify as a real girlfriend.

The beauty of the fake-girlfriend relationship is it can be instantaneous. Using the ironclad one-month rule that I just made up, however, I had very few girlfriends, although some are hard to determine. For example, if a girl lived in another state and you saw her for a week, but six months went by before you saw her for another week, was she a real or fake girlfriend?

My parents were engaged two days after they met. Did my dad introduce my mom as "Here's my fiance but not-yet-girlfriend?"

My 21-year-old niece's fake boyfriend is Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots. He is a real guy, and she has seen him in person -- along with 68,755 other people at Gillette Stadium. She has maintained her relationship with her fake boyfriend for four years -- longer than the three-year fake relationship the Notre Dame player had. I have to give my niece credit. Fake relationships are tough to maintain, especially with a guy like Brady, who happens to be married to a super model -- who is real.

I wanted to determine if some of my past girlfriends were real, so (with my real wife's permission), I contacted an old girlfriend online. She is a real person, but she was a bit hesitant to speak to me after all these years. She reluctantly agreed to fill out a questionnaire, but when I sent it to her, she developed "computer problems" and couldn't send the completed form back. Isn't that what happened to the guy from Notre Dame?

To help determine whether you have a real or fake girlfriend, I have prepared this little real-or-fake cheat sheet. Tear it out of the newspaper and carry it with you. If you are ever in doubt, refer to it.

She doesn't exist. Fake.

She is kind of engaged to someone else. Fake.

She is engaged to you. Real.

She is kind of married to someone else. Fake.

She doesn't want anyone to know about you. Fake.

She doesn't know you exist. Fake.

She wants to meet you only for lunch. Fake.

She won't tell you her real name. Fake.

She sounds like a woman on the phone but turns out to be a dude talking in falsetto. Fake.

She is Scandinavian. Possibly real but probably fake.

She's on the cover of People Magazine's "Sexiest Woman Alive" issue. Probably fake.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at: