Ronaiah Tuiasosopo had intense feelings for Manti Te'o ... feelings that developed over time that he channeled through a female persona, but the emotions -- like the scam -- were rooted in fantasy.
Sources very close to Ronaiah tell TMZ ... he struggled for years trying to adapt to the expectations of his culture, his religion and his family. Ronaiah, we're told, never had a serious physical relationship with anyone and created a female persona online as a way to vent his feelings.
We're told Ronaiah used the female persona in many encounters, but so far there's no evidence he became intensely emotionally attached to anyone -- until Manti. We've confirmed when Ronaiah spoke with Manti as "Lennay Kekua" he used his own voice.
Indeed ... Ronaiah's feelings became so intense, he blew his cover on December 6 because it was hard to walk away. He never intended to reveal Manti was actually talking to a man ... he just wanted to reconnect with Manti, but still as a woman.
Our sources say Ronaiah has buried his feelings to the point he has little emotion about anything. We're told even the scandal has not produced intense emotions.
We're told, Ronaiah shut down emotionally at a very young age. He lived his life through fantasy.