INCONVERSATION

KIRI BLAKELEY with Alyssa Pinsker

Kiri Blakeley was a journalist for Forbes Magazine. Her debut memoir, Can’t Think Straight: A Memoir of Mixed-Up Love (Citadel Press, 2011), is a New York true-love story of heartbreak and deceit. Her book recounts the year after she found out that her fiancé and boyfriend of 10 years was cheating on her with men. She reacts to the shocking news with booze, boys, and humor and survives with an existential outlook and love for life. Her recovery leads to a fierce search for honesty. A sexy, graphic recount of truth and lies, Blakeley’s book is a life-affirming, uplifting survivor’s tale for all, especially New York City women. I spoke to the sassy Brooklynite via e-mail where we talked therapy, writing, memoirs, trolls, and happy endings.

Alyssa Pinsker (Rail): One of the things I liked most about your book was your unapologetic approach to “therapy.” Instead of taking on a year of living like Oprah, you acted out with sex, booze, and humor. You also were (pardon the term) the “psycho” girlfriend, letting your emotions out on your cheating ex-boyfriend and unabashedly hacking into your new lover’s e-mail and phone accounts. This sort of behavior is considered impractical in contemporary American gender dynamics and to me had a more European feel. Which is what made your book so fun to read: high drama without false temperance. Do you think you are a typical dater? Is there anything that made you want to avoid the Eat, Pray, Love approach to healing heartbreak?

Kiri Blakeley: After my fiancé, Aaron, broke my world with his dishonesty, I became obsessed with being “honest” and having people be honest with me. So if I felt someone wasn’t telling me the truth, I would do what I needed to do to find out the truth, even if that meant breaking into someone’s e-mail or calling a girl that a guy swore to me he wasn’t seeing. It’s not necessarily the best approach or even the right approach; it is just what I felt I needed to do at the time.

Rail: Was this at all based on your European background? You quote your colorful, serial-cheating grandfather who said he strayed because “getting a woman into bed was the only thing he was good at.” Was passion and expression encouraged in your family of origin?

Blakeley: If anything, it is the complete opposite. I had a rather unstable background, so I craved stability. I was a real late bloomer in relationships, and Aaron was my first serious relationship, which I didn’t embark on until I was 26. He was quiet, reliable, sweet, and I felt safe with him. I was not much for histrionics or drama, though I can be a bit loud and opinionated. I never snooped on him, never thought to do it. But after the break, I guess I kind of went off the deep end for a bit—and I thought, why was I playing by these rules that no one else was playing by? Why was I allowing men to act in a certain way, and not calling them on their behavior? So I did it.

Rail: Is your book a bit of an inquiry to the classic question, “Why do men cheat?,” whether it’s with women or men?

Blakeley: I think men and women cheat for as many reasons as they fall in love. I can’t stand books that imply if a guy acts one way or another, he is more prone to cheat. Anyone who met Aaron would have never imagined he was capable of that—and for so long. But he was. People are complex, and there’s a whole industry of books and gurus and talk show hosts dedicated to making them not complex, to being able to figure things out by reading certain signs, to avoiding pain. And that isn’t life, unfortunately.

Rail: Do you believe in happy endings or bows at the end of memoirs? Do you think they are essential for salability?

Blakeley: No, Gone with the Wind doesn’t end with Scarlett and Rhett back together—though that’s not a memoir. But I think readers are fine with an ambiguous ending. However, there is pressure to have a “take away,” or something you learned from the experience. At first, I wasn’t sure what I’d learned other than that stuff happens, and you have to deal with it. So I had to think for a long time about what I’d learned. I’m still thinking!

Rail: You might be the only person in New York without a shrink. Any reason for that?

Blakeley: I have lots of very wonderful friends who go to shrinks, and they shrink me for free!

Rail: Do you have advice for others on how to overcome cheating? Heartbreak? Adversity?

Blakeley: I think the only real healer is time and even time is no cure. There is no “cure” for heartbreak or adversity. If someone could invent a cure, they’d be a gazillionaire! I’d say talk to your friends, have some drinks if you need to, try to have fun. I jumped right into the dating scene, which, in retrospect, was a poor choice, but I’d forgotten how to be alone. I guess my real healer, besides time, was writing about it.

Rail: Are you still with James, the character you appear to stay with towards the end?

Blakeley: I left the ending ambiguous: do James and I get together again? Are we still together? I left it ambiguous because life is ambiguous.

Rail: Are you still friends with Aaron?

Blakeley: I wouldn’t say we are good friends because we have completely separate lives now. However, we still talk. I still care about what happens to him. We email occasionally, like now because my cat, which we got together, is sick. When there was a rash of gay suicides, we spoke about that.

Rail: Are you a feminist?

Blakeley: Any woman who owns property, who has used birth control, who votes, who works for a living, who has a bank account, is using the rights that were garnered by feminists, so of course.

Rail: What do you say to those who call your book homophobic?

Blakeley: Anyone who says my book is homophobic either didn’t read it or doesn’t understand my sense of humor, which skews towards the dark and politically incorrect. If you read the book, you will see that I try to keep up a semblance of friendship with Aaron, I try to understand how difficult it must have been for him, I even go to gay bars with him! At times, out of shock and anger, I do throw a few cutting jokes his way, but I felt entitled after the chronic and long-term cheating. And, hey, I was engaged to a gay man, so I can’t be homophobic! (That’s a joke, people.)

Rail: The Library Journal said about your book: “Holy slutfest! Not in a good, empowered-woman, own-your-sexual-self kind of way either. The soul searching comes too late and is too little to feel sincere; the author lost me long before making any real changes. Pass.” What do you say to that?

Blakeley: If she didn’t like my book, that’s her prerogative, but the slut comment is pure double standard, and it’s not surprising it comes from a woman. I slept with very few men after the break-up, and the ones I did sleep with were adults, not married, didn’t have girlfriends, and we used protection. Someone show me the review where a male writer who talks about his sex life gets called a slut. And she seemed irritated that I discussed some of my hurt feelings regarding the men I did have sex with, but I wanted to be honest. I’m not a sex machine or Samantha from Sex and the City. I have feelings, though I didn’t want to have them at the time.

Rail: Wow, did you reply to this review?

Blakeley: I did reply to this review, and got no response. I have replied to a few things. I don’t think people are expecting the author to jump into the fray—so far, either people have ignored me, suddenly become my best friend, or the conversation comes to a screeching halt. I’m not sure this approach is for everyone, but I’m a fighter, and I type really fast!

Rail: After you wrote the book how did you feel about that phase of your life, is it over yet? Any proverbial bows tied?

Blakeley: I look back on that time in the book and feel like I suffered some kind of psychotic break with reality—I’m convinced I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder! Nothing I did in the book is the way I was for the years before the break, or the way I am now. I will struggle with this incident in my life forever, however, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is life. I’m lucky I’m alive to experience it.

Contributor

Alyssa Pinsker

ALYSSA PINSKER is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn working on her own anti-Eat, Pray, Love memoir about global dating in India, Japan, and New York City. Read more at: alyssapinsker.com.

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