Five Lessons Christie Smythe and Martin Shkreli Can Teach Us About Love
If the first person your relationship brings to mind when you describe it is “Harley Quinn”, it’s a red flag.
Martin Shkreli is a name I’ve haven’t heard for a while, so I was apprehensive when I turned on my phone and saw him trending. But when I found out why he was trending? Color me shook.
So, long story short: Elle Magazine recently published a story that Christie Smythe, the former Bloomberg reporter who had broke the story of infamous “Pharma Bro” Martin Shrekli’s arrest, has now divorced her husband and left her job to pursue the latter, apparently romantically.
And after reading said interview, I have to say: Girl, what?
Originally, I wanted to chalk this up as a case of of the 2020's getting to everyone but as I read Elle’s piece, it seemed her infatuation with Shkreli began far earlier, in 2018. Perhaps, the seeds of it were planted even earlier on, when she waited outside Turing Pharmaceuticals, in 2016, anxious to meet the man, the myth, the now convicted felon, for a piece in Bloomberg News.
I’ll be honest. After coming across the Elle interview, I noticed a few things. One: it made me feel infinitely better about my own dating life or lack thereof.
And two: while Smythe’s story tracks toward the extreme end of the spectrum, it was also uncomfortably reminiscent of many a conversation I’ve had with love-blinded friends who would make excuses on excuses for continuing to pursue a relationship that obviously wasn’t working.
When Smythe and Shkreli first met-after Smythe tried, then succeeded, to secure an interview with him-she portrays herself as instantly entranced by Shkreli. In fact, Smythe stated the following during the Elle interview:
“You could see his earnestness,” Smythe says. “It just didn’t match this idea of a fraudster.”
But if Shkreli is indeed a sociopath, it would be easy to fake such emotions, especially to invoke sympathy from the interviewer. Or maybe it was just a case of him drinking his own champagne. Neither concept is new; earnestness was one of Elizabeth Holmes, the now disgraced Theranos founder, famous qualities-people who knew her said she really appeared to believe she was going to change the world with her fraudulent technologies.
But the issue here isn’t that “fraudsters” can’t appear earnest or well intentioned; the issue is that people consistently buy it, including women, looking for romantic relationships, who hang on to men who say “I had a great time, I’ll call”, as a mere formality but then keep checking their phones long after those men have fallen straight off the face of the earth, screw you, Daniel.
Anyway, let’s move on. The interview, and Smythe continues detailing her relationship with Shrekli, which never appears to move beyond the superficially convenient, for him. For example, when he was shopping for a new lawyer, he called her for advice. Smythe states the following:
“It really felt like he didn’t have anybody to talk to that he could bounce ideas off of…I was like, ‘All right. I guess I can do that.’ He (was) ragged and fragile, and I got concerned he would commit suicide because all this stuff was all happening at once.”
To me, the above quote encapsulates many of the underlying issues we often experience in relationships. Smythe has projected her personalized image of Shkreli over his own being while creating a narrative in her head of what would happen if she wasn’t present for him, if she couldn’t be there to save him.
But, wait, you say, Wise Reader! This happens a lot, and not just with that guy you’re sexting with on Tinder. In fact, don’t we always hear about serial killers getting marriage proposals in prison? We do. Could this be at play here? Well, let’s investigate this phenomenon a little more deeply.
Why do woman love “bad boys”?
Actually, most don’t. The number one quality women look for in a partner is “kindness”. Multiple studies have shown that women value kindness over more superficial characteristics, like net worth or attractiveness. The latter two characteristics is where sex differences reveal themselves most clearly: women are far more likely to be attracted to men with higher incomes and men are far more likely to pursue women they find physically beautiful in comparison to the other gender. But while each gender has their equally shallow shortcomings, it’s worth noting that most men also prioritized finding a kind partner over other desirable traits, like youth and beauty.
What I’m trying to say is that, from a psychological perspective, the “all woman want bad boys” stereotype doesn’t hold up. Yet, we still, periodically, read about women falling for career criminals, or leaving their homes to move closer to a prison where their beloved lies, or fighting each other in courtrooms for the attention of a mass murderer, or, in Smythe’s case, giving up everything for a man who seems like he could be ghosting her…from prison.
So, let’s ask a second question.
Why do some woman love “bad boys”?
An article by Mirror.co.uk recently stated that Chris Watts, the family annihilator who killed his pregnant wife and two young daughters, has received multiple love letters and solicitations while he sits, for life, in prison for multiple homicide. This is nothing compared to serial killers Richard Ramirez and Ted Bundy, who both had loads of their own “groupies”, eventually resulting in marriages.
Now, why are these women willing to throw away their lives on men who deserve, arguably, lower than hell? Many experts cite what Smythe herself alludes to: they have a desire to save them or, perhaps, change them for better.
The same article goes onto mention that women in relationships with incarcerated men can feel “safe”, and in control; this becomes especially poignant when you realize some of these women have histories of abuse.
But in Symthe’s cause, she isn’t exactly in control and her wording points more to wanting to “help” Martin than a sort of sexual arousal. Still, her future with Shkreli doesn’t seem the most promising, due to its obvious one-sidedness.
So, what lessons can we learn about love from Christine Smythe’s and Martin Shkreli’s relationship (or lack thereof)? As I see them, they’re as follows:
1. No Guy Wants To Be Chased
Being in prison does not make a man an exception to this rule. After-all, the ending of the Elle interview seems to imply Shkreli wants Smythe to move on with life.
Throughout the article, Smythe admits, literally, to having chased Shkreli, from waiting outside his workplace, to driving out to prison to see him, to always trying to contact him, to bashing her competition (aka other journalists) publicly, to advocating for him on social media during his criminal trial, and, as of late, setting up Google Alerts for the very sort of article I’m now writing about.
She even consistently Tweets about him:
Yes, a chase is fun — it’s proven to rack up dopamine — but only for the pursuer.
Readers of her interview will notice Smythe displays an extremely high level of cognitive dissonance-the term used to describe having conflicting beliefs and perceptions-as she pursues Shkreli; assuming his lack of action, enthusiasm, and ghosting translates into the very opposite.
Yet, Smythe is, somehow, all of us: we’ve all chased someone who we, deep down, weren’t all that into us. We all made signs out of nothing to convince ourselves we were right and ignored the glaring red flags that we weren’t, in our incorrect romantic pursuits.
But if NYC dating has taught me one thing, it’s that if someone wants you back, they’ll let you know explicitly. So, allow yourself to read the actual signs and act accordingly.
The distilled lesson? Chasing a guy who doesn’t want to be chased just repels them away, quicker, even if the idea of changing their mind propels you forward, faster.
2. Open Communication Is Key For Successful Relationships
This advice is as old as time and yet, it oft goes unheeded. So, just remember: open communication, early on in relationships, is key for maintaining successful ones.
Look at Smythe. By the time Smythe had quit her job, and was losing her husband over Shkreli, the pair had never sat down together to talk about their relationship goals, or defined their relationship.
Did they have a one-year plan? A five-year plan? An explicit commitment to one another? Towards the end of the interview, Smythe states they spoke about children and prenups, with Shkreli in prison, but he also cut off communication with Symthe after he found out about her Elle article.
In fact, prior to their jail time heart to hearts, a great deal of their relationship inertia hinges upon assumptions by Symthe. And I can’t exactly blame Shkreli if he was desperate enough to lead Symthe on, when a potential early release from jail was at stake. I mean, I’ve done some pretty unhinged stuff for free diet Pepsi. But what’s clear is that these two never were fully honest about what they were expecting from their relationship and where lines needed to be drawn.
Now, I know that fear about “the talk”; it’s daunting because we never want to hear someone we desire isn’t on the same place as us, but it’s important to have this conversation, of clarifying relationship goals, especially before you throw your life away for an imprisoned felon. Try to have it early on (within the first three dates), and clarify that both parties want the same things before moving forward.
Don’t divorce your husband or lose your job before you’ve confirmed you aren’t just a one night stand while he “finds” himself.
So, if you aren’t willing to communicate honestly in your relationship, than prepare for a bundle of sacrifice and hardship.
The distilled lesson? Make sure you and your partner are on the same page right away with your honest relationship goals.
3. Listen To Your Inner Circle, Not Just Your Heart
Smythe explicitly mentions, multiple times during the interview, of being warned that Shkreli was manipulating her. Her Columbia University professor, Michael Shapiro, told her his concerns: that she was a tool for Shkreli; Her own (ex) husband said she was being used. Her friends were aware of the problem. And yet, Smythe kept on.
Here’s the thing: I totally get wanting to go and vent to your friends and family, then cherry-pick through their advice until you get the line that validates you and your toxic relationship.
But these people are meant to be objective parties for a reason. And sometimes their advice isn’t what we want to hear. But that doesn’t make it less essential or honest.
Do what Smythe couldn’t do: read the room. She had a whole slew of intelligent people warning her the relationship wasn’t going to work out well but still managed to ignore all of their advice.
The distilled lesson: Listen to the people around you; if they all think your relationship is no good, be willing to make a clean break from it.
4. Know the Sunk Cost Fallacy & Why It Matters In Relationships
The Elle article reveals that Smythe had spent the fair amount of four years pursing Shkreli.
She quit her job at Bloomberg because of her biased actions towards Shkreli, via supporting him on social media; she traveled out to prison early in the morning to see him while going through a divorce from her own husband, coming late to her own marriage counseling section. She’d hoped to write a book about him; that fell through due to her refusal to portray him in a negative light. And she never seemed to consider cutting her losses.
But, girl, don’t feel alone, we’ve all had a relationship-or three-like this. So, let me introduce you to the sunk cost fallacy. Boiled down, it’s the idea that any “sunk” cost should no longer be relevant to future decisions.
So, yes, Smythe has dedicated a lot of her life to this guy and sacrificed great portions of it for him, but she doesn’t have to cosign her future to someone who doesn’t seem to want it, as she appears to do by the article’s conclusion.
I’ve said this to friends who’ve hesitated with breakups because they feel like they’ve given “too much” already or “can’t give up now.”
And now I’m saying it to you, Smythe. It’s time: you’ve given away enough without getting the bare minimum back. So, please make like a Jordan Peele movie and get out.
The distilled lesson: Learn from your past mistakes and don’t use them as an excuse to repeat them in your present.
5. Don’t Romantically Pursue Men Being Indicted For Serious Crimes
At the end of the day, readers, if the man you love is being indicted on multiple charges and isn’t returning your advances, this could be a very sincere “It’s not you, it’s me” situation.
Smythe’s relationship with Shkreli began when he was first associated with potential criminal activity; that part of his life never slowed down. He’s still in prison for securities fraud.
Moreover, Shkreli has a lot on his plate and, like many men going through such transitions, may not have time for a committed relationship or a girlfriend. While I’ve had friends get similar excuses from men (though, admittedly, not men in prison) and immediately discredit it, I disagree: you don’t have to just be battling multiple federal charges to not be in a place for a relationship because of your personal circumstances.
And one of Smythe’s issues was that she made herself completely and totally available to Shkreli, who can’t return that same level of commitment because he has to constantly make sure he doesn’t get shivved.
The distilled lesson: Don’t try to date a guy who may be going to jail for life because he’s going to have more important priorities than you.