Q&A with Kiri Blakeley, Author of ‘Can’t Think Straight: A Memoir of Mixed-Up Love’

Kiri Blakeley was one of the lucky in love ones… or so she thought. She was a successful writer with a doting fiancé. Here, she explains how her world was turned upside down one evening when, out of the clear blue sky, her fiancé surprised her with the news he was gay. Kiri explains how she coped with this shocking life change in her new book Can’t Think Straight: A Memoir of Mixed-Up Love.

You and your fiancé were together for 10 years before he came out. Tell me how that happened.

Kiri Blakeley: Essentially, I was in my bedroom one night at about 11 p.m. in March 2006. I’m getting ready for bed and it was a night like any other night. He was in the living room. He said, “Kiri, we need to talk.” So I came in and was expecting something like did I not clean the tub, did I not take out the garbage. I was thrown an absolute bomb when he said I’m confused about my sexuality. I didn’t know if maybe this was some odd joke he was playing. But at the same time, I knew he wasn’t a real prankster or jokester. So I just didn’t know whether to laugh or scream. As I said in the book, I did both, this sound came out of my throat and I kind of went “Ha!” which was half laugh, half scream.

Then I waited to see where this was going and he started to cry.  At that point, I knew this was not a joke. My immediate reaction was to console him and ask, why are you feeling this way? He said he’s having fantasies about men. I said, OK, that’s normal, tell me more and don’t be ashamed. It soon became clear that he wanted to explore these fantasies and our relationship would have to end. We talked all night, up and down, back and forth. My emotions were a roller coaster, all over the place. I was somewhat trying to console him while being livid and angry, while also throwing jokes his way. I went to the bedroom hours later and got a couple of minutes of sleep and then woke up and that’s when my real nightmare began. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Also, it was not just fantasizing like he said. I went into his computer after he went to work the next day. I used his password which I’d had for years and never used, and was essentially trying to figure out what was going on, because I wasn’t sure I believed this. I thought maybe this was really about another woman, maybe it was about something else. I didn’t know. That’s when I discovered gay porn and naked pictures he’d been sending of himself to men. I went into his browser history and saw that he’d been answering “Men for Men” ads on Craigslist. That’s when I called him at work. He admitted he’d been cheating on me with men for years. At that point, I realized this was not just fantasy, this is reality and it had been reality for a long time.

You really had no idea? There were no real clues?

Blakeley: No. I had absolutely no clue not only that he might be gay but that he had been cheating on me. Of course, once you have knowledge, you can then go back and see things that you wouldn’t in a million years have been able to piece together while they were happening.

About a year before he told me this, he grew a beard. I don’t want all the women out there whose husbands have just grown beards to freak out, but it turned out he’d been taking pictures of his beard and sending it to other men who liked guys with beards. I had asked him to shave the beard. It was itchy for me. I didn’t think it looked good on him. I wasn’t mean about it, but a couple of times I said, hey, why do you have this beard, you have such a cute face, it’s hiding it, also it’s kind of itchy for me. What I didn’t really pay attention to was that he wouldn’t shave it. The beard was more important to him than me. So that’s a little odd. Most men want to please their women. I don’t say I should have picked up that he was gay. That would have been impossible.

After 10 years you kind of get into a rhythm of things, especially when he was such a great guy in every other way. He supported me though deaths of family members, through 9/11. He was always reliable, always emotionally available. He always told me he loved me. We always celebrated Valentine’s Day. This was not an emotionally distant man. In some ways, I felt it would have been a little bitchy of me to insist he shave the beard or give him a hard time about something so small.

Then I guess the big red flag was that our sex life had dwindled. I would say, towards the end of the relationship we could go two to three months without sex. I say that to people now and they look at me like, well obviously something was going on. But, remember, I had been in a relationship for 10 years. I had never been in a relationship that long. He was my first relationship. I had no baseline of comparison.  Also, I kept seeing all these magazine articles, “the sexless marriage” about two people with busy careers who’d been together a long time and their sex life dwindles. So I thought, OK, this was probably normal. But it did bother me enough that we went to therapy about it.

Those were really my two major clues, which I think I have to forgive myself for not equating those to homosexuality.

Why were you engaged so long if the relationship was so great or seemed so great at the time?

Blakeley: I’ll tell you right now, that was all on me. He wanted to get married. He asked me a year into the relationship. At various points over the years, he would press the issue a little bit. If I wanted to get married, we would be married. There was no, oh, he was secretly gay and that’s why he didn’t want to get married and we were engaged for so long. He wanted it.

I was reluctant for the reasons a lot of people are probably reluctant. I came from a long line of divorce. I had no role models of good marriages, none; whereas, he came from parents who had been married for decades. So to me, marriage didn’t necessarily equate with happiness. Also, you do get into some financial aspects when you think about getting married and I did have more assets than him and you do have to wonder if there is a breakup or divorce what will happen. I was slightly concerned about tying my finances to his finances. But when I look back, I do remember thinking to myself, if I marry this guy it’s going to be a long sexless life. Ironically, I had just come to the conclusion within myself that it was better to have a lukewarm sex life and a great relationship than the reverse. I had told myself, “You know what, Kiri, you have a great guy here. You’re not going to find a better guy.” I decided, let’s get married, let’s do this thing. He said great and we started telling people.

It was about two weeks later that he came out as gay. I think that snapped him out of his denial. He wouldn’t admit that. But the timing was too uncanny. Obviously, if I had known that, I would have agreed to marriage a lot sooner. Ladies, agree to marriage. If there is some doubt on their end, agreeing to it might snap them out of that, force them to look at what they are getting into. But you know what, maybe not, because there are plenty of gay guys that get married. Maybe it would have been a huge mistake. In his mind, he was thinking if I get married, I’ll stop feeling this way. That’s why he was pressing me on it. Maybe I would have ended up having to get a divorce and that would have been a lot harder than just telling him, “Hey you, get the heck out of here,” which is essentially what I did.

What was the hardest part of this experience?

Blakeley: The hardest part for me was realizing that people who are very, very good people in a lot of ways can do very, very bad things.  By bad things, I don’t mean being homosexual. I mean having a secret life, cheating, putting my health at risk, putting my emotional and mental health at risk as well. Yet, this was a guy who did a lot of great things, who was very supportive, very loving, very emotionally open. So for me, the hardest part was realizing that people can have two sides to themselves. They can be a great person, a great father, a great husband, but they can turn around behind your back and do something that goes against all of that. I am still trying in my mind to reconcile those two things and realizing that you can never really know someone. You are taking a chance that what people are telling you is true.

I think what happened to you is probably every woman’s worst nightmare, but do you think it’s more common that most people suspect and that’s why people are so interested in your book?

Blakeley:  It’s so common. I’m getting emails up the wazoo from women in much worse positions than I was in. Women saying, I’ve been married for 30 years and we have three kids and last month I went on the computer looking for recipes and found gay porn and I don’t know what to do because he supports me and I am in my 60s and I don’t want to start all over again and we have kids in school. In a way, I was lucky that I wasn’t that entrenched. I have a friend who is a psychotherapist in New York City, Jonathan Alpert, advice columnist for the Metro, who said 10 percent of his married male clients are in heterosexual relationships and are going and having sex with men. It’s common. I was shocked. I thought maybe my experience was out of the norm, but I’m realizing it’s common.

What advice would you give to women (or men) who find themselves in a similar position?

Blakeley: For the men, you just got to face reality. Yes, you could lose your house. Yes, you could lose your children. Yes, you love your wife. You’re not going to love the gay away and it’s going to come out eventually, no pun intended. There are too many ways to get caught. The one thing I’m grateful for that my ex did is he gave me a heads up. He said, hey, I’m fantasizing about men so when I found the stuff in his computer, I wasn’t completely and totally shocked. Now, imagine you are this wife who has absolutely no idea and you stumble across a guy’s text message or find something in the computer. That’s a really dangerous position to put yourself in, because if she finds it with absolutely no heads up, you don’t know what she’s going to do after that.

She could start calling everybody or put your pictures on Facebook. For guys, my advice is no matter what the consequences, you’ve got to start being honest with yourself and the people in your life who love you.

The only thing I would say for women is to not take revenge. Don’t do anything you can’t take back. Don’t destroy his stuff. Don’t call his place of work and tell everyone what happened or start calling all his friends. If you find out something like this, go to him directly, tell him what you know and don’t let him get away with lying to you. Try to remain calm and figure out what you’re going to do. Don’t believe whatever lies he tells you, like, oh I was on Craigslist looking at guys for a joke. He’s gonna lie like crazy. Don’t believe any of it. You know what’s going on. A guy doesn’t have gay porn in his computer for the fun of it.

After the split, you had a number of intimate encounters and it seemed like it was difficult for you to fully separate the emotional and physical aspects.  Do you think it’s even possible for women to separate the two?

Blakeley:  I had a huge emotional trauma and to try to sort of put a balm on that, I turned to sex. That, I think, does not work. Because really what I was doing was trying to fill the gap mentally and physically when the person I had been with for 10 years left. While I was trying to have fun, no-strings-attached sex, that isn’t really what I was doing. Yes, women can have fun, no-strings-attached sex, but it depends on why they are doing it.

Also, study after study has shown men and women think and feel about sex differently. Women are hardwired to fall in love and it makes sense, because we can get pregnant and that is a huge ordeal. So, what I did was, intellectually, I wanted nothing more than some fun. That’s really all I wanted after a 10-year relationship. But I found I couldn’t really do it, I wasn’t capable of it. A lot of women I know are having the same dilemma − I’m busy, I have my career, I don’t want children, I just want to have fun. They say they just want to have fun and then three weeks later they’re crying ’cause the guy’s not calling them. The guy ain’t crying. So yeah, I think it is different for men and women. I wouldn’t tell any women don’t have sex, but be prepared for the consequences, the emotional consequences.

Some of your writing in the book could be described as raw. What sort of response have you had to that from critics and friends and family?

Blakeley: I’m trying not to ask my friends. I’m sort of in denial about some of the stuff I wrote. Otherwise, I’d go a little crazy. I’m not really asking my friends. I’m just kind of ignoring the fact that they’ve read all of my deepest darkest thoughts about my sexuality. My father couldn’t really get through it. I told him not to read it.  He started anyhow and then said, “Honey, I can’t get through this with all the sex stuff.” I was like, “Look, don’t read it.”

One critic called it a “slutfest” at the Library Journal and I sort of felt that was misogynist.  I don’t know any guy who writes about his sex life who gets called a slut. That was a little bit of a double standard, especially since I sleep with three men over a year and I have what you might call intimate encounters with a few more. That’s not a lot, especially when I was living with a gay man for 10 years and not getting too much action. What I think is shocking people is that I describe these in a non-romantic way that’s very straightforward and sometimes clinical. I felt like I owed it to the reader to be really honest with them about everything that was happening to me.

What made you decide to write this book?

Blakeley: Honestly, it wasn’t a decision; it was a compulsion. I’d been a writer for a very long time. I’ve been a professional writer, writing for Forbes for 10 years. I’d always expressed myself by writing, even as a child. So it was a natural that when this huge emotional upheaval happened and all of these thoughts were swirling in my brain, that for me, I had to get them out by writing. This was just a compulsion that I followed for about a year until I got tired of writing about myself. Then I had to decide if I going to try to get it published. At that point, ambition took over. I had always wanted to write a book. This wasn’t the book I wanted to write, but I always had wanted to publish a book. I also felt like it was a good book. I felt like it was fast-paced, it was edgy, it was funny, it was entertaining, why not try to publish it?

What do you want readers to gain from reading your book?

Blakeley: Honestly, I just hope they’re going to gain a few hours of entertainment. What I have realized, getting the emails I’m getting from women — either they’ve been in the same situation or a similar situation or even they’ve just been through heartbreak or betrayal of some kind — and they are just writing me and saying thank you, I don’t feel so alone now. So that’s really great to hear.

How does your former fiancé, “Aaron,” feel about the book?

Blakeley: I can’t say he’s thrilled, but he did read it before it went to press. I did give him the opportunity to read it. He did make a few requests for changes, which I made. He did tell me he feels it’s accurate and if he didn’t come off well in the book, it’s his own fault. This isn’t an evil boyfriend book. We do maintain a relationship throughout the book and I always try to see it from his perspective as well. It’s still not easy to come out, even in New York City, even in the 21st century. It’s still not an easy process.

I’m not excusing him, but I can understand why it was so difficult for him.

I must admit that initially I was a bit flabbergasted by your decision to continue a friendship, albeit a rocky one, with Aaron. Why do you think you made this choice?

Blakeley: It was a rocky friendship. Part of that was me trying to salvage 10 years of my life. You don’t want to just throw 10 years of your life out the window. The other part of it was; there were so many good sides to him that it was difficult to let go of him as a person. But, as you can see from the book, it was a rocky, roller-coaster ride. I had conflicting feelings. At the same time I loved him, I hated him.

What is happening with Aaron now? Are you friends?

Blakeley: I wouldn’t call us friends. We don’t hang out together. I still care very deeply about his happiness and what happens to him. If something terrible happened to him, I would be devastated. But I still have such conflicting feelings about him as a person and how he could do this to me that I’m not going to be trolling gay bars with him. He lives with a man now anyway, so he wouldn’t even be doing that, but I don’t want to meet his boyfriend and hang out with them and have dinner with them.

Are you still involved with “James,” the man you were with at the end of the book?

Blakeley: I left the ending of the book ambiguous as to whether or not I was still with James, a man that I begin dating. We have a very love/hate relationship. I left it ambiguous on purpose because the relationship was open-ended when I stopped writing the book, but also that was a deliberate decision on my part because life is ambiguous and what you are today might not be what you are tomorrow.  So I kind of want to keep that ending as it is.

OK, but if you get married, you’ll give me a call?

Blakeley: Haha, people will know. I am in a relationship now and it’s a constant improving process. That’s what relationships are really. Do we really need to know if Rhett and Scarlett got back together at the end of “Gone with the Wind”? I mean honestly, she ends the book with her vowing to get him back and him vowing to have nothing else to do with her. Did we really need the sequel, “Scarlett 50 Years Later”? Let’s have a little mystery in this life.

Do you think you will ever fully trust again? Can you see yourself getting engaged or married in the future?

Blakeley: Yes, I can see that because there are no guarantees in this life at all about anything − about your health, about your finances, about your job and about your relationship. So if I do it, it would be a leap of faith and maybe it works out and maybe it doesn’t. In terms of trust issues, it’s a constant process of trying to get that back. It’s something I’m still working on and hopefully improving on every single day.

I can see this being made into a movie, possibly starring Jennifer Aniston. Has anyone reached out to you about making this into a film?

Blakeley: My agents are in talks with people in Hollywood and there is some interest. That’s really all I know. There is some interest in a TV show or a movie. So, fingers crossed. Let’s see it on the big screen with Jennifer Aniston! Who would play Aaron? It would have to be some masculine guy, it couldn’t be the guy from Will & Grace playing Aaron. That’s just not how it was.