Dec 25, 2022 • 5M

Chapter 9, Part 6: A Shkreli in Love

It was a strictly PG romance. But there was no doubt in my mind that the sentiment was real.


Appears in this episode

Christie Smythe
My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.
Episode details

"Jerk to the world, but a gentleman to his girl." A meme of two cats in love.
Martin Shkreli sent me this silly meme over WhatsApp on his contraband phone from prison.

For the most part, there was nothing complicated about Martin Shkreli’s feelings for “the media.” Like many people caught in a public shitstorm of their own making, he enthusiastically blamed the media for all of his woes. During his talk at Princeton in April 2017, he correctly identified a young woman who asked him a question as a student reporter. Instead of answering her, he declared, drawing a roar of laugher and applause: “You should know that I hate…the media.”

But in the same breath, he made a tiny carve-out for me. I was sitting in the audience. He said that he had “made friends” with one “honest reporter.” “She’s here now,” he said quickly, through a somewhat sheepish-looking grin.

Though we were friends then, and grew to be much more just a year or so later, he never really reconciled how much he despised the press, as a general rule, and how much he came to care about me. No matter how philosophically aligned we were — I agreed with some of his criticisms of the media, like how it was incentivized to promote certain biases over critical thinking — he always harbored a tiny sliver of mistrust. It would erupt from time to time like a pus-filled sore.

Part of him always seemed to be waiting for me to turn on him and abuse his intimacy, much like the now-late New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm all but instructed reporters to do in The Journalist and the Murderer. When I went public about our relationship in ELLE in December 2020, against his wishes, I confirmed all of his worst suspicions. His terse, dismissive “best of luck in future endeavors” comment in the article contained those multitudes.

But I don’t think I was being coldy exploitative then — and I don’t think I am being that way now. Whatever happened between us, even if it was heavily influenced by highly unusual and intense circumstances, was just as much a part of his life as jacking up the price of a life-saving drug, being a jerk on the internet, lying to his investors, and everything else “negative” he was known for. The human side of him was an important part of a fuller, more honest picture. Whether he liked the idea or not, I thought maybe I had a role to play in showing it.

What it revealed was that Martin Shkreli — the “Pharma Bro,” the “sociopath,” the “narcissist,” the “jackass,” the “troll” — could love. He may have come to regret falling in love with a journalist, and may now try to downplay it or bat away any suggestions that he had real feelings for me. But both his actions and words from a few years ago spoke loudly to the contrary. To anyone directly observing, he seemed smitten. 

Months before Martin and I said our first “I love yous,” his cellmate in the Brooklyn MDC, a Jamaican man incarcerated for drug offenses, already had an inkling he was sweet on me. “I thought y’all were bunny and Clyde,” he wrote to me recently, meaning “Bonnie,” obviously. But “every time I use to tell him that I know from how he sound about you he would [deny] it,” the former cellmate added. 

“On one occasion I was playing with him telling that he [should]  link me up with the reporter he's always talking about, ‘Christie,’ [which] meant you,” the cellmate wrote, meaning set us up for romantic purposes. Martin apparently “got so infuriated.” 

“I was just playing with him telling him that she might need a bad bwoy [meaning ‘bad boy’],” the former cellmate wrote. “He was so tight. He try not to speak to me the whole day.”

Later on, when Martin and I were “dating,” so to speak, he didn’t just express love for me regularly, he meditated on it. He thought of me, for instance, while he was reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, a lengthy letter the Victorian-era playwright penned to his former lover while in prison for homosexuality. 

A CorrLinks email to me from Martin Shkreli.
A CorrLinks email to me from Martin Shkreli.

And whenever he had access to a contraband cell phone, he would text me that he loved me nearly every day. He would call me “babe” and “boo” and “Honeybear,” a pet name we adopted for each other, which referenced the plastic containers used in FCI Fort Dix for contraband alcohol. And he would engage in all sorts of playful and serious banter about…

(Note: paid section contains WhatsApp screenshots)

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