It did not escape my attention, both before and after leaving my job at Bloomberg News to become Martin Shkreli’s prison girlfriend, that women who strayed into his romantic life tended to attract a remarkable amount of public curiosity. And there was a potential for them to use the dynamic to their advantage.
His infamy over drug pricing, self-generated wealth, brash attitude, and delicate, “vampiric” appearance combined to make him into a forbidden sex symbol. All of the voices loudly denouncing him and insisting that he could not possibly be attractive only heightened the effect.
Although no one in mainstream media would dare call Martin “sexy” – they would happily use inverse adjectives like “despicable,” “repulsive,” “hideous,” etc., however – the platforms they willingly gave women who came forward describing “liaisons” with him strongly suggested they knew some people saw him that way. At the very least, no one could deny the voyeuristic pull.
What other reason could there be for the Washington Post, a prestigious national newspaper that helped bring down former President Richard Nixon by exposing the Watergate scandal, to feature a narrative from a woman who went on a Tinder date with Martin? The piece, literally called “My Tinder date with ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli,” was published in January 2016. Apart from Martin randomly ordering a cup of $120 tea at a Japanese restaurant for no other reason than to impress, it didn’t even sound like an eventful date.
“This fall, I went on a date with Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old “Pharma Bro” recently arrested on charges of securities fraud, and widely known as the most despised man in America,” the writer, actress Jacklyn Collier began the piece. “I hate to disappoint the masses, but I have to say: I had a pretty good time.”
The rest conveyed observations that largely mirrored mine: that Martin was initially shy, not arrogant, and was eager-to-please (he made sure the restaurant they went to had options for Collier, who was a vegetarian); that once they got to talking, he was “surprisingly open” and “genuine,” but showed flashes of cockiness; and that he seemed to at least have the potential to do good for society.
“Okay, I admit that I also had a fantasy of being the manic pixie dream girl who helped him turn his life around,” Collier wrote. “I pictured us opening an HIV/AIDS clinic together and wandering the streets of New York, handing out wads of cash to homeless people and other strangers.”
Before I had been lured into a romantic relationship with Martin by a similar fantasy, and was merely working on a book that sought to humanize him, I met with Collier for drinks in Manhattan to hear more about the date and how the Post story came to be. She explained that she had not gone on the date expecting to to write about it, but the opportunity arose later.
She added that during the date, she felt remarkably comfortable in his presence – there was none of the “asshole” energy that New York “finance bros” tend to exude. She said she would have happily gone on another date but there didn’t seem to be enough of a mutual “spark.”
It was easy enough for me to relate to Collier. While she had obviously benefitted from the exposure she received through her Washington Post story, she seemed straightforward and honest about it. As far as I knew, Martin held no ill will toward her and did not feel particularly “used” or “betrayed.”
Other women who were more significantly involved with Martin, and who attracted attention over their relationships with him, played their hands a bit differently. One was Helen Donahue, a former social media editor for Vice. According to Martin, Donahue made the first move by…