Forcing the Fairy Tale: I Stayed in a Bad Relationship Because of a Psychic’s Prediction. Kim Kardashian Would Understand.
I’m sitting in an empty Thai restaurant on 39th Street, looking a little like the Kim Crying meme. You’ve seen it: Kim Kardashian at a makeup mirror, bawling in her silk robe. Even the meme’s 2012 backstory is relevant to my present moment; Kim was explaining to Scott Disick and Kourtney Kardashian why she needed out of her cringeworthy relationship with NBA player Kris Humphries, whom she’d married in a two-part TV special following three months of engagement.
“I feel BAD for him!” Kim sputtered. “He’s everything on PAPER that I WANT in someone! But my HEART isn’t connecting!” Sniffling, I sip my coke and check my phone to see if my own Humphries is close. Her name is Avery, and she is coming from the Big Law Firm where she clerks.
When — years before any of this — I first saw that regret-drenched episode of Kim and Kourtney Take New York, I’d discerned sincerity in Kim’s dismay. Though the media had been convinced the entire relationship was a farce — and the tacky, televised wedding had surely been somewhat schemed — I’d believed that Kim had believed Humphries could be the next chapter of her real life. I’d pitied her error of judgment. And now look at me.
Avery walks in, her husky-blue eyes dazed. I’d avoided her for a week. She forces a smile, and I feel a little guilty for what I’m about to do. But this girl had thrown insufferable tantrums like none I’d ever witnessed from any adult. She’d called me “stupid” many times. Her triggers ran the gamut from my belief in ghosts to the fact that I didn’t break into sympathetic tears whenever she cried. Plus, my friends hated her, and my attraction to her had dissipated halfway through the four-month affair. I try to smile back. Really, I’m wondering: How’d I end up here? At 29? With so many relationship lessons already under my belt? How?
“I was in a very hopeful place when we met,” I tell her. “And we moved too fast.” A fucking psychic predicted you. That’s how. “We need to take some time alone.” I need to take some time. To contemplate the fact that I made a significant life decision based on something a psychic said.
Her pale skin flushes pink. “You’re going to regret this.”
I bite my lip and shake my head. I regret one thing, and one thing only…
Before Avery, I’d experienced another relationship to regret: the Great Love of my twenties, a beautiful, brilliant, hilarious alcoholic. For those complicated memories, however, I felt only acceptance — even gratitude. This was the confusing truth that had initially hooked me on KUWTK, a show capable of providing visibility to complex relationship dynamics and deeply human moments.
The moments that particularly moved me were the ones featuring Scott Disick and Kourtney Kardashian. Nobody can fake Scott’s desperate, drunken destructiveness throughout early seasons; Kourtney’s pain as partner to an addict was equally palpable. For example: a Vegas episode when newly (and temporarily) sober Scott confessed to Kourtney that he was tempted to party and ought to head back to LA. I’d recognized the pride, hope, and relief that filled Kourtney’s eyes: Maybe this is progress, maybe this time it’ll really stick.
When the long-term rollercoaster of my own relationship ended, I felt continued kinship with Skourt, whose forgiving, familial post-breakup bond was, somewhat unsurprisingly, much like mine with my ex. I never expected to relate to any other couple on the show; especially not photogenic Kris H. and Kim, who (at first) seemed earnest and optimistic, yet suspiciously sized to the Kardashian formula.
What Formula is that? Picture-perfect family values, a Hero’s Journey narrative arc, and layers upon layers of multimedia self-promotion. This formula is the probable foundation of the empire’s seemingly boundless power, and it dances dialectically with those aforementioned raw relationship dynamics. In Keeping Up with the Kardashians, viewers experience alternately “real” and “staged” moments, both of which unfailingly insert the KarJenner empire as both a setting and a character.
A simple example: the classic clip of Caitlyn Jenner settling into a doctor’s waiting room, picking up an issue of Cosmo with Kim on the cover, and sighing, “I can’t get away from these people.”
Another is the episode when Kim’s rapidly-inflating fame renders her too busy for her best friend Jonathan, so he recruits a professional Kim K impersonator to hang out with. He and the replacement run into Kim at a medi-spa apparently sooner than their scheduled encounter, causing wide-eyed Kim to assure her double: “this was really not planned.” A startling glint of sincerity is perceptible in Kim’s voice; sincerity that somehow defies the absurdity of a scene showing Kim Kardashian witnessing herself through the face of an uncanny Other.
This is mainly why I watch: KUWTK is a meticulously formulated post-modern project run by self-mythologizing auteurs who obnoxiously reclaim the decries of their consumerism while constructing an impressively complex hyper-reality — and we’re left wondering where exactly it had been that we’d sensed the humanity.
The intoxicating impact of organic emotions combined with semi-scripted experience might also be how we fall into relationships that suit the hopeful narratives of our own lives.
Following the winter breakup with Great Love, I was staying at my mother’s place in Phoenix, recovering from a minor surgery. That spring, pitying my cabin fever, mom drove me to a psychic whose sign she often passed at a busy intersection.
The woman’s home was a cool, clean, crystal sanctuary. Marble floors, clear glass trinkets galore, and slick white furniture. Her credibility was validated with her first pull of a tarot card: “Your ex works in law.”
My jaw dropped. Great Love was in law school. How did she know? She shuffled her deck again. “You’ll always love each other, but you need to tell him it’s over for good. Next summer, you’ll meet The One.”
I didn’t correct her about my sexuality. After all, what a strong start! My girlfriends are often on the masculine end of the spectrum, I reasoned. Surely she was just misinterpreting energies.
“The One,” the psychic continued, “is also in law. A lawyer. The first letter in one of his initials will begin with S. You’ll be married two years later.”
Suddenly, life seemed glimmering with possibility, like the little prisms on the psychic’s window ledges, casting rainbows across the table. On the thrilling drive home, I called my best friend. She was sold. For months that followed, anytime I expressed nostalgia about my ex, or told her of a latest lame date, she’d say, “is she a lawyer? Does her name start with S? Is it next summer? Then I’m not worried!”
Until November. Avery and I matched on Tinder, and our text banter seemed promising. When the evening of our first date arrived and I was waiting at the bar, I took a second glance at her profile and noticed something even more optimistic: she’d graduated from a famous law school.
A lawyer! I texted my BFF.
“OMG!!!” She replied. “Just look out for that S!”
Avery arrived. I liked her classic work suit, snappy insights about New York, and, most of all, that she switched to water after two drinks. Toward the end of the night, both of us looser and flirtier, she asked if I’d googled her before our date.
“I do usually google,” I admitted. “But I didn’t have enough info this time.”
“It’s easy,” she said, pulling out her phone to start a search. “Just my first name and my school.” Her LinkedIn profile appeared.
“There — see? First result. Avery S_____”
That moment felt dramatic and affirming enough — but later on, I discovered that Avery and I had physical chemistry on top of it. I was suddenly dizzy with something stronger than hope: blind certainty. The only inconsistency seemed to be that Avery and I had met in November instead of summer, but surely, I reasoned, the metaphysics of time can be murky for psychics.
Some might call it self-deception — others, the power of suggestion. I call it being almost thirty, demoralized by a decade of dating, and wanting badly to believe.
Kim Kardashian may not have had a psychic predict Kris Humphries, but she did have Kris Jenner (arguably more powerful). When something happens to a KarJenner, Kris Jenner has an infamous ability to make even more happen for them from it. Consider: the disempowerment of a leaked sex tape parlayed into a lucrative Playboy feature, compounded with the fact that most of us can now recognize this Phoenix-Ashes narrative as the Kardashian origin myth. Kim’s centerfold was bigger than the photos themselves — it was a reclaiming of her sexuality, a BTS episode on their reality show, and the debut of a career to be defined by evolution.
While I’d longed to believe that Fate could befall me and create a cinematic version of my life, the Kardashian modus operandi has always been one of self-determination. They are their own psychics, plotting and then living out episodes. When Kim met someone in the public eye who also valued family, with whom she shared physical chemistry, and, most importantly, whose first name began with the letter K, the plot was likely apparent: Kim’s fairy tale ending. It was too perfect not to be. And so, they actualized it. But surely the metaphysics of free will can become murky, even in a universe directed by Kris Jenner.
The happiest Kim ever seemed with Kris H. was in their early scenes together, when they were still long-distance between LA and Minnesota and he was picking her up all the time. She seemed mainly smitten by his height and the way he could lift her, likely indicating one of those inexplicable, chemical, and deluding sparks destined to disappear as suddenly as it had begun.
When such flings escalate, it’s typically only a matter of time before: Oh shit. What have I done. For Kim, this seemed to take effect on a family vacation to Bora Bora. Kris played rough in the water near Kris Jenner and Kylie’s kayak, ultimately capsizing them. Then he grabbed Kim’s face and held it under the water of an outdoor shower while telling Kylie “I hate when she wears makeup.” Kim’s laughter in these moments was tense, but she later rationalized the incidents in a testimonial: “This is what I love about Kris. He reminds me not to take everything so seriously.”
Some might call it self-deception, others, the power of suggestion. Whatever the term, it’s well-matched with an ability possessed by many women: contortionism in order to Make It Work. In a later episode, while Kim was trying on wedding dresses with Vera Wang, the designer asked Kourtney about Humphries. “He’s too opinionated,” Kourtney replied. Kim popped out of the dressing room, wearing a gown.
“He’s the guy that says all the wrong things — first.” Her voice had the terse panic of someone trying to convince not only others, but themselves, too. “And that’s what got me to love him. He says, ‘everyone hates me at first, and then they love me.’ So I get that. I really do.”
Over time, Kris began to express some problematic stances: shaming Scott for abiding house rules…
Insisting that he and Kim settle down in Minnesota, his hometown, because it was better for raising a family, plus, “In a few years, nobody will care about you anyway...” Flinging Kim around a little too forcefully.
“Isn’t it crazy?” Kris asked Kim at some point. “You’re my wifey.”
“Really crazy,” she replied, wince-smiling.
Watching it now, I feel that wince.
Khloe and Kourtney’s early doubts about Kris H remind me of Avery’s first meetings with my own loved ones. My sister writes comedy, and, over post-dinner drinks in my living room, she made a crack about her passion for poop jokes. Avery’s mood darkened.
“Poop jokes are stupid,” she said. “Lowbrow.”
“But they’re FUNNY,” my sister guffawed.
“Are you serious?” I didn’t yet know how fast Avery would always get to raising her voice. A tense exchange about elitism suddenly ensued between them, while I just giggled, semi-disbelieving the moment was real. It was real, though, and it even worsened. Later that night, the conversation moved to middle school reminiscing, and Avery laughed boastfully.
“I used to be a cyber-bully.”
“What?” I glanced at my sister before looking back to Avery. “That’s not funny.”
“Funnier than poop jokes,” she muttered.
Avery interchanged her outbursts with spoiling me, and I was touched when she suggested flying us to Atlanta so she could meet my best friend. Once we arrived, though, she talked, without rest, about only three things: how embarrassed she was to be white in a city where she felt the white people dressed badly; how cool it was that my BFF’s dog was a pit bull because the dog could “kill someone with the snap of a finger;” and, finally, how “insane” it was that my BFF had put Drake on while we drove to brunch because Drake was “so soft, not even a real rapper.”
“Drake is fun, Avery,” my best friend replied. “Do you hate fun?”
I was gradually discovering that not only did Avery did hate fun — she was bombastic and disagreeable. Unfortunately, similar to Kim’s early rationalizations about Kris, I talked myself out of the signs. The psychic had predicted her down to the letter, remember? And hey, Avery was a lawyer! Maybe debate was just how she connected with new people. I really liked how much she intellectually challenged me. We had good laughs sometimes. And, well, it felt very good to have someone — especially someone honest and reliable in a dating world of apparent scarcity. Surely this sense of security outweighed how often I found myself cringing (and apologizing to my friends).
Soon after Atlanta, I discovered Avery was not really a lawyer, but a clerk at her firm. She’d never passed the Bar. I felt sorry for her — she’d obviously been ashamed. Still, it was starting to become more and more difficult ignore the fragility of her ego. One night, sex was too vigorous and she knocked my jaw out of place. In the ER she snickered, “Is it bad that I’m kinda proud?” When, while driving, she found out that I believed in ghosts, she began banging on the steering wheel. “I cannot be with someone gullible. You’re gonna be a shitty mom! You’ll model stupidity for our kids! I will not have that!” When she discovered I was still closeted from my maternal grandparents for complicated family reasons, she threatened: “You’d better tell them about us. Otherwise, it’s me or them.” When I mentioned my belief in pre-nuptial agreements, she called me “conniving, the obvious product of dysfunction and divorce.” Her tantrums typically devolved into tears. I was unwilling and physically unable to cry with her. And then she’d say, “Look at you. So cold. What’s wrong with you?”
Pretty much anytime Avery opened her mouth, I would feel, throughout my whole body, the same stiffness evident in Kim’s smiles pretty much anytime Kris H. opened his. It was a smile that showed the activation of boundaries and then immediate suppression of them; disappointment that this story was not turning out as envisioned, yearning for the happy ending, and, finally, revulsion with the person who had triggered it all.
The misery of our relationship reached its crescendo on a trip to Mexico. Avery said untenable things about immigrants and sex workers and continued to be explosive and controlling. As soon as the plane landed back in the states, I asked her not to contact me and avoided her texts for a week.
“You don’t think I feel bad? At thirty years old, I wanted to be married with kids and I failed!” Kim wailed to Kourtney and Scott, touching on a truth about milestone-deadlines that I hope women continue to recognize and resist. So many of us yearn to have powerful professional identities and partnerships and the number thirty is round and intimidating, failure feelings looming all around it.
We risk rushing relationships that prove to be mismatched at best; toxic or abusive at worst.
And in a mismatched relationship, every moment feels like watching those staged but semi-real scenes in KUWTK. The run-in with the impersonator was really not planned, like Kim said — or was it? I said I loved this person —really? You sense the disconnect, but can’t quite figure out why, and can only hope that you’re not being made a total fool. Heroes like Mariah Smith exist, who identify all the continuity errors of KUWTK, shattering the hyperreality’s algorithm. But no deconstruction of the show can disprove Kim’s unmistakably real discomfort with Kris. We were all able to see it before she was.
I now believe in the simple adages of elders whose life experience pre-dates reality TV and its constructs: when you know, you know. Little did Kim know when she was forcing her Fairy Tale that she would fall in love with Kanye West not even a month later, a pairing that would elevate her spiritually, aesthetically, and professionally. Though much has changed through the years, at the time, their love was a story that spoke for itself and required no branding for that fact to feel true. They didn’t even televise the wedding.
For a time, nothing made more sense than the two of them together. It was beautiful. And she hadn’t forced it. And his name even started with a K.
Little do I know now, as Avery flees the restaurant, leaving me sitting alone — accepting, more comfortably than I ever have before, that I may have a solitary future ahead — that in only one month I’ll meet the woman who is better for me than anybody could have predicted. She will not be a lawyer. There won’t be an S anywhere in her name. None of it will be according to plan, but she will show me more and more each day how perfect for me she is — and we will write our own fantastic, flawed Fairy Tale as we go along.