Before delving into our discussion about her new memoir, Unwifeable, the first thing Mandy Stadtmiller tells me is that I need to download the voice recorder app she swears by. Journalistic advice is a fitting start to our conversation, because while Stadtmiller's memoir, out April 3, is ostensibly a book about the intersection of addiction and dating, it's also a book about a woman willing to follow her journalistic ambition to all the strange places it takes her — like sex clubs and a meeting with a Las Vegas gigolo.
Unwifeable begins when Stadtmiller arrives in New York at the age of 30 to begin her new job at the New York Post. Newly divorced, Stadtmiller finds the world of dating as boundless as the world of journalism. She establishes herself as a household name as the Post's sex and dating columnist, blogging about her relationships with men (like the bland, excruciatingly preppy "Blaine") in installments. Later, Stadtmiller becomes an editor and uber-confessional columnist for the now-defunct website xoJane — often positioning herself as "the girl you love to hate." But is that who Stadtmiller was, or wanted to be?
In Unwifeable, Stadtmiller bares the truth of what was happening behind all those columns — uncomfortable encounters with stars, a dark struggle with addiction, and persistent acts of self-destruction. Unwifeable is a compulsively readable memoir. Through hard work and reckonings, Stadmiller's sense of self shifts throughout the book, culminating in something she never expected would happen: a happy marriage, and a memoir that reads more like a revelation than a confessional column. I sat down with Stadtmiller to discuss her memoir in more detail.
What does "unwifeable" mean to you?
“‘Unwifeable’ was a term I’d heard used before in culture. I thought about how much it resonated with me, and how much it angered me, and how much it made me want to get a giant punching bag for the Madonna/whore dichotomy and obliterate it. I thought about ‘unwifeable’ in the context of how I was often received by men who often looked very nervous after they googled me. Everyone does that. Everyone sizes someone up within the first five minutes. To me, unwifeable is an incredibly broad, sexist, and limiting term that I tried to reclaim and unpack through telling my own experiences in love and dating.”
You made a career writing about your life, both at the Post and xoJane. Have you always wanted to write a memoir?
“From the moment that I got to New York, everyone said, 'Do a book! Do a book!' It’s something you’re told if you work at a newspaper or a website. It feels like this — not pressure, but the ‘next leveling’ of your ability as a writer. The problem was that a lot of my initial cracks at writing about my past were done with a real sense of resentment and victimization and self-pity. Or just total lack of authenticity, where I was trying to sell myself as a ‘Seven Tips and Tricks To Get That Man’ kind of expert. That’s never been my area of expertise. I would read all the books — Why Men Marry Bitches, The Rules — but I have the kind of personality where I start to feel dead inside if I employ that in my own life. I eventually have to call myself out on it, or I feel a little crazy."
So many of the people that you’re writing about are public figures. Did you ever hesitate to name names, or include certain stories?
“If I were a total opportunist, I could have reframed minor flames and flirtations as being these epic things, and then tried to bank on someone’s reputation, body of work, and everything they had built up in their life — recognizing that’s what I did when I was starfucking it up. It’s a good recognition to have. God forbid I work on my own body of work. Why not just latch on to someone who’s figured it out and get validation and self-worth through everything they’ve done? That’s usually not the best way.”
At one point, you write about the period you were dating media giants Aaron Sorkin, Keith Olbermann, and Lloyd Grove at the same time. I geared up for gossip, but you cut my expectations off. You wrote, “While the nihilistic old me would hash out the entirety of this gossip (and I could fill several books), I now realize that that’s the same person who didn't think she was worth anyone on her own...so I will only relay the highlights of this love triangle.”
"My editor had me go back and put more in. I hope there’s enough to get people’s desires for stories sated. But to completely throw people under the bus who trusted me — and also, all three of them, there’s nothing to throw them under the bus with. You can paint a nun as being a dickhead if you want, depending on the selectivity, quotes, and framing."
You’ve been airing your personal life for so long. What’s it like to have strangers talking about you, and for them to have opinions on how you're living your life?
“Are you familiar with the Overton Window? It’s a nice way of explaining cultural shifts in society. Between the time in working at the Post, a fairly conservative tabloid institution, and working at an intensely liberal feminist website like XoJane, the culture also dramatically shifted. And the Overton Window shifted in terms of what was acceptable to talk about and write about, and what was not acceptable anymore. A lot of cultural mores shifted during that time.
"When I was coming to xoJane, I was very naive about a lot of issues. I’d never heard about body acceptance politics. I remember a girl pitched me something about an eating disorder and I was like, 'Great, do you have picture of yourself when you were at your lowest weight?' I had no idea. Because in the tabloid Post world, you want the shocking picture. That’s something [xoJane founders] Emily [McCombs] and Jane [Pratt] were protective about initially. Some of the stuff I sent them when I first starting writing there was like, 'Hey, how’s this for an unlikable female narrator?' And they said, 'Well, kind of let people get to know you first.' I was so willing to sell myself out, rather than thinking – oh, well that’s personal, Mandy."
It’s probably hard for you to know what’s personal when, by that point, you had already bared your intimate life in the Post column for years.
“I think my brain rotted a little bit, from my inability to imagine a life where I didn’t write about my romantic life. On one hand, I respect the fact that that’s the writing that oftentimes resonated with people the most. I also think there’s something weirdly perverse about bedding men based on not wanting to repeat the experience of what happened with Blaine. It’s like, am I a fucking casting director in Hollywood, choosing the Bachelor? That’s an infinitely sick perspective with which to confront one of the greatest pathways to human happiness, which is an authentic relationship with another person.”
It’s like you became a character, and the column was the novel. There’s a tangible difference in the chapters about Blaine and the chapters about Pat Dixon, your husband. You communicate so differently with them.
“I was always trying to gain Blaine. I was always trying to work him. To produce him. What a nightmare! No wonder I broke and sabotaged the whole relationship and went down a rabbit hole of drugs, sex, and drinking. You eventually have to let out all the ticking-time-bomb conflict and denied humanity that you pushed down within yourself.”
Your first date with Pat was actually a marketing set-up. It was a fake date. You handed him a list of your five main relationship needs — and it worked! How do you think that blunt communication might help the dating process at large?
"I’ve never been asked that. That’s freakin' hysterical. I kind of love that. My friend, Jenn Hoffman, said, 'Do you not realize how hilarious that is? That it took you doing a completely marketing, branded, phony thing for you to get real? For you to tell a man what you needed and what you deserved?' I’d never really quite realized the starkness of that contrast. I love the idea of women doing the 2-minute date as a challenge and seeing what happens. At the very least, it would be a fascinating litmus test. We have all these cultural litmus tests — 'You don’t like The Graduate? You don’t eat meat? Bye.' But a relationship expectation litmus test would be a fascinating thing to try."