I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
When Kim Kardashian was 30 years old, she briefly married basketball player Kris Humphries. The marriage lasted 72 days and their relationship has since become a blip on her pop-culture legacy — but within that blip is a blip that I think about every time I brush my teeth. In those moments, with a vibrating electric brush between my lips, I feel closer to Kris Humphries than anyone in the world.
It’s all because of a 12-second scene in season six of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Kris is brushing his teeth before bed and Kim says her pet peeve is “someone who brushes their teeth so hard that they make the entire mirror all—” and then uses a hand towel to wipe off the flecks he sprayed everywhere. “Was that me?” Kris says. “No,” says Kim. “That was the alien that came in.”
Here’s the thing — doesn’t everybody spray up the mirror? Wiping the mirror is something you do for guests so that they don’t think you’re gross but we’re all spraying it up on the low, right? Sure, you could be “overbrushing” but if you’re working with an electric toothbrush, it’s hard to imagine that abrasion is an issue. Like Kris, I believe a bit of vigor is the very essence of a successful toothbrushing session — otherwise it’s the inner mouth equivalent of a limp handshake. I’d even go so far as to say that if you’re not seasoning your mirror with frothy spit, you’re not doing it right.
The logistics of brushing your teeth while keeping the mirror clean are mind-boggling. In the aforementioned scene, there’s a quick shot of Kim brushing her tongue, but not much insight into how where her toothpaste goes. Does she brush slowly and gently, like a person who doesn’t know the financial torture of cavities without a dental plan? Does she tightly close her lips over the brush creating a vacuum-like seal? Is she positioned downward so that the spatter goes into the sink? Does she stare deep into the drain and feel a bit sad but without being sure why?
I’ve tried all of these techniques, and more. It’s the first portion of my tooth-brushing routine — the opening ceremony where I seek Kim’s approval. If I can get out of the bathroom with a spotless mirror, I won’t be one of those people. But then, the first fleck hits and I am Kris. I’ll never be a Kim, I’m a careless Kris Humphries, and it’s time to go to town on my molars. By the time I’m finished, I’m staring at a snow globe of spit.
The clip is meant to show that Humphries is a total slob, that he’s impossible to live with. The warning signs about their relationship are written on the bathroom mirror. How could we, and Kim, have missed them?
Well, that’s exactly what the producers wanted us to think. By the time this episode (“Kim’s Fairytale Wedding”) aired, everyone already knew that the marriage ends in a swift divorce. The New York Post published a cover story with the headline “BIG A$$ SHAM” eight days before the episode aired in 2011. Red-flag scenes, like the toothbrushing moment, were included (and others even faked) to help Kim save a little face. But it actually makes her look worse.
This exact scene is cited in a Scientific American blog in which the author pulls examples from KUWTK to illustrate psychologist John Gottman’s “four horsemen” of a doomed relationship. In Gottman’s 1998 study, he began noticing behaviors that could predict with 93 percent accuracy whether a couple would break up or stay together. The way Kim speaks to Kris about his toothbrushing is apparently a textbook example of one of the horsemen: Criticism.
Rather than asking Kris to wipe the mirror, or to be more careful, Kim launches straight for a generalized attack. He is “someone” who does this, which groups him into a lesser category. According to Gottman’s work, criticism “paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen” of contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Maybe that clip sticks with me because it’s a daily reminder to exercise empathy, even when I think a loved on is dead wrong.
Now, when I floss, I think about Kim’s current husband, Kanye West. This is the man who bought his first cell phone in 2011 for the sole purpose of warning Kim that she shouldn’t marry Kris. He’s also the man who rapped, “Now if I fuck this model/And she just bleached her asshole/And I get bleach on my T-shirt/I’mma feel like an asshole.” They’re two clean freaks made for each other.
I often picture Kim, Kanye, North, Saint, and Chicago lined up at the bathroom sink as they slowly brush their teeth. No one blinks, no one says a word. When they’re finished, Kim inspects the mirror and wipes the tiny spots created by Chicago, who is still learning. As they put their children to bed, they worry that their newborn will become “someone” who brushes their teeth too hard. And maybe in those moments, just like me, Kim is thinking of Kris Humphries.