Keith Manley, star of the Charlotte season of “Married at First Sight,” had an interesting journey navigating intimacy with his bride Iris. For those who don’t recall, not only was Iris a virgin, she often struggled to even have conversations about sex with her new husband. While I’m sure that was not the only reason these two didn’t work out. (They didn’t have much of a connection.) It didn’t help matters much. And while Keith and Iris’ relationship was largely entertainment for us, Keith and Iris lived through the fall out in real time, when the show aired on Lifetime and again when it appeared on Netflix, in the midst of a pandemic when folks didn’t have much to do but stream.
As you can imagine, going through all of this and then a divorce to boot has been a challenging journey. The increased time many of us were spending alone, due to the pandemic caused Keith to reflect in ways he had not before. He began journaling and those entries eventually led him to write a book: Life Is Just: A Walk Within.
Not only does the book detail the lessons he learned being married to and eventually divorcing a stranger, Keith also speaks about the relationship with his family, healing certain things with his brother, and how he coped with the fear of possibly losing his mother, Mary Manley, to COVID-19.
In anticipation of the book’s release, we spoke to Keith and his mother about what he’s learned about himself, relationships, and family. See what they both had to say.
MadameNoire: What inspired you to write this book? It began as a journal, right?
Keith Manley: That’s correct. Earlier on in the year when we locked down on everything completely, as far as quarantine was concerned. As far as my family and my situation, I had a lot going on. It was kind of difficult for me to sit in my room by myself and face myself for a little while, without having the distractions of being able to go out and be around friends. I ended up getting sick and testing positive for COVID, which I found out on Father’s Day and being home [with his parents] on Father’s Day. I come home to Charlotte, where I live, and I start filling sick immediately when I get back. 2-3 days after I had been feeling terrible, I got tested and found out that I actually had it. Then I had to share the news with my parents. Turns out my mother ended up getting it and it basically spread through my whole family. It was a whole lot going on. And I think the biggest thing that helped me through this process was being able to journal. I really got into it. I’ve been writing forever. It’s always been my outlet but this one was a way to get out everything I was feeling. And eventually, it transformed into something I felt could be shared with other people.
MadameNoire: Watching a reality show, we only get a small slice of who a person is. And even after reading the book we still won’t know everything but what do you hope people will learn about you from the book, particularly.
Keith: I’d hope that people get a chance to step in—I think there’s a misconception that this process was something that I didn’t suffer from or struggle through or after. This has been a year of not only isolation but also, I’ve been going through a real life divorce, during this year, which just ended up being finalized. It’s been a pretty difficult year for me. I wasn’t looking forward to going through a divorce, especially at 29. It’s been a struggle. I hope that type of thing is being taken away from the book.
MadameNoire: Ms. Mary, I heard you ended up the hospital as a result of COVID. Can you tell me what that experience was like?
Mary Manley: It’s funny because I work in the healthcare industry. So I was familiar with COVID and the ramifications of COVID. I was really exercising a lot of caution, working from home and not socializing outside of the home that much. When we realized that Keith was sick, I realized that I had symptoms that I attributed to something else. I was having the chills. I associated that with maybe I’m sitting too long at my desk and my circulation is becoming poor. In fact, the day I realized he was sick, it was a summer day in June and I was sitting outside with a blanket and a laptop.
So immediately, when I found out he was under the weather, before he got tested, I suspected very strongly that I was sick too. That was on Wednesday. On Thursday, I could barely keep my head up because of the chills and the fatigue. I was bed bound for about a week. I had body aches, the loss of taste and smell. I did not have an appetite or taste for anything.
After about a week of being in bed, I woke up and told my husband, ‘I really think I’m going to die.’ We shifted into high gear and he got me into the emergency room. And I think the most difficult part about that whole aspect of going to the hospital is that I was isolated from my family. He had to leave me. They wouldn’t let him stay.
The most frightening part for me was, ‘What if I don’t make it?’ I know Keith very well and what if he feels a sense of guilt, that he was the reason I was sick and didn’t make it. How is my family going to move past this if I don’t recover. It was challenging.
I was in the hospital for a week. Fortunately, they pulled out all the stops. I had excellent care.
MadameNoire: Keith, for a lot of us, that’s our worst fear, giving our parents this virus. How were handling everything when your mother got sick?
Keith: I remember exactly where I was when I found out she was being admitted to the hospital. I was waking up and it was the best I’d felt that week since getting sick. And then I got a call for my dad. He said, ‘I just took your mom to the hospital. She woke up and said she wasn’t breathing well. She really felt like she was going to do. I want you to know that she’s there.’
I said, ‘Were you expecting for her to be admitted?’ He was like, ‘No.’ He was in shock that he even had to leave. The fact he had to leave her there by herself hit him pretty hard.
So, it definitely hit me big time, really hard. Thank God she had her phone on her because we would have never been able to get in touch with her, unless it was through the hospital.
My mom is somebody who I admire. This has been my best friend in a lot of ways. This was probably this worst thing that’s ever happened, her being in the hospital for that week. And I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t go anywhere. I was sick myself.
It was a very, very low point for me.
MN: It seems like isolation is a theme in both of your stories. While I know it was a very difficult moment for the both of you but can you speak about what you may have learned during these times?
Keith: I’ve always taken pride in being close to my family and my brother. These are the people who I wouldn’t really have much of an identity without. And this time has made me realize that more than anything. Everything starts and ends at home for me.
Mary: When I came out of the hospital, the day that my husband picked me up, just the sight of him…we literally sat in the parking lot and just cried. The first thing I said to my family, once I was out of the hospital was, ‘If you come out of a situation like this and you’re still the same, then something’s wrong somewhere.’ Because you have an opportunity to evaluate what’s important to you and your wellbeing and what things you can do without.
Also, it gave me the perspective of being on the patient’s side.
MN: Keith, going back to “Married At First Sight,” coming off the show, and the marriage itself, what would you say you learned about yourself and relationships?
Keith: It was a lot of things. Overall, it’s a lot more work I have to do to become a good husband, a good partner. A big thing for me is transparency. I realized I need to be able to communicate how I’m feeling a lot better than how I was and how I have been in the past. It’s something I’ve tried to work on and I thought I was pretty good at it. But there is definitely room to grow in that area.
MN: Ms. Mary, how did you feel about your son participating in this show? We noticed you picked up on Iris’ very white wedding dress before anyone even knew she was a virgin.
Mary: When Keith brought the prospect of being on the show to our attention, we know how Keith is. He’s very adventurous. Initially, we all thought it was kind of almost like a joke. This can’t really be real. But as the show continued to communicate with him, we realized there’s something to this. I come from a very traditional family, I could not imagine him marrying somebody he’d never seen or spoken to. And even though I kind of knew where we were heading with this thing, I kind of got emotional on the day he announced he was getting married because my first thought was this was about to get real.
We have such a close relationship that one of the things I concerned myself with, in all transparency, is what if he marries a woman who doesn’t understand the closeness of this family? She doesn’t understand the frequency with which Keith and I communicate. Because we talk, several times a week, almost every day.
I got emotional because I thought this has the potential to change a lot quicker than I thought.
I think Iris was very forthcoming with the fact that she was a virgin. So I felt compelled to have a conversation with Keith to let him know this is some serious stuff and it’s very important how you approach this.
There are different takes on how I approached this and the potential messiness of it but it was really my wanting to look out for Keith’s best interest but also wanting him to be cognizant of the potential fragility of Iris.
MN: How did your family support Keith as he went through his divorce?
Mary: We supported him completely. And there were certain questions I asked of him, in terms of whether she makes you happy. And based upon his answers, I really didn’t feel that there was that connection. That was my perception. We did not advise him either way, this was a Keith decision. And we supported that. If this doesn’t feel right, you have to do what you think is best.
It’s not always easy to read and hear certain things about people’s perspective of what he did and didn’t do but we are supportive and we always will be.
MN: Lastly, our readers want to know are you dating right now? And if so, how are you approaching relationships these days?
Keith: I’m not closed off to dating at all but as of right now, I’m not. I think this is an opportunity for me. I just got out of a relationship. My divorce just got finalized in July. I’m still trying to figure things out with myself. I don’t want to rush into anything just to have somebody to carry my baggage. I’m really just working on my relationship with myself right now that’s the most important thing.
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