BY HAIG CHAHINIAN | When Kate Walter’s girlfriend of 26 years left her, Walter was bereft, not sure what she’d do. Since her New York City domestic partnership certificate carried no legal value, she wasn’t entitled to the nest egg she’d helped her partner build. She was nearly destitute, as well as brokenhearted. Walter, a 66-year-old Greenwich Village journalist, embarked on finding a new princess charming. She recounts the adventure in her just-released, poignant, soulful debut memoir, “Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing” (Heliotrope Books).
After mourning the loss of “Slim,” her lover — a knockout with black hair, brown eyes and beautiful complexion — no route to romance was off-limits. Walter consulted New Age gurus, tarot readers, astrologists, speed dated. She even went “speed shrinking” to find a therapist who might help her attract a mate. During the one-hour lightning round, she consulted eight psychologists, who offered a renewed sense of hope.
But venturing online to find dates left her feeling hopeless.
“You don’t know anything about a person except their profile,” the bespectacled author said recently at a cafe on E. Eighth St., pushing her short brown hair behind her ear. “I know people who’ve met the love of their life this way, but it’s a crapshoot.” Walter felt out of practice. “Let’s put it this way. The last time I was dating, Jimmy Carter was president,” she confided.
The author was born in Paterson, N.J. “Hometown of Allen Ginsberg,” she beamed. “I used to go to readings at the Paterson Public Library where Ginsberg was reading. It made me feel really cool. This famous beatnik poet who lived in the Village was from Paterson!”
Walter’s mother was a homemaker active in their Irish Catholic church, and her father taught in the urban school system. Walter came out to herself at 25 and came to parents several years later at 29. Hearing the news, her father compared homosexuals to rapists and murderers. She hightailed it to the Oscar Wilde Bookstore and picked up “Now That You Know,” a parent’s guide to accepting a queer child. But she felt exhausted from her big proclamation. She never gave the tome to her dad, closing the conversation.
Books had always given solace to Walter, who early on aspired to be a writer. After graduating from college, she followed in Ginsberg’s footsteps.
“When I moved to St. Mark’s Place, I used to see Allen running around in the neighborhood,” she said. “I really wanted to go up and say, ‘Hi, I’m from Paterson, too. You really inspired me when I was 18.’ But I didn’t want to annoy him. And then he died. So I wish I had.”
Her early career included writing rock music reviews for the Aquarian Weekly, then branching out to The New York Times and the Daily News, as well as becoming a popular teacher at N.Y.U. and CUNY. At a gathering for gay and lesbian educators, she met Slim. They clicked immediately. Soon they were living together, and one year as a couple led to 25 more. At turns funny and sad, the memoir relates the dynamics of Walter’s same-sex relationship. Yet the author is clear about the tale’s broad appeal.
“It’s not just for gay people,” she said. “My story has a universal message for anyone who’s gone through a horrible breakup. Straight women have read it and said, ‘This is exactly what happened in my marriage. I can relate to what you went through.’ ”
Does that mean the story isn’t about gay pride?
“No, it’s about pride, too,” she said. “I’m a proud gay woman. But that’s not the whole thrust of the book. It’s about how to get over heartache and heal your life. How to get to a better place.”
Walter’s pages overflow with familiar Village haunts. She attends programs at the LGBT Community Center, exercises at Integral Yoga on W. 13th St., and turns Cafe Condesa into her perpetual first-date hangout.
Her life remains focused below 14th St. She’s submitted columns frequently over the years for The Villager. She met her East Village indie publisher Naomi Rosenblatt through her Downtown writing workshop. But finally realizing the dream of publishing a book has given her nightmares, perhaps resurrecting her clan’s Catholic guilt.
“I’ve been scared what people will think,” she said. “I asked my mother not to read it. She said, ‘Of course.’ The bad dreams stopped, but started up again. I realized I feared being punished for telling the truth about my life.”
She was afraid of being honest about dating within the lesbian community.
“It’s tight-knit. People know each other,” she said. “I run into women who dated Slim, and come up to me to talk about it. If you were straight, chances are you wouldn’t see your ex on a date with another person. The closeness makes things harder sometimes.”
The book is dedicated to “women who’ve been dumped after twenty-five years.” Reflecting on her experience, Walter shares advice.
“Don’t expect to feel good for a long time. I would not suggest dating for a while,” she said. “You need to process it. It’s a mistake to jump quickly into another relationship. Obviously, some people have met someone else or break up for that reason. But if you’re single and alone, take it slow. Use this as a sacred time to mend.”
Walter is better off today, with a full-time teaching gig at a Downtown community college after working as an adjunct professor for decades. She’s in great physical shape, and has upgraded to a bigger apartment in the Westbeth Artists Housing complex, too. She credits her good fortune to yoga and to belonging to the East Village’s Middle Collegiate Church, a “hip” house of worship that celebrates the arts.
At the moment she’s not Matching, swiping right on Tinder, or saying OK Cupid. She isn’t even really looking too hard for a kiss. Though if Ms. Right came along, she wouldn’t mind a different happy ending.
Walter will be reading Tues., June 30, at 7 p.m., at St. Mark’s Bookshop, 136 E. Third St. For more about her and her work, visit www.KateWalter.com .
Chahinian is an executive coach who has written for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Salon