Sex + Love

A Girl Like Me

I look at Rihanna and go, “Girl, c’mon, just let Chris Brown fall into a grave of his own design.” And yet, unfortunately, I totally get it.

Believing in pop stars is sometimes tricky business. You know this especially if prior to this past week you counted yourself as a Rihanna fan. It’s hard to reconcile the powerful boss-girl image that she gives off in her songs with a woman who would do remixes with (and chat over Twitter with, and possibly even hang out with) her ex-bf that beat the shit out of her. You wonder why she would even talk to him ever again, let alone collaborate with him.

So, lots of gossip blogs and rock critics are wringing their hands and saying shame on you, Rihanna, telling her to be a better role model, and asking WHY WHY WHY is she giving Chris Brown a pass, essentially taking her abuser back. And as much as I feel the same way—I really do—I totally get it. (I really do.)

When I was exactly Rihanna’s age, I was already a few years into a relationship with someone who was abusive to me. Someone I habitually returned to again and again. My roommate at the time said it was like watching someone stick a fork into a light socket over and over, and never learning to stop. I was scared of my boyfriend, but I kept going back to him. He stalked me. But I went back to him. He broke into my house and read my diary and told other people what he had read. And I went back to him for like two more years after that.

You wouldn’t have expected this from me at the time. I had self-esteem, hobbies, an ego, even. I ran my own successful business with employees for whom I was responsible. I played in a band, made a fanzine, had tons of nice friends, and made my own money. I had never had a problem with self-harm, or an eating disorder, or any of the classic ways that girls hurt themselves. I didn’t have a drug problem; I didn’t even drink. Every other part of my life made sense, except for why I was with this man and why I felt like I couldn’t leave him, despite knowing I needed to.

I knew that getting away from him was crucial for my safety and my sanity, but when you are trapped in a cycle of abuse, you are totally blind, disempowered—it’s like you’re in a vortex. Once the relationship was over, when I was finally clean and clear in my mind and heart, I could not make sense of why I had stayed in it for so long. Today, in 2012, I still cannot tell you why I was with him. I couldn’t tell you what was so amazing about him that kept me by his side between the ages of 19 and 26. What I remember was that there was some sort of valor in being dedicated to someone really troubled. There was something very powerful about the feeling of being needed. I confused that feeling with love. Rihanna has said of Chris Brown, “You don’t know him like I know him.” That’s the kind of excuse I would have made back then.

I was less scared of him when I was with him than when we were apart. Early in the relationship, I shut off my gut instinct—the one that would normally protect me. All toxic relationships operate on the logic of the abuser, and after a while, that’s what made sense to me. It was like being in a two-person cult, and he was the leader.

After I had been with this man for a while, I had collected a mountain of misery and shame and become an expert at covering it up. What finally helped me out of the relationship was other people. Some friends gave me ultimatums; others did mini-friendterventions. I would dive into one of my tearful monologues—“You won’t believe what he did this time”—and they would counter with “I can’t keep being your friend and watch you do this.” Some people actually kept to their word, and cut me off. When my oldest friend, who had been in and out of the hospital for eating disorders and suicide attempts over the decades we’d known each other, told me she was afraid that I’d end up in a situation like hers because this man had so thoroughly shamed and brainwashed me into accepting what was unacceptable—well, that woke me the fuck up.

As with any other addictive pattern, the only solution for me was to go cold turkey. I changed the locks, changed my phone number, collected everything of his from my house and left it on his porch. I stopped discussing him with anyone but my therapist.

I am embarrassed now, years later, that I have seven years’ worth of journals filled with entries that vacillate between angrily deciding to leave him, and making excuses for his scary, shitty behavior. When we were together, I somehow managed to get a lot done, but I still think about the years I wasted being unhappy, crying, trying to love someone out of being an asshole, instead of just skateboarding off into a happier life for myself. I think about this other, alternate early-20s-hood I could have had, filled with nice—or even just regular—boyfriends and other, simpler kinds of mistakes.

I don’t know if Rihanna is in that same sad, obsessive place, the one that’s all excuses and obsession. Maybe she’s just in that spot where the fear is really tangling her up. As much as I want her to see Chris Brown for what he is, to skateboard off into her own happier life and simpler mistakes, I can’t pretend that I don’t fully understand how easy it is to return to someone you know is bad for you and call it love. Again and again. ♦

44 Comments

  • rosiesayrelax February 27th, 2012 3:10 PM

    It’s great to hear another side of the story. Whenever I see stuff about Rihanna and Chris Brown, I always feel my respect for her slowly depleting. But reading all this, I kind of get it, you know?

    rosiesayrelax.blogspot.com

  • Susann February 27th, 2012 3:10 PM

    Great article! I don’t ever want to be in that kind of situation again, my last half a year was hard enough…

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • Arabelle February 27th, 2012 3:12 PM

    so glad my rookie ladies are on the same page about this. it needed to be said and you said it wonderfully.

  • stellar February 27th, 2012 3:17 PM

    i think the key word is “don’t know”. u know when u know…

  • kellyann February 27th, 2012 3:25 PM

    this is amazing jessica. im so proud of you for writing something like this, i envy your courage.

  • AnguaMarten February 27th, 2012 3:44 PM

    this is so well written, and i think it’s important for people to understand that the victims of abusive situations are not weak or selfish for staying with their abuser–they’re just in a fucked-up situation, with a fucked-up person. thank you.

  • suburban grrrl February 27th, 2012 3:55 PM

    The thing I love about this website is that nothing is ever written about anyone hatefully or judgmentally– everyone says they believe in girl power here and they totally mean it!

    http://sub-urbangrrrl.blogspot.com/

  • Naomi February 27th, 2012 3:59 PM

    wow this was amazing. thank you for writing it jessica xxx

  • Mags February 27th, 2012 4:01 PM

    I’m still disappointed in her a little bit, but I do get it (sort of). I was never physically abused but I was neglected and emotionally abused by an ex and I still went back to him, and I still think about and obsess over him, though I haven’t talked to him for a month now and I hope I can keep it up. I can’t explain to you why I go back to this person who makes me feel like crap, but my feelings for him are frighteningly intense. It sucks. It really sucks.

    I just don’t know if I would go back to someone who hit me so hard that he nearly killed me. I’ve never been hit so I don’t know how I would react, but I hope that I would leave the guy for good.

  • brynntheredonethat February 27th, 2012 4:01 PM

    I don’t think my respect for Rihanna will ever be destroyed, but it makes me shake my head when I hear stuff like this. Not only because she’s giving him the ok, but because society seems to be, as well. Barely anyone in the media seems to be saying, “Hey, this guy beat the crap out of you. You should proabbly stay away.” It would be different if that were just the media staying out of it, but it’s more like the media being excited about something that’s putting an individual in danger.

  • Pashupati February 27th, 2012 4:07 PM

    What I thought reading this, is maybe it’s harder for her to flee as she is a celebrity. He can always know where she is, and then it’s harder to refuse to see him or do stuffs with him or even chat on the Internet, because he can always come back angrily at another place.

  • chloelicorice February 27th, 2012 4:08 PM

    I don’t know what the deal is with Rhianna and why she would take back Chris Brown, but I do know this. Ever since “the incident” happened where he beat her up right before she was supposed to accept her Grammy, she has done everything possible to separate herself from him, forget about what happened and move on. It seems the only people who can’t forget are the press. Whether she wanted to or not, Rhianna somehow became the poster child for “the abused woman.” Why won’t people just let her be herself and live her own life? It is ridiculous that Chris Brown abused Rhianna, and SHE ended up the one who couldn’t live this down. The media always brings him up when they talk about her. I guess Chris Brown wins and gets his way. He was jealous of her from the start.

  • Stephany February 27th, 2012 4:10 PM

    Loved this entry very much, the truthfulness in your article helps me understand, why I should not judge her so quickly, and have hope that she will get through this in her own way.

  • MissKnowItAll February 27th, 2012 4:59 PM

    Thank you for writing this. It always pisses me off when I see tabloids and magazines talking about stuff like this when they don’t know anything about it. I hope more people read this and learn that there are 2 sides to a story and that it never killed anyone to get some perspective.

  • mmarie February 27th, 2012 5:05 PM

    I have a hard time understanding why people are so wary of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a remarkable part of the healing process and so important for growth! I do not believe that domestic violence should be condoned or accepted or looked past or forgotten, but none of us have the authority to know what has been said between Rihanna and Chris Brown and, frankly, our only business is to show support for her on her journey. If forgiving Chris Brown is what she needs to do in order to heal and move past that dark time in her life then we should respect that decision. Simply assuming that she is going back to him in a place of fear or strife is not giving her the credit she deserves as a survivor. As a follower of Christ, I believe that one can separate the doer from the deed. I believe that Chris Brown, in his heart of hearts, was in a terrible place when he hurt Rihanna but I also believe that he should be forgiven if anyone expects him to grow, to understand, to change. Perhaps Rihanna sees that too. For now, we can only just pray and hope that she is taking care of herself and support her on her journey. It can’t be easy being the center of all this attention!

  • Violet February 27th, 2012 5:21 PM

    Hi Jessicah, that was a great article.
    I wish Rihanna would read it !!!

    Just one question: did you have any problem getting ‘rid’ of your boyfriend after you broke off? Did he keep stalking you afterwards, or was it a rather clear cut?

    Am living through a stalking situation right now – not a boyfriend at all though – and would be very thankful to hear positive stories from people who put an end to it, or saw it stop.

    Thank you so much.

    Love,
    V

    • lorobird February 27th, 2012 10:28 PM

      Hi Violet,

      I’ve had a stalker twice. The first guy was when I was in middle school and my parents called his parents, and it eventually stopped. It was scary because he knew where I lived and actually came to my door sometimes, as well as harassing me on the phone. I remember once he immobilized me against a wall in the school building, between lessons.

      He left the country, then came back some years later and came up ot my house again. I asked my mum to tell him I was asleep, and he didn’t come back.

      The second one was in university two years ago. He wouldn’t call me or come to my house, but would get very forceful and menacing in some occasions. It was a mistake on my part to think I could help him. He had drug problems and mental problems, and I felt sorry for him and talked to him sometimes (he lived near my house in the first year).

      Then he started obsessing over me and whenever I bumped into him on campus he would get really annoying, trying to ‘converse’ but in truth just blaming me for imagined grievances. He also said I was the only one there who he considered his friend, and other obsessive things (considering we rarely saw each other). In our last conversation, my boyfriend appeared and I left with him. I never saw my stalker again, because I graduated and left.

    • lorobird February 27th, 2012 10:32 PM

      But I know other stories and it is not always easy. From what I’ve heard and read from other people’s experiences, the best thing you can do is cut him or her off completely. Completely. Never answer a call, deflect all attempts at contact. That will make it more likely for your stalker get bored eventually.

      But always keep in mind you are not to blame. It is him or her who is obsessing, imagining things, and intruding in your boundaries. It is their fault, and their responsibility to put an end to it. However, it will help if you cut them off completely.

      I recommend you tell as many people as possible. People you trust. Your good friends (all genders, the more the merrier), your siblings, parents, any other family member. Teachers you get along with. The more people know about this, the more people will be able to help you deflect your stalker and help you stay in safety.

      Don’t despair! If you cut the person off but they persist, you are completely entitled, and should, go to the police. Report him/her, over and over if the police don’t listen to you. Get a parent and a teacher to back you, get a restraining order.

      Stalking is very serious business, and you have zero reasons to tolerate it.

      All the best :)

      • Violet February 28th, 2012 3:30 PM

        Thank you so much for sharing lorobird.

  • isadora February 27th, 2012 5:44 PM

    While I applaud Jessica’s bravure for telling her story, I should say I’m a bit disappointed at rookie commenters.

    Rihanna owns nothing to no one. This is not about how people feel, it’s about how Rihanna feels because SHE is the survivor and she will deal with what happened the way she feels she needs to.

    I do think Chris Brown is an asshole who deserved way worse punishment than what he got, but we should criticise the media for being so apologetic, the Grammys, whatever, but never Rihanna, never.

  • TessAnnesley February 27th, 2012 5:52 PM

    This is such a brave piece of writing.

  • Rr February 27th, 2012 6:38 PM

    I can’t believe how much this rings true to me at this moment in my life. Last year I was with a boy like this, who had horrible habits and no where to go. I felt like I needed to be there for him. Ultimately he cheated on me behind my back and the rest is history but I still feel the need to go back to him whenever he beckons and emotionally abuses me at the same time. I’ve made an appointment to talk with someone but I’d also love to hear stories of other who’ve dealt with this situation!

  • mwong1025 February 27th, 2012 6:46 PM

    I like how you don’t attack Rihanna for what she had done, and instead look from her perspective and share your story. Thumbs up to you, girl.

    http://www.style-abuse.blogspot.com

  • poppunkgurrrlx February 27th, 2012 6:55 PM

    i think it’s Rihanna’s decision if she wants to hang out or be around Chris Brown and it’s DEFINITELY NOT up to her fans (who most likely do not know her in ANY personal way) to judge her for it. her fans most likely don’t know Chris Brown either. Maybe he has changed. and maybe Rihanna has found it in her heart to forgive him. I understand her fans and friends wanting to look out for her, but in the end i’m completely sure she knows what she is doing and is aware of the potential consequences. I have lost no respect for her regarding this issue.

  • poppunkgurrrlx February 27th, 2012 6:56 PM

    and i also applaud Jessica for her bravery, btw!

  • Kristinini February 27th, 2012 7:01 PM

    Amazing article, I always knew there were 2 sides of abusive relationships. I saw a video where women would say, “If a man ever laid his hand on me I’d leave him in a second.” but it doesn’t just happen in the beginning of the relationship, I completely get it. But it’s still very unhealthy for Rihanna, or any woman, to stay in that abusive relationship.

  • Laney February 27th, 2012 7:27 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I’ve been in a toxic relationship that although wasn’t physically abusive, was emotionally abusive, and it hurts me so much to see society getting angry at HER for this. She is the victim and she needs to deal with this in whatever way she wants with support from her fans. Instead, so many people get angry with her and forget that. If you’re going to get angry, get angry at Chris Brown. He’s gained more fans and awards since hurting her and he shouldn’t be allowed to get off not only scot free, but with rewards. That’s just not right!

  • darksideoftherainbow February 27th, 2012 7:45 PM

    of all the articles i’ve read about rihanna and chris brown, this is by far the best. you really explain why you “get it” and you do it so well that i can come away from reading this and totally get it, too. thank you so much for this.

  • necroticbird February 27th, 2012 8:10 PM

    I get it, too, and god I wish I didn’t.

    I admire your strength in writing this–it’s something I wish I had read some time ago, when I was just beginning to pull myself up and out of a shitty, controlling and painful relationship. One I kept going back to. You said it exactly–”trying to love someone out of being an asshole.” I don’t really know anything about Rihanna, but I know exactly where you are coming from, Jessica. <3

  • anisarose February 27th, 2012 9:03 PM

    I really appreciate that RookieMag is willing to post more serious articles. Our lives aren’t all cotton candy and unicorns so why should our magazines be that way?

    anisarose.blogspot.com

  • JessicaMae February 27th, 2012 9:12 PM

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I have just gotten out of a bad relationship with a guy who is just a flat out jerk (to put it nicely). He never laid a hand on me, but he was the opposite of everything a good boyfriend should be: he ditched me on my birthday (his excuse was “It was busy at my house” when really he was playing Call Of Duty with his friend), put us on a “break” for three months, accused me of flirting with other guys and never him, called me a whore and said he hated me (over facebook on a public post) Finally, I realized how toxic he was and broke it off. It was really hard because I still had feelings for him and we have the same group of friends so I see him every day which made me question if I had made the right decision. Reading this article made me realize that I did. I know see how bad it really was and that I deserve better. Thank you for sharing your story (Did I mention my name is also Jessica and my ex-boyfriend is also a Chris Brown? If reading this wasn’t a sign I don’t know what is)

  • rolaroid February 27th, 2012 9:41 PM

    Why associate it to FEAR?? Maybe she has just forgiven this person who might not be so awful, he simply had a terrible lapse of character and did this one fucking horrible thing. My father has been violent and verbally abusive – how on earth am I supposed to live the rest of my life without forgiving him? How is it healthy to hold a grudge? It is one thing to forgive – it does NOT mean to forget.

  • hayleyrose February 27th, 2012 10:15 PM

    I think every ill-fated relationship is like Rihanna’s to some degree, you just are blinded by this bad romance, you’re “caught in a bad romance”. You gave this justice so wonderfully!!!

  • lorobird February 27th, 2012 10:17 PM

    Thank you for writing this. It really makes me angry when people judge Rhianna, and say they are losing respect for her and whatnot. What about her asshole beating boyfriend? Why is the media not running a shame campaign against him?

    He’s an abuser. A despicable human being with no respect for women. She is an abuse victim. Why do people keep blaming her, and asking her to snap out of it?

    If society took care of abusers when they appear, abuse would stop being a problem. Instead of that, we ignore the abuser, we pretend he or she doesn’t exist, and keep telling the abused to wake up, go to the police, escape.

    No. Bullshit. Chris Brown should be in jail for what he did to her. He should be in jail for a long time. And we should be campaigning for him to get the fuck out of the public scene and get some serious counseling (and get away from Rhianna, it’s his responsibility). Instead of wasting our breath and energy in shaming her.

    Again, thanks for writing this. I’m glad you’re in a better place now :)

  • mayaautumn February 28th, 2012 2:34 AM

    this is such an interesting story, and its actually very brave of you to post this on here. I can’t imagine going through something like that and I hope i’ll never have to. Thankyou for sharing!xo

  • mdemariah February 28th, 2012 10:23 AM

    I loved this! I lived a similar situation last year too, I was with him for 9 months and he never physically abused me, but he did psychologically. He used to ignore me for weeks and then, do really weird and contradictory things. He refused being called “my boyfriend” after SIX MONTHS of relationship, but he didn’t want me to date anyone else.
    He had a lot of bad habits and didn’t do anything with his life at the time (he still doesn’t now) and I FELT it was my job to put him right and help him become a better man, having to suffer so that in the end, he’d acknowledge all of my sacrifices and LOVE ME FOREVER AFTER.

    After 9 months of relationship, something clicked in my head, because whatever my friends told me about him, I always made an excuse up for him and tried to make up reasons why he’d do such rotten things to me. It was me who had to realize what kind of life I was having, and it took me some months to finally get over him. But I did, and now I am still able to talk to him, but I just don’t care at all, and his psychological games don’t work with me at all, so he has stopped trying. He is now with a girl and he’s madly in love with her, which I’m glad of, but it pains me that he now tells me that he realized how much I was worth once I was out of his life!

    The worst part is, one of my best friends is now in a relationship similar to mine, but even far worse (he insults her to her face, and she still goes back to him again and again, like you said), and I now understand what my friends must have felt. What should I do, if she never gets to her own clicking point?

  • sttefaaa February 28th, 2012 1:39 PM

    I LOVE THIS ARTICLE!
    And Rihanna looks so hot hehe.
    http://stefanystrange.blogspot.com/

  • Stephanie February 28th, 2012 1:59 PM

    Thank you for writing this, Jessica. As someone who was in an abusive relationship, I’ve been really feeling the same way about Rhianna and I’m so glad someone is finally talking about this side of it!

  • tomfoolery February 28th, 2012 8:03 PM

    great piece of writing, well done.
    About the songs she did with him, I understand completely like you said that it may seem ridiculous that she would even talk to him but she is somehow drawn back in. But to record two songs with him and then publish them into the world with the intent on them being bought by the public? The public, her fans, feeding into, putting their money into this troulbled relationship. It worries me because none of the big bosses thought to cancel this operation. It’s obviously a publicity stunt, but for rihanna to be okay with selling this abusive relationship drama hoping people will buy into it… because hey that’s the aim of the game with pop music.. it’s sad, worrying and raises a lot of questions. Rihanna has said before she doesn’t want to be a role model, but she’s living a luxury lifestyle paid for by her loyal fans and to not give them a bit of respect by steering clear of her abuser to send a good message to her fans is confusing. Who knows what is going through her head, i hope she does interviews about this and explains it all.. anyway again, great piece!

  • Chloe23 February 28th, 2012 8:14 PM

    This article is VERY brave and necessary. It’s easy to slam Rihanna for publicly taking back her abuser Chris Brown as the media has, but in no way does that even recognize the cycle of abuse relationships. I believe in forgiveness, to move forward and forgive your abuser for their weakness, the public portrayal in my eyes isn’t this. I am happy for Rihanna if she is in a healthy, functional, loving relationship and i hope she gets the support she needs to leave if she is not.

  • EmilyL27 February 28th, 2012 11:10 PM

    I totally agree because I have been there too. Let’s hope Rihanna is just being to nice and not getting back with him.

    Abusive relationships suck and until you REALLY end them you can’t imagine yourself alone.

    I’ll stand my Rihanna because standing by her is standing by women. If she goes back to him she is not a bad role model, she is just a human being who made a mistake (was tricked) into a bad situation. And if we all stand by her she will get out of it sooner.

  • dagtastic February 29th, 2012 2:20 AM

    Women often fall into these sort of traps, it seems, speaking only from experience for what that’s worth. The phenomena, for lack of a better word, makes it difficult for men who aren’t abusers. I dated a women who boasted in graphic detail about the healthy sex life she had with the guy before me. Meanwhile ours was lukewarm at best. I was a good guy in my estimation. He was verbally and physically abusive and their relationship ended with a restraining order against him because he broke into her house through a pet door. She put up with that for a year. She elaborated several gnarly anecdotes the short time we were together. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it. This is a flagrant generalization but we (men) are often sent the message that it pays to be kind of an asshole in relationships.

  • SleeplessUkuleleGirl March 2nd, 2012 11:16 AM

    I also have been in an abusive relationship, your right about all of those emotions, its like you can’t breathe and you feel like the only thing that will make you happy is doing what he says. It hurts to be in a situation like that. I was with my ex for about half a year, I convinced people I was happy when I was really loosing myself at the time.
    The thing is once you leave a relationship like that your much much stronger and you just have to gain more respect for yourself and show people how glorious you truly are.