Like Rihanna, I Returned to an Abuser
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Battered singer Rihanna has returned to her boyfriend, the angelic-faced hip-hop singer, Chris Brown. Young, beautiful, talented and rich, they seemed to be living a fairy tale life. Except for her being beaten, punched, choked and bitten by him.
Rihanna wants to stay and work it out. On average, it takes six attempts before a woman actually leaves an abusive relationship. According to statistics quoted on CBS yesterday, one in every four women at some point in her life is a victim of domestic violence, and this abuse results in approximately 1,300 deaths a year.
Between my marriages I dated interesting men for 15 years, and had a few meaningful long-term relationships. But for over a year I'm sorry to say that I too was in and out of an emotionally and physically abusive relationship.
How could I have been so self-destructive and stupid? How could I have accepted the unacceptable? Judge for yourself.
I met Lenny in the spring right after a breakup. He was self-deprecating, generous and funny, with an Ivy degree and a partnership in a NYC law firm. He was my age, short and boyish. My friends liked him. He seemed a keeper.
He spoke well of his ex-wife. I noted that. He loved animals, and I noted that. Big on his family. Liberal. Picked up tabs. Fixed things around my house. No children, so he wouldn't even be distracted or influenced.
I was a freelance writer empty-nesting in the same stone house in Westchester County New York where I had raised my family. I rented out the cottage in the back of the property, rented out my boys' bedrooms as a suite with an entrance, even rented part of my house and the backyard and pool in the summer to hedge funders who came up maybe twice. I made do, house poor.
Lenny put his shoes -- with shoe trees, no less -- in my closet after our second date. We started spending weekdays at his New York City pad and weekends at my house. He wined and dined me, placed bling around my neck when I least expected it, and made me feel lovely and cared for in a whirl of fun.
The largesse kept coming. He offered me his Lexus to drive and keep. And then his maid, to deep clean my house and return every week. He took me anywhere I wanted to go. He told me I was beautiful, and complimented me on how I dressed, and he said "I love you" before I even thought to.
I was writing a guidebook on the Greek Islands and he surprised me and flew to Greece to spend part of the research time with me. My arms were tightly around him on the motorcycle he steered along winding roads. I remember dinner by an ancient well on Corfu, and later the moon flooding our balcony in cold, dreamy light.
But the nightmare was about to begin. Soon after we returned to New York, we were spectators at a seniors tennis match; Conners and Borg were playing. Lenny's mood was strangely nasty. He glowered for hours about being late. I told him, "I'm not comfortable with you acting this way. It's not acceptable."
I found myself saying that over and over in the next months. He started balking and complaining about even small things. Putting me down. Getting annoyed when I'd do things without him. He tried to shut me off from others. He said cruel things, blaming me absurdly. He pushed me ahead in the movie line a bit too hard. He pinched (or did he?) when he grabbed my waist to rush me along. With each gradation, each escalation I debated with myself, and rationalized. If I commented, he would eventually apologize, and then move the abusive behavior a tiny bit higher.