Gender

Like Rihanna, I Returned to an Abuser

On average, it takes six attempts before a woman leaves an abusive relationship. How could I have accepted the unacceptable? Judge for yourself.

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.

Meanwhile, to distract me he let me choose his new apartment overlooking the East River, and we furnished it together. That kept me busy, and kept me there. And 99 percent of the time, he appeared charming. What's a bit of sadism when he has such nice friends and is such a great guy, deep down?

But one afternoon, when I had missed lunch and had the nerve to say that I was hungry, he pushed me out of a parked car onto the grass, and punched me in the face. Two teens saw this and called the police. I debated pressing charges, but thought he might get disbarred. He kept staring at me. So I didn't.

He profusely apologized later, but we moved our stuff out of each other's homes and I stopped seeing him. Then came months of major apologies, supposed "therapy," notes and emails, more lavish gifts. He played on my positive nature and my hopes, and my needs.

I wavered, and sorry to say, gave him another chance. I know, you must be thinking, "Why? He's bribing you. He's not going to change" I'd think that too, now. Abusers rarely change. Statistics show that violence escalates rather than ends as these relationships continue. But I retained magical thinking.

Things went well for a couple of months, with more good times and better behavior. But on a Caribbean cruise, in a cabin together, he blew up. Cursing. Hitting. Even at one point closing both his hands around my neck.

I fled to a friend's room and told her all, left him at the Ft. Lauderdale pier and hopped the first flight home to New York. I immediately escaped to New Hampshire with another girlfriend who was kind enough not to tell me 'I told you so.' It was over, and I finally got it.

A few months later, arising from the nadir, I met the wonderful man who became my second husband. And not long after I remarried, I took courses and volunteered to be a domestic violence counselor at an organization called My Sister's Place. Eventually they had me speaking to groups about the sometimes disguised face of domestic violence, and I felt some closure.

Lenny immediately glommed onto another perfectly nice professional woman. When he read about my marriage he emailed me as if nothing had happened, without a trace of guilt.

I saw him by chance last year in Miami at a ballet. His hair had turned silver and he was with a stunning, much taller, much-younger Latina. He sputtered some clichés, and I felt disgust. I was alone. My loving husband had died in 2001.

And so it goes. I do feel for Rihanna. I understand how she can rationalize the battering. But I do suspect what's coming.