The sordid saga of Chris Brown and Rihanna has captivated audiences since 2009, when news of Brown's assault of his then-girlfriend was splashed across the cover of every tabloid. After three years apart, the couple appear to have all but fully reconciled, releasing a duet entitled "Nobodies Business" on Rihanna's new album, attending concerts together and even kissing each other during televised award shows.
The two pop stars' penchant for social media has contributed to the drama. Both Brown, 23, and Rihanna, 24, are active on Twitter and Instagram, instantly opening up direct access to their personal lives. Want to check what Rihanna's doing at 10:30 P.M. on a Saturday night? Turns out she's snapping photos of Brown, shirtless, hunched over an unmade bed. The photo is deliberately provocative; we are seduced into letting our imaginations run wild.
Their message is loud and clear: leave us alone, we are probably back together, this is nobody's business but our own, even if we can't stop sharing visual evidence with the world. And yet we just can't seem to look away. Everybody has an opinion: from Jay-Z, who reportedly warned Brown never to harm his protegé again, to Jenny Johnson, the female comedian who picked a Twitter fight with Brown last week. Brown-Rihanna stories on this website and others regularly draw hundreds of comments. So as much as Rihanna and Brown appear to be obsessed with each other, what exactly is the nature of our obsession with them?
We interviewed a panel of relationship therapists and experts who could offer insight into the matter: psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, marriage therapist Sheri Meyers, Psy. D and relationship expert Gilda Carle, Ph. D. While each had differing opinions about Rihanna's psychological profile, they unanimously agreed that, when it came to Brown, the best thing we can do is to let this whole thing go.
What offends us so deeply about Rihanna and Chris Brown potentially getting back together?
GC: It’s very, very difficult for the public to understand why anybody would want to go back into the lion’s den. As a responsible public rubbernecking into their lives, we feel for her. We feel that if she pushes his buttons again, he has not gotten the necessary wherewithal to channel his anger in a productive way. We don’t want to see a repeat of what we saw before.
LF: It does echo something -- if not the most extreme physical violence, the kind of back-and-forth dynamic. Even for people who aren't fans of the music. It's so predictable. They keep engaging in this cycle. Part of the outrage is the helplessness of being the bystander and watching it. Part of being the bystander is that we encourage it by being part of the crowd.
SM: From my research and from my own personal gut feeling, he’s an abuser. He abused her, he smashed her face in. The reality of celebrityhood is that we get to step out of our life. My grandmother used to watch soap operas. It changed with Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, when he started sharing pictures of her in the bathroom. We get an inside view. Our expectations have grown. There’s something about the drama of these lives that tap into our own dramas. These are the modern Greek dramas.
What is the first piece of advice you would give Rihanna if she came to your office seeking help?
LF: My piece of advice is about the past and why she's recreating it anyway. I believe people who are going to take a beating as an adult -- not when it happens one time and the person leaves, but when a person gets stuck -- has to do with her experience growing up with mother and father.
SM: This is what I want to say to her, “Girlfriend, snap out of it. You gotta wake up.” [Make] sure he proves his answers to these questions: What has he done to change? What can he do now? Has he truly taken responsibility for what happened? Does he have a plan of action for the future?
GC: I would say, "How do you feel about him?" The answer would be "I love him." The next question is, "What do you love about him?" We would have to take apart what love means for Rihanna. Nobody knows how she saw love expressed as a little girl.
We all want Chris Brown to manage his behavior, in both his personal and public life. Can we do anything to help? Is giving him more media attention somehow stoking the fire?
GC: When you positively reinforce a bad behavior, that makes it worse. When you negatively reinforce a bad behavior, that’s better but still has its problems. The best thing to do when you’re modifying behavior is to let it go, ignore it. If he could emulate a role model of somebody who can respond rather than react, how many other young people would he be saving? That would be my Christmas wish for him. He’s got a huge following. There’s so much anger out there. They’re hooking onto the anger. But all he has to do is turn that around.
LF: Obviously [talking about Rihanna is] a trigger for him. For whatever reason he feels threatened, that's his perception of it. That's making him react. With a child, when we label him as bad, we keep on expecting bad behavior and we end up getting it. Chris, whereas he's not a child, behaves like that.
SM: You focus on growth. The more negative attention he gets for being an asshole, the more that’s going to grow. So really, as fans, good luck with this. When you take attention away, the behavior diminishes. What he’s really calling out for is healing. We’re trying to work it out, let us be. At some point in time, we do have to let them go. They’re grown-ups. They’re choosing their path. We’ve screamed enough. Let’s stop giving them attention. All of our screaming is giving them more attention. Even if for Rihanna’s safety.