It looks like superstar Rihanna—the most liked person on Facebook—is once again dating her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown. Though they broke up in 2009—after he beat her up and photos of her bruised face went viral—they’ve gone from “secretly hooking up,” as reported in January, to actual dating. The most recent piece of evidence: a photo of Brown on Rihanna’s Twitter feed. According to Jezebel, “Chris Brown and Rihanna plan on coming out publicly as a couple again after her upcoming album Unapologetic drops on November 19th.”
I can’t claim to have a crystal ball, but I foresee great wailing and gnashing of teeth about Rihanna’s decision (which she obviously made ages ago) to give her relationship with Brown another chance. After all, this man viciously assaulted Rihanna in a very public way. If she gets back together with him, what kind of message does that send to her fans, particularly young girls? A pretty crappy one, at least on the surface.
But Rihanna can take advantage of this turn of events by taking the announcement seriously and acknowledging that this kind of decision is not made lightly. When asked by countless interviewers why she’s giving Brown another chance, she can use one of the below arguments (or all of them) to have a substantive conversation rather than say something dumb about love.
The Juvenile Justice Argument: This year the Supreme Court ruled that a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole for murder is cruel and unusual punishment when applied to juveniles. It was a decision partly informed by an increasing amount of scientific research that shows that the frontal lobes, which are responsible for (among other things) impulse control, decision-making and emotionality, don’t fully mature until age 25. When he assaulted Rihanna, Chris Brown was 19, which doesn’t excuse his behavior but does mean it’s possible he’ll never repeat it. It’s much easier for people to change when they’re young. If he did this at 45, the “people can change” argument would be harder to swallow. Speaking of which …
The “People Can Change” Argument: Our criminal justice system is predicated on the belief that people can and do change; otherwise no one would ever get paroled. Certainly there are recidivists, but there are also plenty of people who do the crime, do the time and never make the same mistake again. And if we didn’t believe in the potential for personal change, thousands of therapists, self-help authors, life coaches, marriage counselors and countless other change agents wouldn’t exist.
The Clean Slate Argument: Americans profess to believe in a fundamental notion of fairness: Once someone gets out of jail, he should have a chance to start over “with a clean slate.” In reality, former offenders have all kinds of obstacles standing in their way, including the heavy stigma of having committed a crime to begin with. Does Chris Brown deserve a clean slate? Rihanna might think so.
The Christian Forgiveness Argument. The idea that every person deserves forgiveness is deeply ingrained in the American understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition. I’m not Christian, so I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but it seems pretty vague when you hear the idea bandied about. I know she’s not Paul Tillich or anything, but maybe Ri-Ri would like to initiate a meaningful conversation about the Biblical conception of forgiveness—and personal responsibility.
The “I’m a Baby Myself, What Are You Asking Me For?” Argument: This isn’t an argument she can make right now, but she can file it away. The truth is, Rihanna is just so young. I can almost guarantee you there’ll be a spread in Us Magazine 10 or 15 years from now titled “My Greatest Mistake: Taking Chris Back.” She’ll realize then how awful it looked to her fans when she made this decision—and how so-not-worth-it he was. I know this because we all know it: In my own dating history prior to turning 30, I have two drunks, one abuser, a couple cheaters, one pathological liar, and one guy who never, ever showered. (And a partridge in a pear tree.) It takes time to understand human beings. Fess up, ladies: How many of you have done ridiculous things for men you now think are morons? It’s a good thing we didn’t have to do it in public.