Former NFL wide receiver and reality TV mainstay, Chad Johnson, messed up big time when he assaulted his new bride, Vh1’s Basketball Wives alum Evelyn Lozada less than a month after the wedding.

He lost his comeback spot with the Miami Dolphins. He lost his wife after Lozada filed for divorce. He might lose his freedom, depending on how things pan out legally.

Lozada eventually went on ABC’s Nightline to speak out about the night she felt her marriage ended. She spoke of when she found a receipt for condoms, confronted her husband, he head-butted her leaving a cut that needed six stitches, then fleeing and hiding from him at a neighbor’s house, leading to her filing for divorce.

Johnson’s response, even though allegedly he hasn’t spoken to her in months, was to get a tattoo of her name and face on his leg.

The most telling words Lozada had on why she ended it with Johnson was: “I said to myself, ‘I’m never going to go through that again, ever … I don’t think any woman should ever have to feel like that or be fearful of her husband.”

Johnson’s response was a bit more concerning and slightly ominous:

Both these statements hint at something far deeper than what some more misguided people might call “passion” or “love.” It’s more like “possession.” He meant to convey how deeply in love and devoted to Lozada he still was, but he also sounded like the sort of person who decided she didn’t have a choice in whether or not to continue a relationship with him. That her choice didn’t matter if it didn’t line up with his desires. His refusal to accept the truth is in turn a threat. Because if this is the end, then what will he do? He’s already proven he’s willing to use force to attempt to silence her.  What would he do to make it so she couldn’t leave?

In my sole three-year experience in loving a controlling man, when we finally ended it, he told me he didn’t think I had “the right” to say he couldn’t see me. Then he told me he might stalk me if I ended it for good. He relayed threats through other parties. Continued to try to contact me over social media long after the relationship was dead.

But there was a time, when I was young and didn’t know any better, his love seemed thrilling. After all, he must really love me if he said that if I ever cheated on him he’d try to murder as many people as he could, then try to go out “suicide by cop.” How twisted did my young mind have to be to accept this? I didn’t come from a violent home. My parents have been married since forever and rarely get upset with each other. But I was inexperienced. I listened to others who told me I should be happy that a guy wanted me because isn’t it bad to be single? And even if the relationship was bad – “Well, if you really love someone you can’t just give up on them, otherwise it’s like you never loved them at all.”

Now that I’m older, I know why my friends said these things to me. They had parents who were drunks. Parents who beat them. Parents who didn’t support them. Parents who called them out of their name. They had fathers who cheated on their mothers. Fathers who beat their mothers. Mothers who beat their fathers. Mothers and fathers who abandoned them.  And in all that violence and disrespect, they claimed love. That’s why it was so easy to accept all sorts of violations, like sorority hazing that ended in bruises and alcohol poisoning and friendships that were cruel and full of jealousy and manipulation – the violence was supposed to help you grow stronger, be closer, and love each other more.

And it seemed to work, in a way, at least in the short-term. I’ve met all sorts of people who felt they had a deep love spawned out of and in spite of great hurt and violence.  And so the violence was laughed at and romanticized and repeated. Because love and violence were what these people knew.

Me and my tendency to cut things off the minute I realized someone was a cancer, post-my disaster relationship with Mr. Control, was seen as cruel and heartless. “You don’t just throw people away,” they would tell me.

I was like, “Sure, you can.”

I don’t know if it was because of the stability of my family or because I’m my father’s daughter or if it was the “Lesson Learned” of my failed relationship – I’d rather do bad by myself.

Pain in love and the pain of loneliness were not equal for me.  The pain you feel when someone hurts you just because they can, cheats on you because they can, runs you into debt because they can, then throws up a “I love you. I can’t live without you. I did this because I loved you so much” was far worse than being alone. Loneliness never cheated on me. Loneliness didn’t run me $10,000 into debt when I was only 23. Loneliness didn’t manipulate me, try to “gaslight” me and convince me I was the problem. Loneliness didn’t abandon me and tell me it was my fault for not letting it have its way in everything.

But it’s not that I don’t want love. In fact, it’s in my appreciation of the power of it that I don’t give it as freely as I once did. Because it’s hard to turn love off once the switch is flipped.  You mourn it for years. It scars. I’ve never been someone who could just give it away.

I understand the crazy, bizarre intensity of Johnson just as I understand why Lozada is saying “not again.” I get it. Johnson’s behavior makes sense to him because this is the extreme way he shows what he thinks “love” is. It’s likely all he knows. If you act a little crazy/violent/illegal – it’s all the same to him. It’s romantic. He didn’t head-butt her out of pure rage and control, it was because he wanted her to be quiet and listen to his lie and believe it.  After all, if she’d just never found that receipt (or a controller would say “looked for it”) she could still delude herself into believing she was in a healthy relationship.  After all, Lozada had her own history of violence. He could argue what made her better, so much better to turn away.  And why should the truth tear us apart when so many stay together no matter how horrible – out of obligation, out of fear, out of tradition, out of simply not knowing anything else.

Why break the chain, even if it’s corroded and rusted out, rotting from the inside?

You try to tell yourself that it’s passion if he damages your property. That he must really care if he smacked you in the mouth for talking to another guy. As the old song goes, “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.” For those locked in this cycle, violence is just part of those intense feelings. If it wasn’t there these tired, tortured souls wouldn’t know what love is.

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