Crazy Love: A True Story of Domestic Violence
Exclusive interview with NY Times best-selling author Leslie Morgan Steiner
-Jennifer Goodkind, A Fashionable Life
“If you and I met at one of our children’s birthday parties, in the hallway at work, or at a neighbor’s barbecue, you’d never guess my secret: that as a young woman I fell in love with and married a man who beat me regularly and nearly killed me.”
Graduate of Harvard with a BA in English, MBA degree in Marketing from Wharton School of Business, Editor at Seventeen magazine, columnist for the Washington Post, author of the best-selling book Mommy Wars and … battered and beaten wife. Not exactly what we conjure up when describing a victim of domestic abuse, but this is the story of Leslie Morgan Steiner. Crazy Love is Steiner’s painful and painfully honest memoir of her first marriage to the man she fell in love with and who, five days before her wedding, choked and slapped her. She lived with this dark secret until her liberation came. It took a call to the police and worried neighbors’ concern to break her silence.
In writing Crazy Love, Leslie tackled her past in order to better understand why she had ignored so many “red flags.” One of Leslie’s favorite mantras is: “if you can do a good deed, you must.” Crazy Love is the best possible deed one could bestow upon anyone suffering at the hands of an abuser or anyone who wants to read a book that they simply can’t put down.
BettyConfidential: How has your past shaped you into the person you are today?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: I’ve been blissfully married (okay, mostly) for almost 15 years. We have three wonderful kids together. I’d never have this life if I hadn’t learned from the mistakes of my first marriage. I wouldn’t wish a violent relationship on anyone, and I don’t recommend it as a way to learn about yourself or life. But I am grateful for what I went through because the experience changed me for the better and made me wiser about relationships.
BC: What was the biggest lesson from your experience?
LMS: I learned that you make yourself dangerously vulnerable if you love a romantic partner unconditionally. I learned you cannot heal someone through love – the fundamental mistake I made when I fell in love with my first husband. Most important, I learned to never, ever feel ashamed of falling in love with the wrong person. And I learned that if you don’t put yourself first, no one will. For me, these are lessons I needed to learn.
BC: How has the writing of this book and re-telling of your story affected your relationship with your family?
LMS: Well, I’ve always been very open with my husband and kids about my first marriage. Writing Crazy Love has led to deeper conversations with all of them. They are very supportive of my need to tell my story.
What’s surprised me is the number of family, friends and colleagues who’ve come forward with stories of abuse they suffered that I never knew about. My being open and honest kind of opened the door to them letting go of their own shame and secrecy. This has been deeply gratifying. I hope Crazy Love helps others feel the same freedom.
BC: What, in your opinion, makes a woman vulnerable to this sort of abuse and manipulation?
LMS: There is no question I’ve thought about more deeply in the 20 years since I was abused. I had other problems as a young woman – anorexia, a predilection to abuse alcohol and drugs were the biggies. But I recognized and overcame those problems before I met my abusive husband, so those problems are not clear markers in my mind. Based on 43 years observing my wonderful girlfriends, basically, I think anyone is vulnerable. We’ve all got chinks in our self-esteem, right?
An insightful, destructive partner can exploit your insecurities to the point where you are being abused, physically or emotionally, without realizing it. So don’t fall in love with an abuser. Sounds simple – but of course we don’t “choose” who we fall for, and it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between prince charming and the dark knight, at first. But by minimizing your other vulnerabilities–by making sure you are economically independent, close to your friends and family, and feeling good about yourself–I believe you minimize the chance that you will fall in love with someone driven to take advantage of you.
BC: What mistakes do you wish you could undo?
LMS: It is important to never, ever ignore red flags in a relationship. Potential batterers are surprisingly predictable. They are talented scouts for a vulnerable woman–almost uncannily so. They are looking for a woman who feels safe to them, a woman who won’t hurt them, who won’t abandon them. When my husband first spotted me on the New York subway, I think he somehow knew that I was insecure, and kind, and desperate for intimacy.
BC: What’s the typical abuser’s M.O.?
LMS: Abusive men are charming, thoughtful and romantic at first, and wonderfully open-hearted and needy. For months my husband did not make a false move. He never threatened me. I never saw him angry. An abuser will never get upset on a first date–the point is to create a sense of security, to wait until you are vulnerable. Say by getting engaged, moving in together, quitting a job so he can “take care of you” or getting pregnant. Then the threat of violence is introduced. Perhaps he pounds his fist on a table or punches a wall, or says, “If I weren’t such a gentleman, I’d hit you.” In my case, my husband first threatened me the night we moved in together in New York City, when I no longer had a place to escape to.
BC: Why didn’t you leave sooner?
LMS: As amazing as it sounds, I didn’t even know that I was being abused. My denial was that powerful. I thought I was helping him resolve the problems of his childhood, where he had been terribly beaten by his stepfather from age four to 15. To me, our relationship was about love, not hate. I thought–no, I KNEW–he was my soul mate. I was going to save him. And in return, I thought he’d never leave me. So my advice is at the first red flag–the first threat of violence or rage–end the relationship. It is the easiest and also the safest time. Because the longer you wait, the more vulnerable you become.
BC: If you had a chance to say one thing to every woman in America about abusive relationships such as yours, what would you say to them?
LMS: First, read Crazy Love! I can’t explain in a few words what it is like to be drawn into an abusive relationship, and then after months or years, to decide to leave … it took an entire book to capture how confusing and complicated the experience is.
Love is ALWAYS about respect, joy and kindness. Violence and abuse NEVER should play a role in an intimate relationship–with a lover, a parent, or even a supposed friend. You are not showing your love by letting someone take out their anger on you. Over time, rage always trumps love. So no matter how much you love someone who is troubled, get out now. You can start over, no matter how long you have been abused.
Leslie Morgan Steiner’s memoir about abusive love, Crazy Love, is now available from St. Martin’s Press. If you’d like to share your story (anonymously or publicly) please join The Crazy Love Project.