Trigger warning: Abusive relationships, domestic violence
Breaking news: Another mediocre man has abused a powerful woman who had the audacity to show him love and kindness.
Last week, the New York Times reported that musician, dancer, artist, activist, and actor FKA twigs, born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, filed a lawsuit against actor Shia LaBeouf, citing damages for physical, emotional, and mental abuse. (Not long after, singer Sia came forward, calling LaBeouf a pathological liar who conned her into an adulterous relationship.)
According to the lawsuit, Barnett and LaBeouf met on the set of his semi-autobiographical film “Honey Boy” in 2018 and quickly began dating. Barnett remarked on LaBeouf’s “over-the-top displays of affection,” early on.
In short, he love-bombed her.
Love-bombing is showering someone with excessive affection and attention in order to gain control or influence. Too often, these behaviors aren’t seen as early warning signs of abuse, since many Millennial women like myself have spent the last 30+ years consuming content that romanticizes masculine emotion in any form.
Noah hangs from a ferris wheel in The Notebook and threatens to let go unless Allie agrees to go on a date with him. Jackson Maine spontaneously proposes to Ally (sorry to Allison’s everywhere) with a guitar string as his fame falls and hers rises in A Star Is Born. Teen idiot Romeo literally kills himself when he believes his new fixation, Juliet, to be dead.
Female characters are then written to feel flattered. And not soon after, when her partner begins to be aggressive, jealous, or rageful, it’s her job to take on the role of mommy, offering a shoulder to cry on and a we’ll-fix-it-sweetie attitude. Juliet, so brainwashed by dopamine, takes her life as well.
And these are just fictionalized examples of love-bombing masquerading as true love. The living, breathing, three-dimensional version ends in gaslighting in its simplest form; blackmail, violence, rape, and death in its most complicated.
“He brought me so low, below myself, that the idea of leaving him and having to work myself back up just seemed impossible,” Barnett said.
Barnett’s accounts of being shoved into a car, screamed at, choked, belittled, and sexually assaulted is incensing in not only its horrors, but its familiarity. It’s increasingly difficult to consume a piece of media that isn’t dripping with the shame of a strong, independent woman who was assaulted by an insecure man threatened by her power.
Now Barnett is being love-bombed a second time—by critics. Those that held her high with shouts of “yasss queen” don’t want to catch her as she falls, not believing that, as she put it, an “unconventional person of color who is a female” could also be abused.
The trolls have taken to Twitter to claim Barnett is after money, make jokes, or “both sides” the argument. But this response is expected. Remember when 1.5 million people signed a petition to have Amber Heard fired from Aquaman 2 for speaking out against her ex-husband and alleged abuser Johnny Depp?
It’s always the woman’s fault. Even when she’s lied to, forced to sleep naked, locked up, and deprived of sleep.
That’s not love, that’s power.
While heightened and extreme relationships will always be written about (because drama), perhaps they should come with a trigger warning as Hulu’s A Teacher does at the beginning of each episode—informing the viewer that the portrayals of a sexual relationship between an underage boy and his high school teacher is a grooming technique, not an us-against-the-world romance.
Let’s teach young people that real love is a slow burn. That butterflies in your stomach is an anxiety response. That feeling overwhelmed and isolated by another’s person’s feelings is gaslighting. That abuse is not a woman’s job to circumnavigate, but a man’s job to refrain from every single time.