By now, most people know that serial boundary pusher Robin Thicke is reluctantly single, and in the middle of a full-on media blitz to prove contrition for the unnamed offenses that drove away his lady love, actress Paula Patton. Said media blitz is supposedly meant to “Get Her Back,” as indicated by the lead single of the same name, from his new album of public apologies, Paula.
Here’s why all of this musical self-flagellation is not only not romantic in the slightest, but actually borderline abusive instead.
Imagine this: A woman has been in a relationship with a manipulative man for years. He lies, he cheats, he drinks too much and he embarrasses her publicly. She’s ashamed of how she’s been treated but she finally has the courage to leave. She takes solace in the fact that this can be her private shame, and when she’s gone she’ll never have to look back again. She tells all her friends and family vaguely that they’ve just grown apart after so many years together.
But wait! The manipulative man shows up at her workplace with a bouquet of flowers and a huge sign that says, “I’m sorry I got drunk and cheated on you so many times. Please take me back.” The next day, he turns up with a brand new car that he bought just for her because he knew her old one was on its last legs. When she refuses his advances and asks for some space to think, he posts flyers all over town with a picture of them that say, “Please help her forgive me. I love her and I want her back.” Strange people she’s never met start pressuring her to forgive him in the grocery store, at the bank, in the park. After all, look at how hard he’s working to try to change! He’s so sorry that he hurt her! Why can’t she see how good she has it? Now, the woman feels obligated to take him back. Not only does everyone know how he humiliated her, but they all think she should go back to him, and that she’s heartless and frigid if she doesn’t.
Are we starting to see the cracks in this story?
It’s lovely that Robin Thicke thinks his marriage is worth saving, but this is not the way to go about it. This entire album, the track names, the hashtag; if this is in fact a sincere effort to “get her back,” it’s basically a how-to on abuser dynamics. Rather than allowing Patton the time and space to decide whether or not to reconcile in private, with this album, Thicke has effectively enlisted the public to get on his side and pressure her into going back to him, and make her the villain if she refuses. “Oh, but her wrote a whole album about her! He’s really sorry!” All while he rakes in the cash, and she loses her resolve to stay away from a man who cheated on her, publicly embarrassed her, and ruined a decades-long relationship.
And I haven’t even gotten to the video yet.
The video mostly consists of Thicke singing, bleeding, crying and looking remorseful to camera, interspersed with images of a beautiful Paula look-alike alternately crying, smoking and caressing Thicke. I’m pretty sure he drowns her in the end, but I’m open to other interpretations.
The real story here, however, is that overlaid on the screen is a text message conversation, implied to be between Paula Patton and Robin Thicke. We have no way of knowing if the messages are real or simply approximations of the real thing, but either way, they’re a manipulative ploy to control the narrative surrounding their breakup. Imaginary Paula tells him that he ruined them, that he drinks too much, that she warned him he was pushing her too far. Imaginary Robin says he’s sorry and he hates himself, he wrote an album for her and can he see her? Imaginary Paula says she doesn’t care and it’s too soon and he embarrassed her and she has to go. Imaginary Robin says ominously, “This is just the beginning.”
Now this isn’t to say that there is no room for public apologies. Sometimes, they can be romantic and loving and exactly what a partner might need from a significant other who wronged them. But we have to be mindful that apologies are all well and good, but they’re meaningless if you’re ignoring a person’s boundaries in order to give them. If, by the sounds of it, Paula is asking for her space, he has a duty to respect that, not enlist public sympathies to pressure her to come back to him. Aggressively forcing your way through someone’s stated boundaries when they choose to leave a romantic relationship is abusive, not romantic. Flowers for no reason are a nice gesture when you’re together. After you’ve broke up and your ex has asked you to stay away? It borders on stalking.
Look, in a weird way I have sympathy for him. I’ve always thought that their story was kind of cute. They’ve been together since high school, they became famous together, they have a kid, and who can forget that she was the beautiful woman in his breakout single “Lost Without U”? I can completely understand wanting to save a relationship that’s lasted this long, and no doubt means so much to both of them. But this is not the way to go about that, especially when it’s fairly obvious that the breakdown of their relationship can be attributed to far more than simply growing apart.
It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Robin Thicke is genuinely remorseful for his actions and wants his wife back. But rallying public sympathies for himself necessarily means rallying them against her, and positioning her as heartless for not being moved to forgiveness by his antics. It means making public details of their relationship that she may have wanted to keep private under the guise of making amends, all while firmly painting himself as the victim. It means publicly pressuring her to return to a man who may have committed transgressions far worse than the ones the we even know about, after she had the strength to leave. He is taking advantage of a culturally endorsed system of violence to privilege his desire to have her back in his life, over her need to be out of it. The entire situation becomes even more troublesome when we consider the racial dynamics at play.
We may never know what really went on inside their marriage and what caused it to break down, but I think it’s safe to say that creepy pseudo-love songs are not the way to get her back.