The age old question remains unanswered as intimate partner violence continues to plague society, why did she not just leave him? In order to understand why some women stay in these unhealthy relationships, it is crucial to evaluate the situation from beginning to end and assess each individual separately and as a union. In Leslie Morgan Steiner’s memoir, she gives a personal insight of the violence she faced at the hands of her exhusband Conor for three years. Leslie may have stayed was because of the void in her life that he filled, her sense of obligation to help Conor have a better life, and how dependent she was of him.
Leslie came from a drunken mother whom she feared and loved at the same time, a career crazed father who sacrificed his home life for work, a bother Hugh and a sister Sylvia. During Leslie’s adolescent years she experimented with sex, alcohol, and drugs to cope with her mother’s alcoholism to the extent that her mom would sometimes refer to her as the “Washington Whore” (Steiner 18). As with every relationship, Conor was the ideal gentleman in the on the surface.
From the moment he and Leslie met on the subway she was infatuated by Conor’s appearance, charm, and professionalism. Conor and Leslie would spend every moment outside of work together taking romantic walks and having dinners. He showered her with gifts and affection, unlike any of her other drug related relationship she had been in before. Not only was Conor able to provide her with materialistic items like surprise dresses from her favorite clothing store or flowers, but he also reached Leslie on a deeper mental, emotional, and physical level. I wanted to be as close as possible to whatever it was inside Conor that made him him and made me feel so damn good when we were together” (Steiner 43). Conor was able to fill a void in Leslie’s life and give her what she had longed for, a family. He became her family, her world. He was her first love. After some time together, deeper layers from their pasts were exposed. Conor confessed to Leslie the attacks he suffered as a child at the hands of his stepfather Wade who would starve and beat him as well as his mother.
Conor was severely infuriated when he recalled moments from his past. “[Wade] put me in the hospital for days. Used to choke me till I passed out. Sometimes I still wake from nightmares. ” (Steiner 60). As Leslie compared she and Conor’s childhood obstacles, she could not help but to feel sympathy for him. Leslie imagined a life with Conor and how she could make his future far better than his past. She started to feel obligated to make life easy for him, even if it meant life would be harder for her. “I could help him overcome the years of abuse and neglect and pain.
And if I can make him whole, we’d be one person. He’d be mines forever” (Steiner 86). Unfortunately, Leslie began to put Conor before herself in order to have the perfect relationship she craved which gave him the power he hungered for. The first incident is an important determinate if she will stay or not. Recalling Conor’s first attack on Leslie when he choked her out after sex, instead of confronting him or calling anyone for help she made light of the situation. Despite how scared she was, “somewhere deep down in my stomach … here was a cold, hard feeling, a kind of fear I’d never felt before … My hands shook slightly under the covers” (Steiner 83), she thought maybe it was kinky sex and climbed back in bed with Conor to hold him tightly until she fell asleep. Although Leslie was blind to what really occurred, her passiveness may have validated for Conor to continue and escalate the attacks. Before Leslie was able to grasp the rapid changes in her life over such a short period of time, she was already under his control.
Conor would regularly make her feel guilty for growing up in a more functional family and having more opportunities than him. He convinced her that he needed her and persuaded her to move in with him back in New York. He managed to financially handicap her by allowing her to buy her own ring set after he proposed, leave her job a Seventeen, purchase a car and home in Vermont, and put his school loans in her name. By relocating to Vermont, he was able to isolate her from almost all outside contact other than family.
Leslie’s options where limited with no car, money, or destination. It is common that victims of intimate partner violence experience more than one type of abuse. Not only did Conor verbally attack and belittle Leslie, his physical attacks became more serve. He began with choking and advanced to more extreme measures such breaking glass over her head, punching her while she was driving, and holding his Colt . 45 to her temple. Although Leslie was terrified of her husband she was no longer surprised by his random outbreaks as the attacks became a norm.
One facet that may further explain why Leslie allowed her abuse to continue was that she was disconnected from the reality and severity of her situation by thinking, “my situation wasn’t domestic violence” (Steiner 195). She would often times blame herself and wonder what she should have done differently or try to convince herself that he did not mean to hurt her and he was sorry. She could not accept the fact that her husband, the man she loved and gave her life to could be so cruel and then pretend the attack never occurred. Suddenly I couldn’t imagine telling anyone what Conor had done to me; the attack didn’t seem real, even to me… I pretended everything was normal” (Steiner 163). Trying to restore hope in their marriage, Leslie planned for them to spend Christmas in Paris. After a lot of money they did not have to waste and planning, Leslie declared that she was going to Paris with or without Conor who had just declined the trip unjustifiably seconds before. Leslie’s attempt to stand up to Conor infuriated him.
He started to punch Leslie knocking her to the floor, kicking her ribs, and choking her until she started to fade. “The old cliche came true and a parade of faces I might not see again passed before me” (Steiner 252). Conor’s final attack almost took Leslie’s life and that was enough to make her act. Pleading for her life long enough that someone came banging on their door and Conor decided to leave, only then did she call the police. From an outside perspective it seems easier for Leslie to pack her bags and leave such a threatening relationship but, in actuality the victim knows best.
Why did I stay? I had tried to leave. I’d gotten in in my car in the middle of the night and started to drive away plenty of times. Leaving was easy. Then I’d get a few blocks and have no idea where to go. He lived in my e. He needed our car in the morning to earn money to buy groceries, to make our mortgage, to pay for his school loans. But the real reason I stayed was that I loved him. Leaving meant abandoning our home, our life, our dreams, the best part of me, that part that was not afraid to love unconditionally.
I couldn’t leave that part of myself behind” (Steiner 197-98). Conor relentlessly threatened Leslie’s sense of security and stability which made it even harder for her to leave. It was not until she almost died that she was able to reached out and revel her secret home life to others that she was able to escape Conor’s hold. Another wedding and three children later Leslie was fortunate enough to start over with the real man of her dreams, with Conor serving as a constant reminder to never to be a victim of intimate partner violence again.