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What We Can Learn From Nicole Brown Simpson’s Bad Choices

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

One of O.J.’s wives didn’t tolerate abuse. The other did. On the 28th anniversary of the world's most famous domestic homicide, let's explore the psychology behind the woman who gave O.J. permission.

“Was he worth it, Nicole?” I found myself repeating over and over in my apartment the day of the O.J. verdict. The sonofabitch had pulled it off. They called him innocent. Who the hell else could have slashed up his ex-wife and her friend with all that evidence?

“Was he worth it, Nicole? Was he worth the money, the good looks, the fame, the California living? Were the beatings worth it, the times you feared for your life? Were the bruises worth it? The shame? Was he that good in bed? Was he worth it? Was he worth it? Was he worth it, Nicole? Because the motherfucker got away with it!”

I’ve thought a lot about the world’s most famous domestic abuse casualty since I read Faye Resnick’s book, Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted.

Yes, I know it’s a cheap piece of trash and Faye Resnick is the shittiest best friend ever. But she got one thing horrendously right.

Nicole had an opportunity to get out of the marriage at one point and in all likelihood not get murdered, and she blew it. With the worst in her string of colossal bad choices.

The Reign of Errors became clear when I watched The Final 24: Nicole Brown Simpson.

It started before she met O.J.

If he’d [hit me], he would have got a frying pan upside his head. There was just no way that I would allow that to happen to me. — O.J.’s first wife, Marguerite, on 20/20

Update: Marguerite Simpson may have been lying about not getting abused by O.J. According to the book Raging Heart: The Intimate Story of the Marriage Between O.J. and Nicole Brown Simpson, while Marguerite has claimed or insinuated that he never hit her, their circle of friends widely believed he was hitting her and noted she wore sunglasses inside and outside the house, a classic sign of abuse. It doesn't prove it but it makes it suspicious that she may have lied about not being abused.

Nicole’s bad choices began not when the young restaurant hostess met O.J. in 1977, but a year before during a high school class discussion on potential career choices.

When Nicole spoke she said she wanted to marry a wealthy man.

Hardly an uncommon aspiration for many young women back then. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I remember many of my peers saying that.

Even when I was young I recognized rich men wanted young women they could control. That an unskilled pretty girl who wanted to marry well wouldn’t own her own life. I often replied, “Why the hell would you say that? We don’t have to do that anymore! We can have our own careers! We can be whatever we want! We no longer have to depend on men!”

Nicole’s next bad choice was agreeing to go out with O.J., period. He was married with two children and a third on the way. She was too naive to realize that a man who cheats with you will cheat on you.

Many of their epic fights were over O.J.’s numerous infidelities.

The violence started on their first date

O.J. grabbed Nicole’s crotch and said, ‘This is where babies come from and this belongs to me.’ — Denise Brown

Nicole’s chain of bad choices to allow O.J. into her life and keep him there even though he was abusive from the start snowballed.

  • He ripped her panties on the first date trying to get them off. Nicole’s roommate and good friend David LeBon asked why she would let O.J. do this, said he wanted to talk to him, but Nicole said No, I kind of like him.

  • O.J.’s control freakiness began soon after. He insisted she vacate the apartment she shared with LeBon even though they had only ever been just friends.

  • O.J. was, by many accounts, quite jealous, and Nicole knew how to ‘push his buttons’.

  • At a Buffalo Bills game, sister Denise claimed O.J. got upset when Nicole greeted a male friend with a kiss on the cheek and began yelling at her.

  • O.J. once smashed Nicole’s Mercedes.

  • When he learned Nicole was afraid of knives, he terrorized her with them and threatened to ‘slice her up’.

  • Nicole’s multiple police calls when O.J. raged out of control are legendary. In 1989, she ran out of the house half-dressed to meet the police and said O.J. was trying to kill her. Like many domestic violence victims, Nicole always forgave her husband who said he’d never do it again. Of course he did.

Nicole’s therapist, Dr. Susan Ford, noted victims ‘always hope it’s going to get better.’ She also noted the benefits of marriage to O.J. outweighed the costs for Nicole, as has been speculated about the more modern-day celebrity domestic violence case of Ray & Janay Rice.

In 1992 Nicole had had enough and divorced O.J. Over the next few years he’d stalk and harass her. Faye Resnick claimed Nicole kind of missed the sick attention once it stopped, that she took it as a sign of his love. Resnick isn’t the best source for this interpretation but given everything else I’ve learned about Nicole, one thing is certain: She had as sick and obsessive a love for O.J. as he did for her.

Compare this to the women O.J. supposedly didn’t assault in his relationships, like his ex-wife, Marguerite. If her frying pan quote is true, it sounds like he knew he wouldn’t get away with that shit. His longtime girlfriend Paula Barbieri claimed he never assaulted her either. But Christine Prody, who met him the year after the trial ended, did take his shit.

There’s an uncomfortable lesson here on romantic cost/benefits analyses and what some men get away with if they think they can.

And an even more uncomfortable question regarding the kind of woman who would date O.J. after the trial.

Nicole’s biggest mistake

I don’t like the dating scene. I miss O.J. I think about him.

At some point after the post-divorce stalking/harassment, something critical happened I suspect rendered Nicole safe from O.J.

He seemed to have accepted the marriage was over. He’d lost Nicole. He was dating Barbieri and had begun to live his own life. He appears to have psychologically disengaged from Nicole.

But she couldn’t leave O.J. alone.

According to the book Raging Heart, in 1993 she decided she wanted O.J. back. A friend thought he was finally getting used to the divorce and settling in with Barbieri. Friends asked if she truly wanted to instigate a reconciliation, saying he would never change. They’d cautioned her about his rough treatment from the beginning. Her sister Denise had urged her to leave O.J. in the early ’80s. Nicole, as always, didn’t listen, adding links to a lengthening chain of tragic choices.

Nicole’s friends were right. O.J. didn’t change. The beatings began again, the police paid visits, and others, not always Nicole, made more mistakes:

  • According to People Magazine, police often didn’t write up reports.

  • Friends and family never confronted O.J. about his treatment of Nicole.

  • Her father saw the bruised face photo after the 1989 incident in which Nicole had clearly been beaten but he dismissed it.

  • Nicole’s sisters weren’t always clear on the existence of domestic violence in her life. Like many victims, she didn’t talk about it and covered the physical signs with makeup. Abuse in higher economic brackets is often better-hidden, and upscale batterers hide behind their public image. Until June 12, 1994, all of America loved O.J. Simpson and few had any idea he was a batterer.

He’s guilty, but she enabled him

Nicole’s worst nightmare ended in her own blood when O.J. finally acted on his threats to ‘slice her up’. He also murdered Ron Goldman delivering some eyeglasses dropped at the restaurant where Nicole ate dinner with others earlier in the evening.

The tragic death of Nicole Brown Simpson is a lesson to women everywhere, particularly those stuck in violent relationships, afraid to leave or, as in Nicole’s story, unable to abandon their own sick obsession. Nicole’s is the same sad story of millions of others: The cycle of abuse and forgiveness that keeps women trapped, the violence chipping away at their self-esteem until they either don’t believe they deserve any better or are afraid of what might happen if they leave, particularly if there are children involved.

A domestic violence victim is at most risk for getting murdered after leaving. Sometimes the abuser kills the children rather than the wife. An abused mother hasn’t just herself to think about; she must consider her children’s lives as well.

That said, once it starts, Nicole’s therapist notes: The victim must take the first step and reach out for help.

The sooner the better.

Unexplored: The victim’s role in the cycle of abuse

The choices a woman makes throughout an abusive relationship have gone largely unexplored with the feminist/activist emphasis on holding the abuser fully accountable for his behavior.

It’s inarguable the abuser is always responsible for his actions and reactions. Female abusers too.

No matter how Nicole ‘pushed his buttons’ or dated other men when she and O.J. were separated or divorced, there’s zero excuse for what he did. Here’s what O.J. said on a Fox News interview in 2006, but only released recently.

Although he didn’t say, “I did it,” it’s the closest he’s come since he wrote a book called I Did It and then added an ‘If’ at the beginning for plausible deniability. He did, however, make it clear he was at the scene even as he ‘hypothesized’ how it might have gone down ‘if’ he’d been there — adding details only the killer would have known.

We MUST start moving the needle from ‘Don’t blame the victim’ to ‘Don’t BE the victim.’ Nicole Brown Simpson’s critical mistake may have been pursuing a reconciliation with her violent ex-husband after he’d detached from her enough to give up.

This has bothered me ever since I read Resnick’s book, just as Nicole Simpson’s relentless choices to allow O.J. Simpson to make her life hell has bothered me since the criminal trial started.

I’ve come to believe the perpetuation of the abuse cycle is more than just the abuser/victim relationship. The people around the relationship bear a certain responsibility too.

In cases when one ends up working with the victim individually, one has to walk the fine line between empathy and collusion. Without blaming, the therapist’s goal is to move the victim from blame to responsibility, from helplessness to accountability, and from hopelessness to empowerment. Victims should never take total responsibility for their suffering; however they must develop an understanding of how they contribute to their own victimization.— Ofer Zur, Ph.D., “Rethinking ‘Don’t Blame The Victim’: The Psychology of Victimhood”

Like the police who often don’t do anything once they arrive at a domestic abuse scene, as Nicole often complained about the L.A.P.D.

Then again, one must wonder at the frustration the police feel when an established victim goes back to the abuser over and over. Nicole wasn’t always terrorized into staying. She kept wanting O.J. back. She reconciled when she didn’t have to. She was as fatally in love with O.J. as he was with her. Where did this come from? Nicole didn’t come from an abusive family and I’ve found nothing to indicate she had somehow been ‘primed’ for this.

At some point, her phone calls to police were a waste of taxpayer dollars because while O.J. was never going to change, neither, it seems, was Nicole. Would there ever have come a day where she realized enough is enough? We’ll never know.

  • What is it in some women’s psychology that allows or teaches them to accept abuse when they aren’t ‘trained’ for it in childhood? We need to explore the role and choices victims make, and make fewer excuses for those choices. Domestic violence is multifaceted. Not all victims are ‘trained’ by abusive childhoods or misogynist religions or ‘the patriarchy’. Some women just have terrible taste in men and some never seem to learn from their mistakes. We need to explore and challenge this more.

  • What about the women who dated O.J. after the trial? Like Christie Prody, who also suffered emotional and physical abuse from O.J.? Who was constantly compared to his dead ex-wife? When O.J. told her Nicole ‘deserved’ what happened to her, why did she stay? How surprised would anyone have been had Prody been murdered too? How many would have thought, “WTF, woman? What did you expect?”

  • What sort of a ‘cost/benefits’ analysis do women like Nicole do to conclude the benefits of marriage to a man like O.J. outweigh the cost? How can we challenge this?

  • What can we, as friends and family, do to recognize the abuse in front of us? Are we challenging women in abusive relationships enough to leave when they can still get out? There’s a danger for those in a domestic violence victim’s circle too. Abusers often target family members or supportive friends. Do victims have a responsibility to them?

I’m frustrated when I see photos like Nicole Brown Simpson’s battered face.

I’m frustrated that she kept returning to her abuser when she didn’t have to. Did it ever occur to her that one day O.J. might start beating their kids, especially their daughter, when her eventual blossoming adolescence became attractive to boys?

I’m frustrated with the cult of celebrity and over-privileged athletes who believe, quite rightly, they can do no wrong nor ever be held accountable.

I’m frustrated with people making excuses for bad choices because they don’t dare challenge an ideological dogma that infantilizes women and enshrines them as perpetual helpless little girls.

Nicole didn’t have to end nearly decapitated. She was, by all accounts, a wonderful, vibrant, fun, friendly, and even strong woman who challenged O.J. many times and didn’t always take his shit. But that’s not how we remember her.

She’s forever memorialized as the world’s most famous domestic violence story, the battered wife, the bruised face, the terrified voice on the 911 call, the pathetic weak victim.

He finally did it. He killed her. With a knife, as he’d often threatened. And, as she predicted, he got away with it.

It didn’t have to end like this, Nicole.

What can women learn from her twenty-eight years later? Have we learned anything from this? What can we learn from Marguerite and Paula Barbieri, the ones who weren't abused? Why?

Are these men ever worth it?




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