Their private plane landed in Burbank, Calif., under cover of darkness. It was 5 a.m. on March 2, and Chris Brown and Rihanna emerged in a way they hadn’t been seen since an allegedly violent night three weeks earlier: as a couple. “They’re together again,” a source says of the pair, who spent the weekend reconciling at Sean “Diddy” Combs’s estate on Miami Beach’s Star Island. “While Chris is reflective and saddened about what happened, he is really happy to be with the woman he loves.”
But many who care about Rihanna—including her fans and family members, not to mention the millions who saw a picture of her with a bruised head and bloody lip—were left wondering why she would take Brown back. According to a friend of the couple’s, the answer is simple: “She loves him.” And just as insiders have cited the couple’s immaturity—he’s 19, she’s 21—as a reason for why they often fight, the same factor is being used to explain why they are getting back together. “Age is playing a huge role,” says a source who has known the singers for a few years. “Young love is stupid love.”
And yet it took a lot of effort for the singer to win back his girlfriend of more than a year. “Chris has been persistent,” says a Brown source. The couple had been communicating (he called Rihanna on her birthday Feb. 20), and Brown has been reminding Rihanna of what their life was like as R&B’s hottest couple. Explains the source: “They had a lot of fun together and were on top of the world.” While in Miami, the pair spent time inside the $18 million Balinese-style mansion “working through their issues,” according to a local music source. The Brown source adds the singer, “is sorry for everything that happened.” (As of March 2, the D.A. still hadn’t filed charges against Brown.)
The reunion appears to have the support of Brown’s mother, Joyce Hawkins, who has been at his side for weeks and joined him in Florida. Rihanna, however, who had sought comfort back home in Barbados after the incident, seems to be moving forward on her own. “No one, even those close in [to Rihanna], knows exactly what is going on right now,” says an insider. Her father, Ronald Fenty, only learned of his daughter’s whereabouts through the media. “I don’t know about them getting back together,” he told PEOPLE Feb. 28. Adds another family member: “She hasn’t talked to anyone in the past few days. The whole family is in the fog. We don’t know what’s going on. She’s not telling us anything.” Though Fenty had previously said he hoped Rihanna would “move on” from Brown, he now says, “Whatever road she chooses, I’m behind her.” Another family member is less diplomatic: “We’re not happy. I can’t believe this happened so fast. None of us can. I don’t want her to make a mistake, and I don’t want her to ever go through this again.”
Rihanna‘s decision to return to Brown may dismay her family and shock the public, but experts say it fits the patterns associated with domestic violence. Ending a relationship after one incident isn’t always easy, says New York City author and psychologist Jeffrey Gardere. “Just saying ‘I’m done’—a lot of people just don’t have that kind of strength. It’s not that clear-cut.” Psychologist and author Lenore Walker notes that “it takes the average battered woman three to five violent incidents to finally give up on a relationship.” When a victim is still in love and an abuser apologizes, it can be hard to stay away, she explains: “It’s the loving behavior that reinforces a woman to stay, because they believe the violent act isn’t a true reflection of their man.” New York University professor Linda Mills, author of the book Violent Partners, points out—albeit controversially—that abuse does not have to end a relationship if the couple seek help. “Domestic violence, like any rupture in a relationship, can be something that can be worked through by the couple.”
Sympathy for Rihanna—among fans and within the music industry—was strong after the incident, but the reunion has led to something of a backlash. “The tide has definitely turned against her since she’s gotten back with him,” says a Los Angeles music insider. Some fans lashed out on blogs (“Rihanna is supposed to be [a] strong woman,” said one post on MTV.com), but it’s not yet clear if it will create a long-term problem for her. As for Brown? In a Billboard.com poll published March 2, 49 percent of voters said they listen to his music as much or as little as they did before the alleged fight—and 6 percent listen to it more. “Getting back together helps Chris but hurts Rihanna,” says marketing consultant and bestselling author Laura Ries. If Rihanna, who is a spokesmodel for CoverGirl, had chosen to speak out against domestic violence, she would have been in a position to become a role model—even a Tina Turner for her generation. “Now, she has to explain herself, and that’s going to be hard to do,” says Ries.
To save both of their images, Rihanna may need to publicly address why Brown is worth going back to. Otherwise, says entertainment and corporate brand strategist Marvet Britto, “she is sending the wrong message because it looks like she just took him back with no consequences.” As far as Rihanna and Brown are concerned, the only thing that may matter is that they’re together. Says the source who has known them both for a few years: “They can’t stay away from each other.”