"I felt that people didn't understand him," the singer tells Vanity Fair

By Nick Maslow
Updated October 06, 2015 12:45 PM
Credit: Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Believe it or not, 10 years have passed since Rihanna made her debut with “Pon de Replay” in 2005.

As the singer, 27, gears up and her forthcoming eighth album, she’s looking back on her decade in the spotlight and on her love life – including her former relationship with Chris Brown – for Vanity Fair‘s November cover story (on stands Oct. 13).

“I don’t hate him,” Rihanna said of Brown, 26. “I will care about him until the day I die. We’re not friends, but it’s not like we’re enemies. We don’t have much of a relationship now.”

Rihanna’s comments come nearly seven years after Brown assaulted her before the Grammy Awards in February 2009. She shared painful details of the incident in a revealing interview with 20/20, but asked the court to lift the restraining order against him three years later.

“I was that girl,” Rihanna said of their brief reconciliation. “That girl who felt that as much pain as this relationship is, maybe some people are built stronger than others. Maybe I’m one of those people built to handle s— like this. Maybe I’m the person who’s almost the guardian angel to this person, to be there when they’re not strong enough, when they’re not understanding the world, when they just need someone to encourage them in a positive way and say the right thing.”

Rihanna admitted to thinking she could change Brown.

“A hundred percent. I was very protective of him,” she said. “I felt that people didn’t understand him. Even after … But you know, you realize after a while that in that situation you’re the enemy.”

Rihanna, who was most recently linked to rapper Travis Scott, understands why her experience with Brown continues to be discussed. She spoke openly to VF about what it feels like to be a de facto poster child for domestic violence.

“It’s in the past, and I don’t want to say, ‘Get over it,’ because it’s a very serious thing that is still relevant; it’s still real,” she said. “A lot of women, a lot of young girls, are still going through it. A lot of young boys too.”

She continued, “It’s not a subject to sweep under the rug, so I can’t just dismiss it like it wasn’t anything, or I don’t take it seriously. But, for me, and anyone who’s been a victim of domestic abuse, nobody wants to even remember it. Nobody even wants to admit it. So to talk about it and say it once, much less 200 times, is like … I have to be punished for it? It didn’t sit well with me.”

Years later, the media’s portrayal of her relationships continues to have an impact on her approach to dating.

“I’m the worst. I see a rumor and I’m not calling [them] back,” she said. “I’ve had to be so conscious about people – what they say and why people want to be with me, why people want to sleep with me … It makes me very guarded and protective. I learned the hard way.”

All too often, much ado is made about men she’s just started getting to know, Rihanna explained.

“Some guys … I don’t even have their number. You would not even believe it,” she told the magazine while laughing. “I’m serious, hand to God.”

Although a friends with-benefits situation might be easier, the idea of sex for fun ultimately turns her off.

“If I wanted to, I would completely do that,” Rihanna said. “I am going to do what makes me feel happy, what I feel like doing. But that would be empty for me; that to me is a hollow move. I would wake up the next day feeling like shit.”

At the end of the day, Rihanna sees all the challenges she faces as temporary situations that reveal her character.

“Even tragedy, every trial in your life, is a test,” she explained. “It’s like a class – you take an exam, and if you pass, you move on to the next. You still have to take another test and prove yourself again.”

For more on Rihanna’s perspective and her stunning shots by Annie Leibovitz, pick up the latest issue of Vanity Fair.