Jenny Block says equality is not about payback

There appears to be some confusion and it deserves — it demands — some straightening out.

Simply put: Just because you got less in the past doesn’t mean you get more now. The goal is equality, but there’s no room for backfill. If we were to do that, other people would have to get less. If you were shushed as a child and never allowed to talk, you may feel as if you deserve more talking space now. But it doesn’t work that way. If you were abused as a child, yelled at, harmed, there’s no making up for that by hurting others now. You can’t expect “extra” from people … extra attention, more jobs. Whatever.

It might seem unfair. It is unfair that you were treated poorly. But it doesn’t give you an all-access card to the future. If things worked that way, women would have it all and men would be licking their boots. If things worked that way, Jews would have it all and Germans would be their lifetime butlers. If that were true, African-Americans would be the slave owners and their former masters would be picking their cotton. But equality means equality for all.

Life isn’t about retribution … or it shouldn’t be, because it can’t be. Nothing can pay women back for the rape and abuse and inability to control their own lives and bodies visited upon them for centuries. Nothing magic want can bring back 6 million murdered in the Holocaust. Nothing can undo the literal and figurative wounds and scars of kidnapping and enslaving an entire race of people.

The same is true in relationships. It sucks if your last partner always tried to one up you or interrupted you or yelled at you or made you feel small. But it’s not “standing up for yourself” if you do that to your next partner. The next person in your life is not there to make up for the wrongs of the last. They are a whole new person with a whole new slate and if you want a relationship with that person, you can’t cast upon them the sins of their predecessors.

There’s a second arm to this, which is that you don’t get more for doing more. Every mom knows that. She does all the things and is lucky to get a thank you. Hopefully she does those things because she wants to, she chooses to, she loves her family. If she’s doing it for accolades, she’s fighting an uphill battle.

If you did all the things for your last partner, that in no way means this new partner is supposed to do all the things for you.

It’s not a matter of it being your turn. If you do all the things for your new partner because you want the positive reaction that your former partner didn’t give you, that’s a non-starter. A new relationship is not a do-over or a make-up or anything of the like. It’s a whole new game with all new rules and a brand new player. There’s no chance of an equal partnership if the new partner’s role is to make up for your last partner’s behavior. That’s not equality.

Equality isn’t a pie. But if you need it to be, then the metaphor goes like this: There is enough for everyone to have a piece.

One piece. Their share. That means that if you take more than your share, someone has to do without. Even if you didn’t get any pie in the past or your piece was tiny or your piece was stale or your piece was strawberry and your allergic, you still only get your share now. And your share is equal to everyone else’s regardless of the past. In relationships and in life, there are no slices of retribution pie.

The thing is, life isn’t fair. It isn’t. Kim gets to be a Kardashian and you don’t. Meghan gets to be a real life princess and you don’t. Lottery winners get to throw their money into the wind and you don’t. That’s just the way it goes.

You don’t get more now because you got less in the past because if you do, someone else suffers. And their suffering now might feel good in that moment but it doesn’t actually fix anything. It just sets the cycle in motion, an endless cycle of retribution and inequality. I’m not talking about punishing criminals. They belong in jail. I’m talking about expecting payback from society at large or a specific partner who is not the doer of the wrong against you.

Here’s how we end the cycle. We do what the Jews who escaped and survived the Holocaust did: They made lives for themselves and ensured a better life for their children. There was no retribution. There was no government assistance. There was no one paying them back for the crimes committed against them (other than the justice of prosecuting the Nazis). There was coming to a country where they didn’t speak the language and knew no one and they had nothing. So the first person helped the next and so on and so on. No one said, “You owe me” or “I can’t.”

Here’s the thing: Ultimately you’re not going to get more than your fair share. The world isn’t going to pay you back. Some days I wish it would. But, as the saying goes, if wishes were fishes, we’d all be swimming in the sea.

And so it goes with relationships. You don’t get paid back for the damages done by partners past. And you don’t get to punish the next partner for that past partner’s sins. I mean you can, but the new one won’t stay long if you do. (Well, she shouldn’t anyway.)

The vast majority of us have been hurt. Too many of us have been assaulted and abused or wronged or controlled or mistreated … by the world at large and by our very own partners. That’s the past. Now, all we have is, well, now. So right here, right now, let’s commit to equality for all the people for all the partners for all relationships, intimate or otherwise.

Let’s commit to not expecting those in our present to make up for the past. Let’s commit to ending the cycle. Let’s commit to fairly slicing the pie.

Have a question about sex, relationships or life you want Jenny to address? Email it to [email protected].