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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: Give and Take

by Max Roytenberg, March 8, 2017

Life can be tough! When young people find a partner, the one they hope to share their lives with, do they choose wisely? Is there real caring and commitment, or just the flush of youthful enthusiasm and hormones? Can the young person really evaluate the difference? Making the right decision can make the difference in the way a whole life is lived. Isn’t this what makes parents who care and are involved in their children’s lives anxious about the decisions their young make in choosing a partner?


It has always been a challenge finding the career path that’s going to be the right one. Finding the means to realize those aspirations is proving to be harder and harder every day. When young people, eager to be together, impatient to be together, launch themselves on this joint venture even before they have established a solid career basis, they face the need to make hard decisions. Sometimes it may mean that one partner has to put their aspirations on hold while the other partner pursues their goal.


What is the proper balance? When we enter into a relationship between two people engaged in committing to a life partnership, what is the fair equation of give and take? Both partners may have self-development aspirations. Who goes first? Will the relationship last long enough for both partners to get a kick at the cat? Suppose one of the partners exits the relationship once the other partner has contributed the sacrifices necessary to permit that fortunate partner to realize their dreams? Did the exiting partner really care for the one who made the sacrifices? Was there true love, devotion and caring in the relationship, or was it really essentially exploitative?


When there is true love between the parties it is obvious that both partners want to see their opposite number realize the best of what they are capable of. Their lives will be all the richer for it. Common fairness, not to mention justice demands it. How sad when this proves not to be the case, when a partner does not have the generosity of spirit to see to that for the other. 


It pains me to say that I have seen that. When it happens, I cannot tolerate to be in their company, the injustice of it overwhelms me. I feel like shaking the offended party, and asking how they can stand it, how can they let it happen to them? Why do they remain in such an abusive relationship? How can they tolerate it? I am enraged! At least they should protest! It takes all my strength to hold my tongue in speaking to the offending partner.


And then I begin to think about my own life experiences. And it begins to seem to me, that in my self-serving blindness, I may indeed have been guilty of similar crimes. My partner at the time did not speak up. I, in my own narcissism, did not encourage the partner to seek self-development. I did not urge, support or insist on funding activities that might have made that person’s life more fulfilling. What does that say about the quality of that relationship, and the judgment of the protagonists?


It may have been a much different time. Maybe the motivations that drove me on so forcefully were not present in my partner? Yet, I do remember, now, efforts at self-development that garnered little attention from me and generated little respect. I was the main act wasn’t I? It all depended on me, didn’t it? Wasn’t I the hero overcoming all odds and bending the will of a reluctant fate to ensure blessings and a good life for all my dependents?


Don’t we look at these things so much differently now. But, now, today, looking at the past, I cannot hide from myself my sense of shame. Well, isn’t that a different kettle of fish? I am busying myself descending from my high horse. What bloody nerve I had taking that “holier than thou” attitude! I am viewing the movie of my life from an entirely different perspective and it is not a pretty picture. No honorable mentions at the Oscars for me. Don’t I wish I could go back and do a rewrite on the script?


So, now I am eating “humble pie”. How could I have been so blind? How could I have been so selfish? How is it that I believed for so many years that I was an ideal husband, a courageous knight who vanquished all the windmills that stood in my way, meeting all the needs of all those who were depending so much on me? I was the one who performed miracles, fashioning “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”.


Shall I now begin to question all elements of my behavior? Do I have to interview my children to unearth the different traumas I left embedded in their souls? Should I speak to all the individuals who labored under my tutelage? Where does all this end? Shall I seek the help of an analyst to cope with the rivers of guilt cascading over my consciousness? And this day seemed to start out on such a positive note!


How our standards have changed? How complex is the job we face in striving to grow up, in struggling to arrive at maturity? Don’t we all have much to do in re-appraising our lives in the light of what we learn as we grow with our experiences? I will have a busy time trying to forgive myself over the next little while. How about you?

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