‘The Sandra Bullock trade’
In a recent issue of The New York Times, columnist David Brooks wonders whether people would willingly accept what he calls “the Sandra Bullock trade”—that is, winning an Academy Award one minute, discovering that your husband is “an adulterous jerk” the next.
More generally, Brooks mused about the comparative values of career and personal life. Is there some inverse relationship between the two? Can any woman who has reached the pinnacle of her career expect to suffer a colossal blow to her marriage? Does one cancel the other in some cosmic tendency toward equilibrium? Does one cause the other? Does it matter?
We cannot assume that Sandra Bullock’s immense professional achievements contributed to the downfall of her marriage. (Perhaps her husband is simply a terrible person and there was nothing to be done.) Nor can we assume that she has an obligation to address the problems in her marriage at the expense of the numerous career opportunities that are sure to be flooding in following this latest Hollywood awards season.
What we can assume, however, is that she will be judged negatively by both the media and her fans if her future actions appear to place career aspirations ahead of family relations. Therefore, we can also assume that she will appear to step back from the movie business in order to address her marital troubles. Her publicist will make sure of that.
As a culture, we implicitly place an overwhelming emphasis on financial interests while outwardly preaching that family values are vastly more meaningful. Taking the time and energy to deal with her shaky marriage will surely detract from Bullock’s post-Oscar momentum in the film industry, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We praise Bullock for the accomplishment, but she will be crucified if her family crumbles in the wake of her success.
Something doesn’t match up. The experts say tritely that money can’t buy happiness. In fact, they’ve proven statistically that money can’t buy happiness. So why do Americans spend such a disproportionately large amount of time at work? Why does our education system teach the skills required to develop careers rather than social relationships? Why do we sneer at housewives who don’t have real jobs?
Because it’s not all about the money. While success in this country is indeed defined largely by wealth, careers can provide other forms of success, too. The ambition and passion that fuel one’s work can provide individual fulfillment, contributing to the success and longevity of a happy partnership. Unhappy and unfulfilled people do not make happy and fulfilled spouses.
In his column, Brooks argues for a realignment of social values: family over career, and not just in the painfully pedantic, superficial way. Teach people to develop meaningful relationships that will endure any career failure, because that is what makes people happy.
I argue something different. Yes, we should place the utmost importance on developing relationships. Yes, we should avoid sacrificing the integrity of a personal relationship for an ambitious career move. But no, we should never sacrifice personal fulfillment for either end; no, we should never have a relationship for relationship’s sake. And no, we should never assume that placing all our hopes in a relationship, while relinquishing all other ambition, will make us happy.
Sandra Bullock, you are more than your Oscar, and you are more than your husband.
Kate is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.