The XX Factor

Bullock’s Dilemma

I flunked David Brooks’ test today on whether, if I were Sandra Bullock, I’d rather have that Oscar or have my husband back. I immediately went for the Oscar, which means, according to Brooks, I am “absolutely crazy.” He says an Oscar may signal having arrived at the top of one’s profession, but everyone knows a successful marriage translates into deep, enduring happiness. The reason I chose the Oscar is that if I actually were Sandra Bullock, it would mean that I had chosen to marry a sleazeball. Given that, it would be inevitable he would cheat, so the Oscar seemed more enduring. I agree with Brooks that our relationships are a key to long-term happiness. But he sets up a professional success vs. personal success dichotomy that is as useless as the nature vs. nurture one. Human relations are hard; if they weren’t, all marriages would be blissful. For many people work is a haven from personal difficulties, not just because of the money, but because it provides a sense of identity and accomplishment-also crucial human needs. It used to be that American women were given practically no roles in life except as the nurturers of relationships. But it’s not just a need to pay the bills that has sent us streaming into the workplace. Multigenerational living used to be mankind’s default mode. But financial independence has allowed us to run screaming from that model. Brooks mentions a study (I do wish on the Times ’ Web site that he would have linked to the studies he characterizes) that found that joining a group that meets once a month produces the same happiness as doubling one’s income. That must be some book club! But I am dubious.