Women are sometimes the harshest critics of the women who stay. Hillary Clinton? All she cares about is power. Silda Spitzer? Stepford Wife. Elin Nordegren? Hanging in there for the money.
We snarky gawkers have plenty of material to harsh on in the Sandra Bullock - Jesse James saga. The tattoos. The white supremacist connection. The Vanilla Gorilla nickname. The additional women who've stepped forward, placing James neck and neck with Tiger Woods in the most-women-sexted tourney.
The accolades Bullock heaped upon her husband as she enjoyed a spotlight that belonged only to her are now cringeworthy: At the Oscars, choking up when thanking her mother for allowing her to "have that," her marriage with Jesse James; at the Golden Globes, thanking Jesse "who works so hard, all day, and you get dressed up in monkey suits with people you don't know... I love you so much, and you're really hot, and I want you so much.; and with, gulp, Barbara Walters, here and here, gushing about the man who has her back.
But there's an entirely different reason I can't stop thinking about Sandra Bullock: Despite it all, I understand why she might stay.
Hold on, now. Don't throw anything at the computer yet. Hear me out.
Jesse James is a lowlife. He not only cheats on his wife, but apparently does so multiple times with multiple women and without protection. So far, so Tiger. Even worse, he allows her to entangle her professional identity with their marriage and to publicly share her every achievement with the man who "has her back," even as he's texting his next stripper hook-up. In short, he made us feel sorry for a strong woman at the top of her game. Is there any worse betrayal?
As it turns out, the answer is yes. By all accounts, Sandra Bullock has been a devoted stepmother to James's three children by two different baby mamas. She has supported his battle against his ex-wife, porn star Janine Lindemulder, for custody of their five-year-old daughter. While Lindemulder lived in a halfway house after a conviction for tax evasion, Bullock has reportedly raised James's daughter as her own.
Supposedly Jesse James says he wants nothing more than to keep his family intact. But guess what? He's not the one who's losing his family.
Of all the bad, bad, very bad things that man did to his wife, the very worst was to allow her to love his children, knowing he couldn't keep himself together. Being burnt by the man you love is hard enough. We'd all like to think that leaving's a no-brainer, but Hillary and Silda would beg to differ. The addition of young children to the mix only complicates the decision. Elin Nordegren, widely speculated to be holding out for more cash, is reportedly struggling to remain cautiously optimistic for her children.
But even mothers -- most of them at least -- can decide whether to stay or go without losing their family. But Sandra Bullock isn't most mothers. She's not a mother at all, at least not as far as the law is concerned.
At least for now, James's ex-wife is saying Sandra can stay in her daughter's life: "She has taken care of our daughter as if she was her own ... she sacrificed much ... and I will forever be indebted to her for that."
But people change their minds. Ask Jesse James.
The most painful Bullock quotes to rewind were given to Barbara Walters:
"I always had this feeling that if you got married, it was the the end of who you were. I never met anyone who was bigger than me."
"We're not [different]. The end result in life that we both want is the same. The thing we want at the end of the day is the same. He's not out in bars... He couldn't be happier.... I never allowed myself to be cared for or protected that way in a relationship.... Not once asking me to be anything other than what I am.... It's not a mistake that my work got better the minute I met him. I became committed to being scared and being braver. I really couldn't fail anymore because I have home to go home to."
"Ten years from now... I hope the same people in my house today are there ten years from now."
She appreciated what she had, but her husband didn't. She wanted nothing other than to keep it all -- her work, her happiness, her man, and her children -- but now she can't.
Every cheater risks losing it all, but Jesse James had more at stake than the average dog, and his wife's the one who now has to pay the tab. Because of his acts, she has to choose between her dignity and a five year old child she has come to love as her own. Ex-step-mothers have no legal rights. Sandra -- who dedicated her Academy Award to "the moms who take care of the babies and the children, wherever they come from" -- cannot leave him without leaving them. She cannot stay with them without staying with him. And what will America say, and what will happen to her career, if Miss Congeniality stays?
Jesse James's next tattoo should be a warning label: Danger. Loving this man could break you.
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