Barack Obama's Relationship With Michelle Is the One I Want With My Future Husband
On Tuesday, our outgoing presidenttook the stage in Chicagoto thank the American people for "keeping him honest, keeping him inspired, and keeping him going," and to call on all of us to reject extremism and intolerance and chauvinism in favor of compassion. And then, in the final moments of his farewell address, Barack Obama fought back tears ashe thanked his wife Michelle. "Michelle LaVaughn Robinson of the South Side," he said, "for the past 25 years you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend."
"You took on a role you didn't ask for," he continued. "And you made it your own with grace and with grit and with style, and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody, and a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You have made me proud, and you have made the country proud."
Find someone who looks at you the way Barack looks at Michelle, I thought as the camera panned between the two of them. But it's more than that. Over the past eight years, the Obamas have demonstrated their love, yes, but they have also radiated this pride in each other. You just don't get that kind of satisfaction and pleasure from how your partner moves through the world unless you see her not as an extension of yourself but as fully her own person. A best friend who sees you as an equal and thanks you, publicly and often, for what you do for him, for the two of you, for others: what better model for a forever-partner?
Michelle might not have predicted Barack's political trajectory. The two met while working at a Chicago law firm where Michelle, a Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate, was assigned to mentor Barack, a summer associate. From the beginning, a tone was set: she had her own professional achievements and aspirations — her own opinions, her own dreams — and he was in the literal position of learning from her. Michelle didn't fall for Barack because she thought she could piggyback on his success. She washismentor, after all. She fell for him because she saw something that ran deeper than his goals or abilities. "He was charming, talented, and oh-so smart, truly," she has said. But that is not why I married him. What truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama was his character."
They met as equals and they stayed that way, throughout Barack's stratospheric rise from summer associate to two-term president of the United States. Michelle had her misgivings about this rise and the Obama family's ability to maintain normalcy through it. Asked on the 2008 campaign trail what kind of First Lady she would be, she often answered, "I won't know until I get there." And then she got there. She embraced the role, she made it her own, and she made us fall in love with her in the process — and Obama has never failed to thank her for this, never fallen into the trap of assuming his wife would naturally be along for the ride. "Michelle never asked to be First Lady," he toldVoguelast November. "Like a lot of political spouses, the role was thrust upon her. But I always knew she'd be incredible at it, and put her own unique stamp on the job."
That's the kind of relationship I hope to have one day. Not one where either my or my partner's preferences take automatic priority, but one in which we see the other as whole and so appreciate the sacrifices we make for each other along the way. Years of well-intentioned warnings to "never sacrifice your career/independence/freedom/dreams/beliefs for a relationship" left me convinced that to live differently or make different choices while in a relationship than I would if I were single would be compromising myself. If I wasn't setting the terms, whether that meant trying non-monogamy or keeping in touch with an ex or accepting a job halfway across the world, in my mind, I was losing.
The Obamas taught me another way of looking at sacrifice. Aspiring to a relationship in which I "get my way" at least 50% of the time has a tendency of making relationships feel like negotiations, rather than partnerships in which challenges are tackled together and mutual gratitude is the rule. The only sad sacrifice, it seems, the one to avoid, is being with someone who takes your choices and actions for granted. Michelle has been a rare kind of First Lady not only in her compassion, intelligence, and humor, but also in her relationship with a president who saw her as his equal, never his accessory. And they are just so damn proud of each other. You see it in their interactions, you hear it in their speeches when instead of praising their spouse to the audience, they address the other directly and it almost feels as if we're eavesdropping on an intimate moment meant for just them.
We can't pretend to know what quiet struggles Michelle and Barack face in their marriage in their own time, on their own terms. Michelle has said herself to theNew York Timesthat the image of a perfect marriage is "the last thing we want to project." But there is a difference between presuming to know what goes on behind closed doors and celebrating what a couple chooses to share with us of a relationship, and I'm grateful for what Michelle and Obama have shown us of theirs: their love, their pride in each other, that unwavering thanks.
Video: 27 Times Barack & Michelle Obama Were #Relationship Goals | Cosmopolitan
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