If you’re anything like me, you’re jealous of Michelle Obama. Those clothes. Those cutie-pie kids. That husband. That Glamour cover. And that address! But in an eye-opening New York Times Magazine cover story on the Obama marriage, Michelle is candid about their relationship’s ups and (surprising number of) downs. All political marriages are, by definition, unconventional. But to hear Michelle tell it, she has often felt like a single mother with Barack traveling all the time as a Senator.
“This was sort of the eye-opener to me, that marriage is hard. But going into it, no one ever tells you that. They just tell you, ‘Do you love him? What’s the dress look like?’ It’s unfair to the institution of marriage, and it’s unfair for young people who are trying to build something, to project this perfection that doesn’t exist.”
The Obamas married in 1992 and when Barack initially ran for an Illinois State Senate seat in 1995, Michelle wasn’t enthusiastic, as she “just wasn’t ready to share,” according to a past campaign manager. But still, she became a volunteer.
When Barack won the State Senate seat, he earned peanuts for money and she felt pressure to get a job to help support them. “Michelle would say, ‘Well, you’re gone all the time and we’re broke? How is that a good deal?’” Barack told the Times. Having children only made their lives more difficult and it made Michelle more resentful: When a baby sitter canceled at the last minute, Michelle took newborn Sasha on a job interview. Her former boss recalled, “She was in a lot of ways a single mom, and that was not her plan.” In 2004, Barack ran for the U.S. Senate and the promise that she’d see even less of her husband caused Michelle to be even less enthusiastic about his political career. Barack insisted he would make it work, by driving home from the state capitol every Friday night, paying the bills, and grocery shopping.
But running for president, oddly enough, strengthened the Obamas’ marriage because they became more of a team. Even though campaigning didn’t come naturally to her, she talked up her husband; when she was criticized for perhaps being “too angry,” Barack defended her and met with the owners of Fox News to ask them to treat Michelle with more respect. Once the couple moved into the White House together, it was the first time they’d lived under the same roof seven days a week for years
The Times spoke with experts who said historically the presidency has brought couples closer together, though it also forces traditional gender roles. But the Obamas are a young, progressive couple, and both insist that the choices in their private lives, like child-rearing decisions, are as egalitarian as they can be. Each morning, the Obamas see Sasha and Malia off to school and exercise together, sometimes playing tennis. Employees in the White House say the couple can be caught hugging and kissing in the halls; they watch movies on weekends (“Where the Wild Things Are”), play Scrabble, or read to the girls (Barack is reading Sasha “Life of Pi”). Barack even has a silly nickname for Michelle: “Flotus”—First Lady of the United States.
You know what’s really refreshing about the Obamas’ marriage? Because Michelle was never as enthusiastic about politics as Barack was, she didn’t change her entire life or who she is over the years and, ultimately, that’s what her husband loves about her. The president told the Times, “What I value most about my marriage is that it is separate and apart from a lot of the silliness of Washington, and Michelle is not part of that silliness.”
Yet their marriage, like anyone else’s, still isn’t perfect. “The bumps happen to everybody all the time, and they are continuous,” Michelle confessed. Reassuring, no? Even a union that looks like an absolute fairy tale from the outside is still a real one. [New York Times Magazine]