20 Years Ago Barack Obama Perfectly Explained The Secret To A Lasting Relationship
Twenty years ago this week, on May 26, 1996, photographer Mariana Cook interviewed Barack and Michelle Obama as part of a project on couples in America.
The interview offers an intimate glimpse into the life of the Obamas prior to the president's political career.
In 2009, the New Yorker published a portion of the interview the same week of President Obama's first inauguration.
It's particularly interesting to revisit this now, in the final year of Obama's presidency, as we all begin to reflect on how the Obamas impacted the nation as the presidential couple.
Back in 1996, Michelle wasn't even sure if her husband would ever get into politics, highlighting her own trepidations surrounding the idea. She said,
There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it's unclear. There is a little tension with that. I'm very wary of politics. I think he's too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism. When you are involved in politics, your life is an open book, and people can come in who don't necessarily have good intent. I'm pretty private, and like to surround myself with people that I trust and love. In politics you've got to open yourself to a lot of different people. There is a possibility that our futures will go that way, even though I want to have kids and travel, spend time with family, and like spending time with friends. But we are going to be busy people doing lots of stuff. And it'll be interesting to see what life has to offer. In many ways, we are here for the ride, just sort of seeing what opportunities open themselves up.
Well, life has certainly offered both of these individuals a great deal, and they've definitely been on quite a ride since that interview 20 years ago.
Even if you're among the president's sharpest critics, it's hard not to admire the love and respect the Obamas share. Their relationship has always felt genuine, and never rehearsed.
Something the president said in the interview, all those years ago, definitely helps explain why the two have maintained such a palpably strong and caring relationship.
Michelle is a tremendously strong person, and has a very strong sense of herself and who she is and where she comes from. But I also think in her eyes you can see a trace of vulnerability that most people don't know, because when she's walking through the world she is this tall, beautiful, confident woman. There is a part of her that is vulnerable and young and sometimes frightened, and I think seeing both of those things is what attracted me to her. And then what sustains our relationship is I'm extremely happy with her, and part of it has to do with the fact that she is at once completely familiar to me, so that I can be myself and she knows me very well and I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me in some ways. And there are times when we are lying in bed and I look over and sort of have a start. Because I realize here is this other person who is separate and different and has different memories and backgrounds and thoughts and feelings. It's that tension between familiarity and mystery that makes for something strong, because, even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person.
That's deep, Mr. President.
Perhaps President Obama should consider offering couples therapy after he departs from the White House as it appears he figured out the secret to a lasting relationship a long time ago: find the balance between "familiarity and mystery," and never stop respecting your partner's individuality.