On My Mind
Truth: the former US First Lady is beyond inspo on just about every level. But as she recently told Oprah, she – like everyone else – has to work for her #RelationshipGoals marriage and tightknit squad. It all started when she irst met Barack…
OPRAH WINFREY You write, about meeting him:
‘I’d constructed my existence carefully, tucking and folding every loose and disorderly bit of it, as if building some tight and airless piece of origami… He was like a wind that threatened to unsettle everything.’ At first you didn’t like being unsettled. MICHELLE OBAMA Oh God, no. OW This I love so much – a moment that cracks me up: ‘I woke one night to find him staring at the ceiling, his profile lit by the glow of streetlights outside. He looked vaguely troubled, as if he were pondering something deeply personal. Was it our relationship? The loss of his father? “Hey, what are you thinking about over there?” I whispered. He turned to look at me, his smile a little sheepish. “Oh,” he said, “I was just thinking about income inequality.”’
MO That’s my honey.
OW You really let us into the relationship. I mean, down to the proposal and everything. You also write about some major differences between the two of you in the early years of your marriage. You say: ‘I understood it was nothing but good intentions that would lead him to say, “I’m on my way!” or “Almost home!”’
MO Oh gosh, yes.
OW ‘And for a while, I believed those words. I’d give the girls their nightly bath but delay bedtime so that they could wait up to give their dad a hug.’ And then you describe this scene where you’d waited up: he says, ‘I’m on my way, I’m on my way.’ He doesn’t come. And then you turn out the lights – I could hear them click off, the way you wrote it. MO I was mad. When you get married and you have kids, your whole plan, once again, gets upended. Especially if you get married to somebody who has a career that swallows up everything, which is what politics is.
MO Barack Obama taught me how to swerve. But his swerving sort of – you know, I’m flailing in the wind. And now I’ve got two kids, and I’m trying to hold everything down while he’s travelling back and forth from Washington or Springfield. He had this wonderful optimism about time. He thought there was way more of it than there really was. And he would fill it up constantly. He’s a plate spinner – plates on sticks, and it’s not exciting unless one’s about to fall. So there was work we had to do as a couple. Counselling we had to do to work through this stuff.
OW Tell us about counselling. MO Well, you go because you think the counsellor is going to help you make your case against the other person. And lo and behold, counselling wasn’t that at all. It was about me exploring my sense of happiness. What clicked in me was that I need support and I need some from him. But I needed to figure out how to build my life in a way that works for me…
OW You also write, ‘When it came down to it, I felt vulnerable when he was away.’ I thought that was kind of amazing, to hear a modern woman – a First Lady – admit that.
MO I felt vulnerable all the time. And I had to learn how to express that to my husband, to tap into those parts of me that missed him – and the sadness that came from that – so that he could understand. He didn’t understand distance in the same way. You know, he grew up without his mother in his life for most of his years, and he knew his mother loved him dearly, right? I always thought love was up close. Love is the dinner table, love is consistency, it is presence. So I had to share my vulnerability and also learn to love differently. It was an important part of my journey of becoming. Understanding how to become us.
OW What was so valuable to me – and I think will be for everyone else who reads the book – is that nothing really changed. You just changed your perception of what was happening. And that made you happier.
MO Yeah. And a lot of the reason I share this is because I know that people look to me and Barack as the ideal relationship. I know there’s #RelationshipGoals out there. But whoa, people, slow down – marriage is hard! ■
GET YOUR HANDS ON MICHELLE OBAMA’S MEMOIR, BECOMING