Love, they say, makes the world go round. And this season, it was the now former president Barack Obama and his wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, who took centre stage. While the discourse on the prospects of a Trump presidency and the road ahead for the liberal narrative haggled for public attention, the Obama romance took the cake. The media lapped up greedily their every move and the world oohed and aahed as this couple cosied up to one another under the glare of lenses.
Nothing has captured popular imagination like the idea of love and romance. From the saga of Romeo and Juliet to popular cinema and advertisements, we are constantly exposed to an idealistic, hackneyed and broad brushed view of what true love looks and feels like.
Love, we are taught, is to conquer the hurdles to your uniting with your beloved; it is the first kiss, which makes you go weak kneed. These portrayals of love are often deceptively quiet on the more challenging question of how to make a romantic relationship last beyond those exciting days of courtship.
While the same media which carry the guilt of overly romanticising love are serving the Obama romance to us, this story is nevertheless like a breath of fresh air. It has bodily lifted the pie of romance from the platter of young and infantile love – which has always unfairly claimed a disproportionately large share of it – and placed it firmly amidst the famished lot; the married couple. This romance is also positioned at the crossroads of their challenging job of running the country and the responsibility of raising two children; a juncture at which, more often than not, romance takes a backseat.
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They first met in 1989, while working together for a Chicago law firm where Michelle Robinson was mentor to a summer intern Barack Obama. A memorable first date – depicted in the 2016 American biographical film Southside with You – was followed by a three-year-long courtship, after which they tied the knot in 1992. They have two daughters, Malia and Sasha. Through these 25 years of wedded life – 8 years of which have been under the stark and critical gaze of the public – they have gracefully walked the tightrope to manage work and family.
Michelle Obama has confessed that she was wary of his presidential ambitions, as it would take a toll on the family, particularly their daughters. She eventually struck a deal with him; he would have to give up smoking in return for her support. Obama too has said that his wife “had the power of veto” and that he would not have run for president, if she had said so.
“Barack didn’t pledge riches, only a life that would be interesting. On that promise he’s delivered,” Michelle Obama said in an ABC interview.
Through a combination of collaboration, intelligence, sacrifice and romance, they have withstood the challenges facing couples in long-standing relationships and set before us an example to emulate.
They take to the dance floor in the middle of a large gathering of people, visibly comfortable and relaxed in each other’s arms. They hold hands or lock each other in a tight embrace while addressing public rallies. They share a passionate kiss while watching a game with their daughters. They steal quick glances, mischievous glances while in the company of very official and serious looking men in black coats.
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I will leave you with this image of the Obamas on their last day at the White House.
They walk alongside each other hand-in-hand and stop short of the flight of stairs. He plants a kiss on her cheeks and she smoothens the crease on his coat. They banter with each other. All this, while they wait to welcome the Trumps. Even in the midst of the bustle, it is hard to miss their intimacy and playfulness.