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Obamas' Romance Raises The Bar For Love

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Obamas' Romance Raises The Bar For Love

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Obamas' Romance Raises The Bar For Love

Obamas' Romance Raises The Bar For Love

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President Obama and his wife Michelle made a big splash in the headlines after a recent romantic getaway to New York City. After a fancy dinner in Manhattan, the first couple marked the evening with a Broadway show. Writers Sean Gregory, of Time Magazine, and Jeneé Desmond-Harris of the online magazine theRoot.com, explore how the Obamas' White House romance has some Americans taking a second look at their own love lives.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now we turn to take a look at America's first couple. President Obama may have a lot on his plate as commander-in-chief and the first lady is busy with their children and volunteer projects, but they still are committed to spending quality time together. And they did recently, with much publicize date nights in Paris and New York. For the Manhattan trip, they took a flight to New York City, a limo to Broadway, had dinner in Greenwich Village, and attended a Tony Award-winning play. In Paris, the first lady flew out to join the president as he wrapped up an international trip.

Well, there was some griping in the blogosphere about the added costs of these out-of-town jaunts. After all, most couples who dash up to New York for a night at the theater don't need a security detail in tow. But overall, the evening seemed to contribute to the image of the Obama's as an ideal, loving, American family.

So are other American families taking a clue? How are other American couples reacting to the Obama's example? Not so well, it turns out. Sean Gregory is a writer for Time Magazine. He wrote a piece titled, "Barack Obama, Stop Ruining My Marriage." And we've also invited Jenee Desmond-Harris, who took a very different tack. She argued that some women should take a clue from Michelle Obama, in particular. Her piece is titled, "What Single Women Can Learn from Michelle Obama," and it recently appeared in theRoot.com.

Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.

Ms. JENE DESMOND-HARRIS (Writer): Thanks for having me.

Mr. SEAN GREGORY (Writer): Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Sean, we need to get this out of the way. The gist of the problem is this, as you say in your piece, that if the Obamas can still find time for each other, hey lame husband sitting on the coach watching sports, time to step it up. Is the president really ruining your game at home?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GREGORY: You know my marriage is fine. That headline was kind of a little bit facetious and fun. My gist - my take on this is I have no problem and I admire the Obamas for making time and having a date night. And I don't, you know, I don't really care about the cost. I'm not wrapped up in that.

MARTIN: You're not a hater.

Mr. GREGORY: I'm not a hater. What does bother me is an idea - you know, whether it be spread through the media, or therapists, or people on TV, whatever - that because what the - because the Obamas went on a date that, you know, oh, my God. How do they do it? You know put your hand on your head and just, you know, jaw agape and like how, by golly, how did he do that? And, you know, he's making a lot of decisions. He's working hard, but…

MARTIN: He's got a plane, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GREGORY: …he's got a plane. He's got a staff of thousands making sure everything's taken care of. The food is cooked. The clothes are folded. So, you know, yes, you should go on dates with your wife and that's key. But I'm not a husband who, as one commentator says, being elbowed in the ribs by President Obama. I'm being elbowed in the ribs by my three year-old, who wants more attention. And so, you know, I want to take my wife out for a date and want to make time for her, but what President Obama's doing has no impact on my decision. I'm not being kind of nudged by him at all.

MARTIN: Sean, you know what? You are kind of hating.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GREGORY: No. No. No. How am I hating? I mean…

MARTIN: I don't know, the whole, the line about the 8,000 people to work till midnight, grinding away the weekends. But we'll talk about that in a minute. I want to bring Jenee into the conversation. Jenee, you say that some single women need to take a clue from Michelle Obama. And why is that?

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: Well, I think a lot of single women, particularly single black women who are professional, we've work so hard to get what we have. We've worked so hard academically and for our careers, and we've really tried to achieve perfection, whether it's the perfect apartment or the perfect couch, the perfect hairdresser. Some of us, I think, are applying that same level of scrutiny to the people we date. We should have high standards, absolutely, for things that are important, for respect, for ambition, for kindness, but not for these nitpicky things that I mention in the piece, for ashy toes…

MARTIN: We need to…

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: …for the kind of dancer the person is, for how their hairline looks. I just think we should step back and focus on what's important, like Michelle did.

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting, because Michelle hasn't always been universally celebrated. You'll remember during the campaign that she took a lot of flack from some people for being, you know, too strong and, you know, the strong black woman, and that was not meant in a good way. In fact, I want to play a short clip when she was interviewed during the campaign. She was interviewed by Roland Martin about how her - what her expectations were for the marriage while the president is serving in the White House. Here it is.

Mr. ROLAND MARTIN (Journalist): And you made it clear that, look, I know you're running for president but…

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. MARTIN: …date night still applies.

Ms. OBAMA: Oh, absolutely. That's all part of it. You know, it's all part of the reminder that, you know, this family is not just, you know, two folks raising kids, but it's two people building a life together.

MARTIN: But you go on to write, you say that it's easy to see now that he was a great catch. But how many of us would've been open to this guy who's strayed so far from the black Prince Charming ideal, starting with his very name? And you go on to make a point about his fashion sense is not always what it could be, or at least it hasn't been, that, you know, his moves on the dance floor aren't necessarily what they could be. And you point out that you say some of your single friends are just a little too picky. For example, what was your bugaboo there? You said - well, here. I'll start you off. You said he was - you're quoting your actual girlfriends. You say: "He was wearing a bubble coat, and seriously, it was not that cold."

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: Right.

MARTIN: And you had one.

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: We had a good conversation, but I like a man to be more aggressive. Or he used the word authentic too many times on our date. He wasn't tall and hot enough. I need a man who's tall and hot. If we had all the options in the world to pick from, I think it would be okay to apply these kind of requirements. But the fact is - and I cite statistics in the piece - we really don't. I think we need to be a little more discerning and really figure out what's actually important.

MARTIN: And Jenee, though, do you - I mean, there are those who I would think would criticize this piece saying you're really being unfair to African-American women. The real issue is that there just isn't a broad enough pool of men. They're a lot of men who are unavailable because of incarceration, because we've already reported many times on sort of the mismatch of educational attainment, that the particularly the HBCUs, there's a big mismatch between the number of men attending and the number of women attending. Women are outstripping men in educational attainment, and that's making it very difficult.

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: Right.

MARTIN: And they are also some other issues around culture that - and attachment to fidelity, for example, that are very present in the African-American community and much discussed. So what do you say to people? Say, oh, come on, it's just not fair. People really aren't that…

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: Right.

MARTIN: …it's not that people are picky. It's just that the pool is not what it could be. No disrespect to these people.

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: I mean, I think that's fair, and the piece wasn't meant as an attack. It was actually meant to be healing, and it was meant to be a suggestion in the context of these larger issues that are not our fault and that we can't control. So I didn't mean to present this as if I've identified the issue with African-Americans and dating: It's women being too picky. That's not it at all. Rather, it's - there are all these problems that are really disturbing, really distressing. They're absolutely not our fault. Here's kind of a work around. Here's a different way of looking at things that might make things a little bit easier for us.

MARTIN: And you were saying that you've actually gotten a lot of positive support for this, that they're a lot of women who've written you to say yes, you got it right on.

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: I've gotten about 50 personal emails to my personal email address from women who actually, I didn't expect such positive reinforcement from saying it really resonated with them, people saying this is me. This was healing. This made me open my eyes. I'm going to change.

MARTIN: Even if he's wearing a bubble coat?

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: Even if he's wearing a bubble coat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and this TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with the writers, Jenee Desmond-Harris, who writes for theRoot.com, and Sean Gregory, who writes for Time Magazine. And we're talking about the lessons they've learned or chosen to ignore from the first couple.

Sean, let's get back to your hateration(ph) here on the President Obama.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now you say that the guy you can really relate to is Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Mr. GREGORY: Yes.

MARTIN: Why is that?

Mr. GREGORY: Well, you know watching the Brian Williams special on NBC, you know, they got inside how hard that staff is working and how kind of stressed out they are. And Rahm looked really, really kind of, you know, burned out. And said something really telling to Brian Williams, you know, when President Obama was kind of wooing him, he - you know, President Obama said, listen. We're going to have a family-friendly White House, and Rahm Emanuel said family-friendly, yeah, but the family-friendly for you. And basically, our job is to make sure that you do have time for family because if we're working hard and we're kind of you know churning the engine of government, you know, you'll have less to worry about. And so it's a testament, I think, to the Obama administration that the president, you know, does have a little bit of time to, you know, take Michelle up to New York.

MARTIN: I'm curious about why their date nights have gotten so much attention. I mean, when President George W. Bush, very devoted to Laura Bush.

Mr. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: I don't think that's a secret. They spent a lot of time together, that he went on vacation a lot. They went down to you know, their ranch in Crawford, Texas. And he - it's - I mean, just these little sort of charming things were always reported, about how he brought her coffee in the morning and the newspapers and that sort of thing. But no, we didn't talk about it to that extent. I wonder, why do you think that is?

Mr. GREGORY: It's the Camelot affect. I mean, you know the back story of Michelle Obama, you know South side of Chicago, you know, coming from a modest background. Barack Obama, living in Indonesia, living all over the place, you know, the mixed race parents. There's just a lot of - their stories are very, very compelling. President Bush was the son of a former president. It's just not the same. It's harder to relate to that. And so, you know, I personally -whenever Michelle Obama's on the cover of a magazine, I pick it up. I like reading about her. I don't why sometimes. But it's just, there's something -you know, it's some kind of charisma, some kind of unattainable stardom that they have that draws people in.

MARTIN: Jenee, what do you think about that?

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: I mean, I think that charisma's really important. I think -and no offense to the Bushes, but the Obama's are people who many Americans would like to be on a date with. So their dates are a little more exciting to us and draw a little more attention.

MARTIN: Well, President Bush was an early bird. It was known that after nine, he wasn't that interested in being out.

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: Right.

MARTIN: And perhaps that - so Sean, where did we leave it? We only have about a minute left. So, do we need to have a pastoral visit or something in the Gregory household? Is all well there or, what's happening?

Mr. GREGORY: All is well. We are trying for more date nights. I mean my - guys, if you, if the Obamas are a model, that's great. I mean, I'm just not one of them. They're great. It's wonderful what they're doing, but, you know, I can't live up to that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I think you're doing fine. Jenee, what about you? Thirty seconds, what are you drawn to? You say you've already found your charming man and…

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: I found him. He's great. But also, on the side, I am an unpaid matchmaker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DESMOND-HARRIS: And I actually think I'm going to have better results after this piece.

MARTIN: All right. Jenee Desmond-Harris writes for theRoot.com. She joined us in our studios here in Washington, D.C. Sean Gregory is a writer for Time Magazine. He joined us from our bureau in New York. I thank you both.

Mr. GREGORY: Thanks.

MARTIN: You can find links to both of the articles we were talking about on our Web site. Just go npr.org and click on TELL ME MORE. And while you're there, tell us if the first couple has affected your relationship. Does the president make you feel like you need to step up your game? What about Michelle Obama? Does she make you feel like you need to step up your game? Or are you unimpressed by their date nights? To tell us more, call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that number is 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave your name and tell us where you're from. Or visit our Web site and blog it out.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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