The XX Factor

Why I Don’t Envy the Obama Marriage

In a brief essay in Salon , cultural critic Amanda Fortini remarks on the trend of Obama marriage idealization . “Not since JFK was in the White House has there been a political marriage Americans have envied to this extent, a first family they might actually like to emulate,” Fortini writes. But I have no desire to mimic the Obama union, even though it does seem “intimidatingly functional.”

Fortini makes an excellent point about the Obama marriage that I haven’t seen made before-that their “perfect” union is the product of overt effort:

Perhaps more relevantly, never before have we seen a White House marriage so thoroughly imbued by our therapy-saturated culture. Who’s to say whether the Obamas have ever seen a shrink or read “Getting the Love You Want.” Like everyone else in America, though, they have spent the past two decades steeped in self-help concepts and ideas-like, well, that of date night, or the idea that one must consciously “make time” for one’s spouse. Indeed, while they appear to love and admire each other, their marriage does not seem accidental or organic.

Of course, I find it remarkable that the Obamas make time for each other, and I am well aware that any sucessful long-term relationship requires effort. But, I’m also aware that Michelle and Barack probably see each other for an hour a day, and that’s a generous estimate. Would you really want to be in a relationship where “date night” only happened every six months and involved bulletproof vests? Actually, I find them to be a very poor marriage utopia: Who wants to daydream about hard work and therapy-speak? In a way, I find actor couples a more satisfying fantasy-they have excessive amounts of leisure time and passion to spare.

Fortini also makes the point that no marriage is a paragon of virtue, “Then again, we can also look back at the supposedly halcyon exhibit of the Kennedys and realize that any marriage, no matter how dazzling, is always more complicated than it appears.” While I absolutely do not believe that Obama is screwing everything that moves a la JFK, anyone can see that much of the Obamas’ public facade is just that-a construct. It all comes down to the difference between admiration and envy: I admire the Obama’s happy marriage. I don’t envy it.