June 12, 2009
Despite his hectic schedule, United States President Barack Obama made time recently for a date night with his wife Michelle, causing many wives to be jealous. JAN HOFFMAN finds out
Theirs is a seasoned marriage, 16 years and counting. They are middle-aged - United States President Barack Obama is 47 and his wife, Michelle, is 45. Life for them is modern and hectic: two young daughters in the windstorm of year-end school activities, the puppy that must be walked twice daily and the live-in mother-in-law.
They both work long hours, which is standard recipe for a drive-by relationship. Yet, at the gala celebrating the crowning achievement of his career, Obama showed Michelle off to cheering throngs: 'How good-looking is my wife?'
In his lock-step schedule, he sets aside daily 'Michelle time'.
Last weekend, he fulfilled a promise to her. They got all gussied up and flew to New York, took a limo to dinner and a Broadway show, then flew home. Date night, just the two of them. Michelle and Barack - and their security detail.
Their romantic escapade has made long-time married women with kids sigh with envy.
'I'm jealous,' said Emily Giffin, the Atlanta-based writer of Love The One You're With and other chick-lit novels. Her home statistics: married for seven years to a corporate executive with three children under six years of age.
Last date with husband? 'We don't have a date night,' she said. 'But I flew to New York alone and went out with my friends while he stayed home with the kids,' she said. 'Does that count?'
While some commentators were grousing about the presidential date's undisclosed cost to taxpayers, news of the romantic evening prompted many wives to glare across the breakfast table, trying to remember the last time their husbands made a fuss over them.
Elbowed sharply in the side, husbands felt betrayed by the commander-in-chief.
On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart reviewed the Obamas' glamorous foray and said: 'How do you compete with that?'
However, relationship experts are applauding the First Couple for giving life to the modern fantasy that long-time spouses can still be passionate about each other. Intentionally or not, the Obamas have become ambassadors for 'date night', a term that is a creature of these times.
A generation ago, when Saturday night rolled around, parents simply went out. Now parents need to be prodded to date each other.
'The Obamas really are products of the culture,' said Christine Whelan, a sociologist at the University of Iowa who studies the American family.
The First Couple exemplify what sociologists call the 'individualised marriage', she added, where a thriving relationship is marked by love and mutual attraction, not just duty to family and social roles.
'As a society, we want to think a husband might still have his hand on his wife's knee under the table after 15 years of marriage,' said Whelan, author of Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women.
Joy Behar, a host on ABC's The View, whose marriage ended after 17 years, said the President's schedule posed unique marital challenges.
Every day, Barack Obama has to weigh competing demands, she said. 'Musharraf or Michelle? That's a tougher thing for him than the average Joe. So it is really meaningful when you watch them together.'
She added, in a tone of wonderment: 'He actually looks like he desires her.'
Some wives have pointed out that the White House gives the Obamas restorative marital powers not available to average Joes and Josephines.
Rita Rudner, a comedian who met President Obama last month at a fundraiser, carped: 'He just uses Air Force One to impress her because they usually fly Delta.'
Lisa Wolfe, a writer in New York who has been married for 17 years, said of Obama: 'He comes in like an action hero to save the country and that's hot. Plus, she's got stylists and always looks great and is doing important work too. So they're getting each other at their best.
'I'd have a lot more pizzazz left for my husband too, if we moved into the White House and my mother was on hand to babysit 24/7.'
In some households, attention was being paid to the Obamas' example. Eileen O'Connor, a Washington lawyer with five daughters, believes the marital version of the 'Yes we can' message is penetrating her 19-year marriage.
'Every time my husband hears about them on the news,' she said, 'he looks at me out of the corner of his eye.'
So, will she be getting first-class seats for two on a flight to New York? Not exactly.
'Late at night as he's about to walk the dog, he'll say, 'Why don't you come with me?',' she said. 'That's our Michelle time.'
The New York Times