The Modern Marriage
Barack Obama has become not just the symbol of hope for the country, but it seems also for the institution of marriage. Newsweek offered an essay a few weeks back identifying Barack and Michelle's union (married at age 28 and 31) as the new model marriage. A union that reflects marriage statistics--men and women are waiting longer to get married, first establishing their personal and professional identities--and one of equality and respect. The essay highlights the fact that until recently, Michelle's resume was more impressive and his (mayoral assistant, nonprofit exec, hospital veep) earning her a six-figure salary. And while she has stepped down (for the time being) from her professional career, their union remains on equal footing. The article highlights an incident where Barack called home to crow his Senate victory and Michelle responded by asking him to run errands on the way home. So why all the hype?
Most millennials have yet to experience marriage firsthand, and what they've experienced by proxy hasn't been particularly encouraging: a 50 percent divorce rate, a steep rise in single parenthood, a culture captivated by cheap celebrity hookups. Even America's most visible household hasn't offered much hope, veering from '50s-era subservience (the Reagans) to boomer dysfunction (the Clintons). But now the Obamas—two independent individuals who also appear to be (surprise!) in love—have filled the void. For young people who have rejected the tired "wife in the kitchen" template but resolved not to follow their parents to divorce court, it's a relief to see that the sort of marriage they hope to have—equal and devoted—can actually exist.
Of course, reflecting on past generations doesn't mean that their marriage models didn't work or weren't as fullfilling, and many of them reflect the same kind of union as Barack and Michelle's. But there's clearly been disfunction as of late considering the high divorce rate and this is a chemistry young people have never seen in the White House. This doesn't mean that it's always, "happily ever after" either. In a recent People magazine interview, Michelle acknowledges, "we have a strong marriage, but it's not perfect." While perhaps not perfect, the new first couple is quickly becoming the aspirations of domestic equality, stability and bliss.