The other night I dreamt of Barack Obama. He was taking a shower right when I needed to get into the bathroom to shave my legs, and then he was being yelled at by my husband, Max, for smoking in the house. ...If I was in charge of the Secret Service, I'd be forwarding this column to all my agents with a note saying, "Stop worrying about Al Qaeda and the KKK, these are the people we really have to worry about going over the edge and shooting the President — New York Times subscribers. They're scary, scary folks."
The other day a friend of mine confided that in the weeks leading up to the election, the Obamas’ apparent joy as a couple had made her just miserable. Their marriage looked so much happier than hers. Their life seemed so perfect. “I was at a place where I was tempted daily to throttle my husband,” she said. “This coincided with Michelle saying the most beautiful things about Barack. Each time I heard her speak about him I got tears in my eyes — because I felt so far away from that kind of bliss in my own life and perhaps even more, because I was so moved by her expressions of devotion to him."...
I launched an e-mail inquiry. ...
Many women — not too surprisingly — were dreaming about sex with the president. ...
There was some daydreaming too, much of it a collective fantasy about the still-hot Obama marriage. “Barack and Michelle Obama look like they have sex. They look like they like having sex,” a Los Angeles woman wrote to me, summing up the comments of many. “Often. With each other. These days when the sexless marriage is such a big celebrity in America (and when first couples are icons of rigid propriety), that’s one interesting mental drama.” ...
There was a dream, sent from Minneapolis, about buying Barack the perfect sandwich, and a dream from Westport, Conn., about inviting Michelle and the girls over for lunch and a play date. ...
One woman wrote that when she couldn’t get to sleep at night, she “lay in bed and thought about the Obama girls in their rooms at the White House. I thought about Marian Robinson up on the third floor. And about Barack and Michelle, a couple who clearly have a ‘thing’ for each other, spooning together in bed. It helped me relax.”
I understood perfectly where these cozy dreams of easy familiarity came from. It was that sense so many people share of having a very immediate connection to Barack Obama, whether they’re black or biracial, or children of single parents or self-made strivers; or they’re lawyers or community organizers or Ivy League graduates or smokers or basketball players or Blackberry users or parents or married or Democrats. A lot of people share the fantasy that having the Obamas over for “dinner and a game of Scrabble,” as one daydreamer put it to me, is something that really could just about happen.
“This is the first president I’ve known who looks, talks and acts like a peer,” is how one Washington man explained it to me. “Notwithstanding his somewhat exotic life story, I feel like I understand what he’s like and where he’s coming from. And despite his incredible achievements, he still seems like a lot of people I know. If you stopped the clock in 2004, in fact, or maybe a couple of years earlier, he’d feel roughly like a peer in terms of accomplishments, too." ...
Sometimes this sense of close identification turns a bit dark. There’s a subcategory of people who feel that they really should have true intimacy with the Obamas. Because they went to school with them. Because they used to dream like them. Because, with one or two “different turns,” they maybe could have been them.
These are not the people made most happy by thinking about the Obamas.
“They do seem to have it all together — a great marriage, beautiful children, a modern day Norman Rockwell family,” said a divorced Harvard grad with children in a top D.C. private school. “Why them, not me?”
These are people for whom the Obamas are not just a beacon of hope, inspiration and “demigodlikeness,” as a New York lawyer put it, but also a kind of mirror. And the refracted image of self they see is not one they much admire.
“I keep thinking about how I squandered my education and youth,” the New York lawyer wrote to me. “I went off to college from high school being completely community-minded, doing a lot of volunteer work for the homeless and for hunger and tutoring poor kids. Then I got to college and forgot my ideals. Barack was my year at Columbia. Why wasn’t I hanging out with him and being serious and following my ideals instead of hanging out in clubs? Same with law school. I partied my way through instead of taking advantage of all that I could have. Both Obamas were there when I was. I feel like if I’d been a better person I would have gotten to know them.”
A Washington lawyer expressed similar sentiments: “I feel like I know Barack, that I have worked grassroots and have created change in the way that he has. I [also] have feelings of a mom who had possibility but ended up running school auctions and mediating family business matters rather than having the opportunity to be out there on a national level creating change. So when I watch Barack I feel like: I can do that … and what am I doing with my life? Even though he is way smarter and more articulate than me.”
Another Washington woman, a global health care consultant, expressed her sense of Obama-inadequacy in a dream: “I dreamed I was an Obama girl. I had a chance to be in the same room with him for the first time. There were dark velvet chairs and he was standing there with all this dark and mist around him. His lips so purple and sensuous as if to be otherworldly,” she wrote to me. “I moved gently toward him and then I said the wrong thing. Obama tamped it down like some vapor that didn’t register. He wasn’t even flattered.”
(“Like a lot of folks, I have anxiety about being outside of the Obama administration universe right now,” she then explained to me. “Even though I was at the ‘it’ ball of inauguration balls, I still felt like other balls were greener, or more purple, or with credentials completely out of my control — more young. I really feel like I’m scrambling internally … to deserve Obama cred and all I’ve got is this over-my-head wonder for the man that amounts to being an Obama girl.”)
For some, not knowing the Obamas has almost turned into a feeling of being snubbed or excluded. Like in middle school. It’s funny. Almost.
“Why won’t my kids be sleeping over at the White House? And as my daughter noted, why couldn’t she get to sit front and center and see the Jonas Brothers and Miley perform at the kids’ inaugural concert? If she went to Sidwell, then she might have these chances, she said …” wrote a mother whose kids are not at Sidwell Friends school with Sasha and Malia.
“Will Michelle stay down to earth? She could prove it by joining our book club,” wrote a Sidwell mom.
This is, perhaps, the price of faux-familiarity. If I were Barack Obama (or Michelle, for that matter), I’d be a little scared. After all, when people are wearing their egos on their sleeves, it’s so easy to bruise their feelings. What will happen if fantasy turns to contempt?