Dear Mr. President,
When I was a senior in high school, my AP English teacher assigned an essay on the nature of marriage. It was a challenging assignment for many of us with divorced families. Growing up, it often seemed that marriages would either end up bitterly broken, as my parents' had, or long slow, decays into mutual unhappiness or secret infidelity, as with most of the married couples I'd encountered. Marriage seemed like a prescription for disappointed hopes and heartbreak. As I've matured, I've witnessed maybe three truly happy marriages, and each one makes me hold my breath, terrified of the crash and burn I see as inevitable.
Back in high school I knew that looking for evidence that I was wrong about love would consume me in a way I'd never be comfortable with. It feels almost shameful, devoting so much of my energy to seeking out the validation from another person. I should be more self-reliant. I should have greater, grander plans. But I had to know, if only by constant trial, if it were possible that I was wrong. I've had my share of heartache in the process. I've seen my friends and family, men and women who I admire, brought down, broken by this feeling. We always bounce back. We always move on. People are practical, if not particularly romantic.
When I lived in DC I worked with a man who became my mentor, and his devotion to his wife, their loving union that seemed so natural and easy, challenged my preconceptions about marriage. What was most amazing to me was the nonchalance with which they viewed their happiness, as though married people who like each other were the most normal things in the world. Since then, I've seen a few more stereotype-defying couples. A monk in Jerusalem who left his whole life behind for the woman he loved. Childhood sweethearts who still glow at the sight of one another after 50 years. Even, or maybe, in light of your career, I should say especially, you and the First Lady. You two seem to be genuinely happy and in love, in a way that seems too real to conceivably be for the public's benefit. None of this, of course, is as simple and perfect as fictional romantic love, but still, it gives me hope. In a simple, silly way, I think I just need to be shown that love does last for those willing to work for it. I might never believe it, all the way. I might never feel secure in love. But I like the anomalies that keep the certainty of absolute cynicism at bay.
It's Valentine's Day, and I suppose I don't have anything better to say than thank you for being a role model in more ways than just your professional success. It means a lot, even to those of us who should be old enough, and experienced enough, to know better.