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BFFS

The brilliant thing about Barack Obama’s relationship advice is that it’s blindingly obvious

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
They love each other.
  • Annaliese Griffin
By Annaliese Griffin

Editor of the Quartz Daily Obsession

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

In his new book, Yes We (Still) Can, Dan Pfeiffer, host of the podcast Pod Save America, writes about his time working on the Obama White House communications team. As with most political memoirs the most interesting bits are the small moments that punctuate the larger narrative. In this case it’s Pfeiffer sharing with the world relationship advice he once received from Barack Obama.

Pfeiffer writes that when he and his now wife were moving in together, Obama asked him a question that changed the way he thought about relationships. “Here’s the advice I give everyone about marriage—is she someone you find interesting?” The president went on, “You will spend more time with this person than anyone else for the rest of your life, and there is nothing more important than always wanting to hear what she has to say about things.”

Do you find your partner interesting? Does this person make you laugh? If you see children in your future, will this person be a good parent? That’s what a good marriage hangs on, according to Obama. So obvious it would be mansplainy, if it weren’t for one thing—the Obamas clearly adore one another. Is there a modern marriage that embodies #relationship goals more fully?

Not everyone wants children, and it’s hard to imagine a human relationship not improved by humor. The idea though, that the most important thing about your partner—more than physical attraction, shared values, or their approach to life—is whether or not you find them interesting, is a little subversive.

It’s part of a school of thought that takes all the sweet nothings about romance, all the flowers and butterflies and late nights and lazy mornings, smiles gently at them, and says the following: You can have good times with any pretty stranger. That’s not the job you’re applying for with marriage.

In an article about how to choose the right romantic partner, the explainer site Wait, But Why frames good marriages as epic friendships. In her Ask Polly column for The Cut, relationship advice maven Heather Havrilesky says, “True love is not a 40-year-long orgasm.”

So what does this long game theory of marriage look like?

It’s, if you’re lucky, 40 years of dinner table conversation with the explicit understanding that you’re going to be chatting over grilled cheese or rotisserie chicken you grabbed on the way home a lot more often than at your favorite restaurant. If you sign on for the children portion of this program, there will be entire years where neither one of you gets to finish an entire thought while your offspring are awake.

A marriage in which you’re frustrated by this—but only because you still want to hear what your partner thought about that movie, or book, or the news cycle? That’s a sign that you’ve followed Obama’s advice and married someone you find interesting.

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