What Michelle Obama Taught Us About Becoming More Than Just Somebody's Wife

Love Lessons From Michelle Obama That Every Woman Needs to Remember


Whenever our forever First Lady Michelle Obama speaks, we listen…but if you're like me, then you pack a journal and take notes. This is exactly what I did recently when I attended Michelle Obama's "#IAmBecoming" tour in Atlanta.

I -- along with my mother and more than 20,000 people "dressed to the nines" -- pressed our way into the arena like we were on a mission to go see the Queen (which, for many of us, she basically is our Queen). The energy was electrifying from the time we arrived until the time she exited the stage and even as we departed and headed back to our designated cars. We were so excited just to get a picture next to her life-size posters and banners that were strategically placed throughout the arena.

Related: Michelle Obama Says If You're Looking For A Barack, Try Not Looking So Hard

Often times, we refer to or classify her marriage to President Barack Obama as "#RelationshipGoals" or "#BlackLove" – something that she is very much aware of. For many of us, they provide hope; an awe-inspiring example and vision of love for those who aspire to experience something like that. While Michelle is humbled and appreciative of the titles associated with her and Barack, she candidly acknowledged that love and marriage is hard work no matter who you are.

One thing we love most about Michelle is the fact that we see so much of ourselves in her because of her transparency and authenticity. And this occasion made it even that much more apparent especially when she shared - so eloquently and honestly - some gems and insights about love and marriage.

1.“You don’t have to aspire to just be the wind beneath someone’s wing…Prioritize yourself.”

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It was evident from the beginning – as an adolescent, as a Princeton and Harvard graduate, as an attorney, and even as a First Lady - that Michelle Obama believed and was committed to her personal belief that, "it's up to me to establish and define my voice." She's more than Barack Obama's wife, more than a First Lady, more than a mother, more than a daughter…she is becoming the woman she was destined to be.

During the event, Michelle revealed that at a certain season in her life, she realized that she had made everyone else a priority except for herself. She went on to share how even though she struggled with it as a wife, a mother, and career woman, "Barack had no problem with making himself a priority." He did what he wanted to do.

She, like many of us as women, realized that she needed to do the same - focus on making herself, and her self-care, a priority. As she's mentioned before, "We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our to-do list." Nevertheless, she became more committed to doing things that she enjoyed as well.

Like Michelle, we too must realize that our "happiness isn't predicated on our spouse making us happy." Instead, we find happiness in the simple pleasures of life and by doing what we love, instead of expecting others to do what we aren't willing to do for ourselves.

2.“When it comes to our partners, we aren’t just reviewing their stats, but their story and their soul.” 

"Barack was different for me…He made me stop and think about things." Instead of merely going through life and checking off her list, Michelle was challenged to think deeper about why she was doing what she was doing versus just checking off a list of accomplishments.

Finding the love of your life is more than just what's on paper: where did they go to school, how much money do they make, what is their social status, etc. Nevertheless, it's more about what lies beneath the surface. It's the difference between love versus lust, and romance versus intimacy. It's knowing that the other person feeds our soul more than they drain us; they help us more than they hinder us; they treat us differently and better than those who came before them.

3.“Relationships have different seasons and different chapters.”

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None of us will truly understand the peaks and valleys of being married to the President of the United States. However, anyone who has been in a relationship or has been married long enough knows that you will have ups and downs. Michelle reminded us that the "test of a marriage comes when you build things together."

So, whether we're building the relationship, bridging the two backgrounds, or building a family, we're going to have obstacles. At the end of the day, we have to be more committed to fighting for each other than against each other.

4.You can’t just “fix” someone. 

It's no secret that Michelle has been open about her and Barack going to marriage counseling. During the tour, she openly shared how initially she "took Barack to counseling to fix him." Nonetheless, to her surprise, the counselor's attention soon shifted from Barack to Michelle…something she wasn't necessarily expecting. Hence, it was evident that their marriage issues weren't going to resolve if she, too, wasn't able to look within herself as well.

Obviously, we can't force anyone to change – including our spouses. Nevertheless, we can't become so obsessed with trying to better someone else that we miss the opportunity to better ourselves. Both spouses have to be willing and committed to doing the "self-work."

5.“You can’t expect your spouse to do for you what you know they won’t do.”

When Michelle described their marriage counseling, she also admitted: "I wanted him (Barack) to do for me what he wasn't going to do." The reality, however, was that Barack was doing what she already knew he would do.

So often, we expect people to do or be something different from who we already know them to be. Part of learning to truly love someone else is learning to love them for who they truly are. Real love allows you to be your real self.

6.“Don’t sit in isolation with your problems.”

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Although Michelle was referring to younger couples as well as young mothers, this tip applies to so many areas and challenges of our lives including: love, relationships, mental health, illnesses, and simply living life as a black woman.

Whether you're a woman and a mother, a wife, a girlfriend, a sister…Michelle reminded us that "we are not alone…that's why it's important to surround yourself with wisdom. We owe it to our young people to be better." No more acting like we have a perfect life, and allowing others to believe that what they're going through is uncommon. Often times, just knowing that we're not alone in our journey, and especially our struggles, can be quite comforting and can often lead us on a path towards healing.

As Michelle said, we have to "believe in the validity of who we are and have the courage to share our stories." It benefits no one when we act like we have the perfect marriage, the perfect career, or the perfect life. The more we're honest about our journey, the more we can help heal each other and encourage other women to do the same.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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