Michelle Obama’s Friendship Secrets
The first lady has no use for frenemies—and neither should you. An excerpt from Allison Samuels’s new book, What Would Michelle Do?
Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett’s paths crossed during a major transition in Michelle’s life. After leaving the world of corporate law in 1991 to pursue work opportunities in the public sector, Michelle decided to interview for a position in the mayor of Chicago’s office. Jarrett, a well-connected lawyer and businesswoman, was the deputy chief of staff for then-mayor Richard Daley and handled most of the hiring for his staff.
Surprise, surprise, Jarrett was so enamored with Michelle’s sly wit and quick smarts that she offered her a position on the spot. Ever cautious in her decisions, Michelle had one request of Jarrett before agreeing to accept the job—she wanted Jarrett to meet her fiancé, Barack Obama. The three soon broke bread and within months, Jarrett, a high-society darling of sorts, had introduced the young couple to many of the most prominent and wealthy citizens in Chicago. Those well-placed introductions would later prove essential to Obama’s short- and long-term political pursuits.
In fact, the Obama/Jarrett friendship produced much fruit for both parties. Jarrett would later serve as the co-chair of the Obama-Biden presidential transitional team and senior adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign. She now serves as a senior adviser to President Obama. Though it should never be the main objective of your connection with people in your life, never underestimate where having and being a good friend can take you.
On the flip side, just as good friendships can open doors for major new opportunities and unexpected windfalls, wonderful chances can also turn into painful disappointments. Case in point: longtime Obama family friend Desiree Rogers was appointed White House social secretary by President Obama in 2008.
Unfortunate circumstances required Rogers to leave that position prematurely, which could have put an uncomfortable strain on her friendship with Michelle. Smartly, both women were wise and mature enough to understand that when it comes to business, it should never ever become personal. The reality of life is that even if a dear friend does manage to hook you up with the job of your dreams, it’s still not guaranteed to pan out exactly the way you’d like. Not surprisingly, Desiree was less than pleased at losing such a wonderful and history-making position, but she didn’t blame her good friend for the unfortunate end. She took the high road and Michelle was grateful for it.
Neither woman let a rather difficult situation get the best of their friendship, and you shouldn’t either if faced with a similar predicament. Michelle and Desiree continue to enjoy a healthy bond to this day and still share mutual friends and connections. Consider the alternative if these two women hadn’t been able to put their issues aside for the sake of friendship. Their saga would have no doubt gone on to make fabulous fodder for the countless tabloids and less savory news shows.
Choose friends who understand that true conflict resolution is best handled one-on-one and not in front of an audience.
Tune in on any given day to a reality show of your choice and you’re destined to see women of all backgrounds, races, and intelligence feverishly disagreeing over a man or actually physically roughing one another up due to any number of issues. Audiences seem to enjoy a good old-fashioned catfight and the new female faces of reality television seem quite happy to oblige. What television networks enjoy are huge ratings and they’re not all that concerned with how they get them. If there’s big money to be made by showcasing women willing to degrade themselves with fistfights, hair pulling, and verbal insults on national television, so be it, right?
The misguided illusion that women, and particularly women of color, can’t get along with one another due to petty jealousies and insecurities is not only untrue, but it’s a particularly dangerous message for all young women still attempting to master the fine art of navigating their own friendships. It can also send just as troubling a message to any woman of any age who is still struggling with exactly how to develop solid female bonds.
“What young girls and all women to some extent are learning today is that another woman is not a friend, but always an enemy,” says Gail Wyatt, professor of behavioral studies at UCLA. “That sets up a lifetime of distrust and mistrust of people of the same gender. It eliminates the chance for a womanly bond.”
Don’t kid yourself. There will always be some valid reason to mistrust a few of the women you’ll meet along life’s way. Yes, it hurts to be lied to and talked about by a girlfriend you thought sincere. But don’t let a bad experience rob you from fully appreciating the joy of having other women in your life. Michelle’s never been seen giving the side eye to the other wives of foreign heads of state and she enjoys the friendships she has with many women. You wouldn’t kick all men to the curb because of the heartbreak or rejection inflicted by one man. The same rule should apply for girlfriends as well. Mimic Michelle’s no-nonsense approach to everything she encounters by taking the necessary precautions when deciding who should and shouldn’t enter your inner circle. By using your smarts and basic common sense, you can sidestep the majority of arguments thought to plague female friends.
Michelle never fails to emphasize the importance of strong female relationships to anyone who’ll listen, particularly her two young daughters, Malia and Sasha. To that end, a source within the White House reveals that Michelle insists her daughters not watch any shows that depict women belittling each other or themselves. Translation: little to no reality television. Michelle tries to enforce the no reality TV rule regularly but admits to friends that it can be very difficult to monitor her girls’ viewing habits when friends come over or if they have sleepovers at a classmate’s house. “She does what she can to make sure they don’t waste time watching complete mess,” says the source. “Barack really hates for them to watch that trash and the little they do see doesn’t include women using violence against each other. Michelle won’t have that.”
Maybe you shouldn’t either. As much as you may try to deny it, your brain regularly retains a great deal of mess from the outside world—mess you don’t need and mess that isn’t at all beneficial to your overall being or your plans for future success. While many consider the regular consumption of shows such as Basketball Wives or Mob Wives a guilty pleasure, never underestimate how easily the underlying negative message of such shows can float into your mind, take root, and flourish.
And in the same way you might avoid these shows, there may be certain types of “friends” to steer away from too, in order to ensure that you are growing strong friendships.
Five Girlfriends a Woman Should Avoid—Michelle Certainly Would
The Woman with No Girlfriends
Any woman who doesn’t have other girlfriends and brags about it is probably guilty of the same behavior she finds so appalling in other women. If she doesn’t befriend other women as a rule, don’t attempt to become the exception. It’s not worth it. Move on.
The Drama Queen
There are some women who live for drama in their lives and don’t mind passing their mess on to whoever happens to be around. Don’t let that be you. Stay away from this type of woman. She’s the woman who always seems to be having trouble with someone in her life and one day it will be you. Who needs it? You don’t.
This woman thinks the world is her stage and she’s the only star. She thrives on being the center of attention and fumes when anyone else steals her thunder. She sucks the air out of a room, which means there’s none left for you or anyone else. When you see her coming, run—don’t walk— the other way.
The Hang-up Girl
This woman is so filled with so many insecurities she can barely contain her dislike for others because of their looks, possessions, or any number of reasons. She projects her own unhappiness onto others, and that includes you. No thank you. Keep it moving.
This woman doesn’t understand the basic give-and-take foundation of friendship. She always needs a shoulder to lean on, money to borrow, or some other favor, like purchasing a last-minute ticket for her to Maui. Of course, she can never be found when you need the same from her.
Allison Samuels’s new book, What Would Michelle Do? A Modern Day Guide to Living With Substance and Style, published by Penguin/Gotham Books, arrives in stores April 19.