When Barack Proposed: An Excerpt From Michelle Obama's Becoming


The following is an excerpt from Michelle Obama’s Becoming, the new memoir by the former First Lady of the United States. Listen to her read it, and two other excerpts—covering their first date and marriage counseling—at the end of this post.

As we were reaching the end of the meal, Barack smiled at me and raised the subject of marriage. He reached for my hand and said that as much as he loved me with his whole being, he still didn’t really see the point. Instantly, I felt the blood rise in my cheeks. It was like pushing a button in me—the kind of big blinking red button you might find in some sort of nuclear facility surrounded by warning signs and evacuation maps. Really? We were going to do this now?

In fact, we were. We’d had the hypothetical marriage discussion plenty of times already, and nothing much ever changed. I was a traditionalist and Barack was not. It seemed clear that neither one of us could be swayed. But still, this didn’t stop us—two lawyers, after all—from taking up the topic with hot gusto. Surrounded by men in sport coats and women in nice dresses enjoying their fancy meals, I did what I could to keep my voice calm.

“If we’re committed,” I said, as evenly as I could muster, “why wouldn’t we formalize that commitment? What part of your dignity would be sacrificed by that?”

From here, we traversed all the familiar loops of the old argument. Did marriage matter? Why did it matter? What was wrong with him? What was wrong with me? What kind of future did we have if we couldn’t sort this out? We weren’t fighting, but we were quarreling, and doing it attorney-style. We punched and counterpunched, dissected and cross-examined, though it was clearly I who was more inflamed. It was I who was doing most of the talking.

Eventually, our waiter came around holding a dessert plate, covered by a silver lid. He slid it in front of me and lifted the cover. I was almost too miffed to even look down, but when I did, I saw a dark velvet box where the chocolate cake was supposed to be. Inside it was a diamond ring.

Barack looked at me playfully. He’d baited me. It had all been a ruse. It took me a second to dismantle my anger and slide into joyful shock. He’d riled me up because this was the very last time he would invoke his inane marriage argument, ever again, as long as we both should live. The case was closed. He dropped to one knee then and with an emotional hitch in his voice asked sincerely if I’d please do him the honor of marrying him. Later, I’d learn that he’d already gone to both my mother and my brother to ask for their approval ahead of time. When I said yes, it seemed that every person in the whole restaurant started to clap.

For a full minute or two, I stared dumbfounded at the ring on my finger. I looked at Barack to confirm that this was all real. He was smiling. He’d completely surprised me. In a way, we’d both won. “Well,” he said lightly, “that should shut you up.”

Hear Michelle Obama read this story herself, in this excerpt from the audiobook:

Hear Obama tell the story of their first date:

And here she talks about the difference made in their relationship by marriage counseling.

Excerpted from BECOMING © 2018 by Michelle Obama. Published by Crown Publishing and Penguin Random House Audio, part of Penguin Random House.

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