Speaking at the Obama Foundation Summit earlier this week, former first lady Michelle Obama heaped praise on her husband — with one big caveat.
Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Glamour.
She praised Barack Obama's decency, honesty, and integrity and talked about how important those things were to her own growth and success — but she was careful to note that he is just one part of her much larger support network.
"I love my husband, and he is my rock, but my girlfriends are my sanity," she said while being interviewed by her friend, poet Elizabeth Alexander.
Obama spoke about how close-knit friendships with other women calmed her during a frenzied existence in the White House, kept her grounded, and even held her accountable to her values and ideals.
Then, addressing the men in the crowd, Obama added: "Y'all should get you some friends."
It's well known by now that men and women generally do friendship differently. Women's friendships are known to be much more emotionally intimate and rewarding while men's often are more likely to be surface-level and based on shared activities. According to some real talk from the former first lady, women just do friendship better.
"I’m, you know, sad for you guys," she said. "Y’all should get you some friends. Get you some friends and talk to each other, ‘cause that’s the other thing we (women) do; we straighten each other out on some things, our girlfriends."
Her husband, she says, is no exception.
"Sometimes I’m like, 'Barack, who you talking to? And it can’t just be Marty [Nesbitt],'" she joked. "Y’all need to go talk to each other about your stuff because there’s so much of it. It’s so messy."
Speaking off the cuff, Obama pretty much nailed what friendship researchers (a real job!) have been saying about men for a while.
Men do need more friends.
Studies show that chronic loneliness is a near-epidemic in adult men, with both the quantity and quality of our friendships falling off a cliff once we reach adulthood, and that the suicide rate for middle-aged men is more than three times that for women.
This doesn't happen by accident. We live in a society that encourages men to suppress feelings from a young age so they don't appear "weak." The emphasis on "strength" in men often comes at the detriment of many other (arguably more important) traits.
It's time for this to change. "It’s powerful to have strong men, but what does that strength mean?" Obama mused. "You know, does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion?"
It'll take a big cultural shift to get more men opening up to each other, but having someone as influential as Michelle Obama addressing the issue is a good start.