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In the early 1980s, long before he married Michelle Obama, a young Barack Obama dated a woman named Alexandra McNear. He was the type of boyfriend who sent thoughtful, heartfelt letters — letters that are now available to read.
Nine letters that the former president wrote to McNear, his college girlfriend, are now part of the collection of Emory University's Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library in Atlanta, Georgia, available to researchers. They were written after Obama had transferred from Occidental College in California to Columbia University in New York City.
McNear, a fellow student from Occidental, grew closer to Obama when she spent the summer of 1982 in New York. The letters begin when McNear returned to school on the opposite side of the country.
The letters reveal a few things about Obama: He had beautiful penmanship, and he was eloquent and charismatic even then.
To put it more bluntly, he was one smooth customer.
"I trust you know that I miss you, that my concern for you is as wide as the air, my confidence in you as deep as the sea, my love rich and plentiful, Love, Barack," he wrote in a letter dated September 1982.
Wow. That’s a great line. Take note, single men of the world.
There’s a lot more to the letters than super-romantic lines such as the one above. Obama was introspective in a message he wrote just a few months later, reflecting on the relationship and the challenge that "lies in forging a unity, mixing it up, constructing the truth to be found between the seams of individual lives. All of which requires breaking some sweat. Like a good basketball game. Or a fine dance. Or making love.
"We will talk long and deep, Alex," he wrote, "and see what we can make of this."
The following year, there appears to be a growing sense of uncertainty in their relationship.
"I think of you often, though I stay confused about my feelings," Obama told McNear in a letter he wrote in June 1983. "It seems we will ever want what we cannot have; that's what binds us; that's what keeps us apart."
By the time he wrote the final letter in the collection, in April of 1984, he and McNear were no longer romantically involved, though they remained friends.
There is a happy ending to this story for Obama, of course: He met Michelle Obama in 1989 and married her in 1992. The former first couple, who have two teenage daughters, Malia and Sasha, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary earlier this month.
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