Friday, 9 April 2010

The Clintons, the Obamas and Mr Liz Hurley

The Clintons' marriage is famously “complicated”. The Obamas seem a stable and happy couple. This blog believes that Liz Hurley’s marriage to her unlikely Indian beau Arun Nayar is more likely to go the Obama way than the Clinton way; the Hurley-Nayar yin and yang are in balance, as are the Obamas’, while the Clintons’ is not.

Earlier, I had floated a general theory: the psyche seeks a balance of yin and yang in every couple. Happy couples have this balance. The Clintons don’t. Both Bill and Hillary are tough, smart, super-ambitious scrappers. All yang. Where there are differences in style, Bill the charming compromiser seems more in touch with yin energy than Hillary, the doctrinaire disciplinarian. They could easily be best friends; they seem to understand each other perfectly and enjoy each other’s company. But they are too alike to be a couple, their marriage needs more yin.

Michelle Obama, unlike Hillary Clinton, seems very happy being a wife and mom. She is not using her first ladyship as a platform from which to influence policy. She could if she wanted to. She is smart enough and has the necessary training. The Economist ran a thoughtful and sympathetic column a year ago, lamenting the “momification of Michelle”:

...during the campaign she raised a lot of thought-provoking questions—about “the flimsy difference between success and failure” in America, about the removal of rungs from the ladder of opportunity, and about the plight of families at the bottom of the heap. It would be good to hear a bit more about what Mrs Obama thinks and a lot less about what she wears.

The Economist is missing the bigger picture: the Obamas have an endless supply of smart, articulate, well-trained, motivated people capable of raising thought-provoking questions about the flimsy difference between success and failure. They don’t have anybody else who can be Mommy. In choosing to be Mommy, Michelle is doing what she alone can do, and letting others do what they can do as well as she can. David Ricardo would have congratulated her for focusing on her comparative advantage. CJ Jung would have congratulated her for bringing more yin energy to her marriage when it was needed; now that Barack is the most powerful man in the world, he inevitably gathers more yang around him than he ever did before.

When the Obamas first got together, their balance of yin and yang probably was different. Michelle was Barack’s senior at Harvard Law School and his mentor at the law firm in Chicago when they got to know each other. The change in the way their marriage works is a nice example of how plastic identity can be, and how much that identity is shaped by context.

Readers shocked by this apparent endorsement of a woman’s traditional role... hang in there. Another marriage which seems about right in terms of yin and yang balance, but with a woman being the tougher partner, is that of Liz Hurley and Arun Nayar.

I was a bit preplexed when I first heard about this match. It was reported in the British press as Liz Hurley marrying an Indian textile tycoon. Sure, this was good publicity for India, and a glamourous A list celebrity like Liz Hurley would make a fantastic trophy wife for an Indian tycoon. But who exactly was this Indian textile tycoon? I am pretty close to business circles in India, and nobody I know had ever heard of Arun Nayar, or of his family’s “import export” business. And if Mr Nayar is not exactly an A lister back home in India, why does Liz want him?

Last week’s Sunday Times resolved at least a part of this puzzle. Liz Hurley never was destined to be a trophy for some Indian textile tycoon. She is one tough honey: determined, hard-working, ambitious, rich, successful and totally in charge. She was getting herself a well-built husband who would look appropriate (and not say anything inappropriate) at public events, and would be happy to help mind the animals at the farm back in Gloucestershire. Some extracts:

- Liz says "Chasing goals has less to do with earning more money – although I’m not against it – and more to do with being challenged and trying to win”

- Arun Nayar, her husband [is her] most devoted member of staff. Only the other week, she announces proudly, Arun came home from manning the farm’s stall at Cirencester boasting how many of wifey’s snack bars he’d hawked. “He sold 50!” she beams

- Does she worry that Arun might suffer from a touch of the beta males, given she’s such a big personality and it’s her name on the family business? “Arun is astonishingly good-natured and would be the last man on earth to feel overshadowed by me,” she says, unruffled. “He’s thoroughly comfortable in his own skin and I don’t think he’d swap places with anyone.”

The Times journalist isn’t trying to portray either Liz Hurley or Arun Nayar in flattering light here. But it isn’t hard to imagine that it is easier for the driven Ms Hurley to live with the amiable anonymity of Mr Nayar, than with a man who is as driven as she is. She needs someone to bring some yin to her yang.

1 comment:

Mysterious Man from the shadows said...

"David Ricardo would have congratulated her for focusing on her comparative advantage."

That is a great point. It seems to me that a magazine called "The Economist" should have thought of that.