Ex-girlfriend tells of her romance with 'guarded' student Obama

Biography reveals how young President pictured his 'ideal woman' – years before meeting Michelle

New York

When a woman a few years older told a 22-year-old Barack Obama, "I love you," he replied, "Thank you". In the journal she kept throughout their roughly one-year relationship, the girlfriend, from Australia and white, once noted: "The sexual warmth is definitely there – but the rest of it has sharp edges."

No one could say that revelations in a new biography about the American President's pre-Michelle romantic life during his four years in New York, partly studying at Columbia University, from 1981 are exactly salacious. Rather they paint a picture of a much younger Barack Obama that seems to jibe pretty well with the man we know now. They will doubtless make him blush even so (and Michelle, too). We do find out he would sometimes go shirtless in his apartment in the day wearing only a sarong.

The titbits, which have drawn attention to Mr Obama's own recollection of that time in his autobiography Dreams of my Father, in which, by his own admission, he created composites of people he knew, are contained in a biography by Washington Post journalist David Maraniss. Due out in June and called Barack Obama: The Story, it is excerpted in the new issue of Vanity Fair.

A much-respected reporter, Mr Maraniss tracked down two of the President's old New York flames, notably the journal-keeper. She was Genevieve Cook, who was 25. The daughter of a prominent Australian diplomat, she, like Mr Obama, had spent part of her childhood in Indonesia, indeed they had overlapped there. They met at a Christmas Party in 1983 in an East Village apartment, began spending weekends together and for a while experimented living together, though they broke up soon afterwards.

Midway in the relationship she put this in the pages of the journals, which she made available to Maraniss. "Tho he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness-and I begin to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me." She also wrote: "Barack still intrigues me, but so much going on beneath the surface, out of reach. Guarded, controlled."

Cook offered further analysis when the fling ended. "I guess I hoped time would change things and he'd let go and 'fall in love' with me. Now, at this point, I'm left wondering if Barack's reserve, etc is not just the time in his life, but, after all, emotional scarring that will make it difficult for him to get involved even after he's sorted his life through with age and experience." She added: "Hard to say, as obviously I was not the person that brought infatuation. (That lithe, bubbly, strong black lady is waiting somewhere!)"

Mr Obama perhaps laid the seeds of sabotage early in the relationship with Ms Cook telling her, according to her journal, about his "perfect ideal woman". She wrote that she imagined she would have to be "very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher, well-experienced – a black woman I keep seeing her as". Barack was not to meet Michelle until 1989.

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