Barack Obama is a well-liked former president, ex-senator, doting father, devoted husband and—still—one of the most powerful people in the world. But before he was all of that, he was just another emo student writing notes to a crush.
Emory University in Atlanta announced Thursday that it had obtained nine letters Obama sent between 1982 and 1984 for its Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library. With the acquisition, members of the public can finally see and study messages Obama sent to Alexandra McNear, whom he dated before he met his now-wife, according to The New York Times. They can also read some solid gossip.
At the beginning of the series, the couple is together—Obama at Columbia University in New York City; McNear at Occidental College in Los Angeles—but by the end, they’re just trying to figure out how to remain friends.
“It is interesting to see Obama as a young romantic partner, especially in a relationship that predates his relationship with Michelle Obama. The letters that Emory has capture the arc of the end of a relationship,” Andra Gillespie, an Emory associate professor, said in a news release. “While there isn’t a Dear John/Jane letter here, you do see the aftermath of a breakup. It’s raw and very human.”
Initially, Obama writes in sweeping metaphors about big concepts like resistance and identity, penning poetic lines like “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.”
However, their connection frays over time. He talks about how they hung out together but were both inside themselves. He goes to visit family in Indonesia and writes that he’s confused about his feelings.
“It seems we will ever want what we cannot have; that’s what binds us; that’s what keeps us apart,” Obama adds.
McNear’s letters back to Obama aren’t part of the Emory collection, though she’s spoken out about their brief relationship before. She told biographer David Maraniss that she “thought he was interesting in a very particular way” and frequently “worked his way through an idea or question, turned it over, looked at it from all sides, and then he came to a precise and elegant conclusion.”
The letters seem to back up that idea—and prove that Obama was super dramatic. Luckily, at some point, he became less pretentious and, eventually, met Michelle Robinson. The Obamas just celebrated their 25th anniversary.