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The New American Couple

In the age of commuter marriages and BlackBerry wars, what really makes it work? We asked five real couples how they bulletproof their relationship.

Michelle Rhee, 41, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools System and founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, an advocacy group for children in public education, and Kevin Johnson, 45, former NBA player and current mayor of Sacramento, California

How did you initially get together?
Kevin: Michelle and I met in Washington, D.C. at a Teach for America event. Ironically, we both ended up in public service, which we never imagined.

Michelle: We had a business relationship for three years. I was on the board of the charter school he founded, St. HOPE Academy, in Sacramento. When Kevin asked me out - after I became chancellor of D.C. schools and quit the board - I said, "That's crazy. We disagree a lot." He said, "That's just work. It doesn't have to be that way." We were in Denver for the 2008 Democratic Convention and had dinner on the rooftop of a Mexican restaurant. He was very different from what I thought he would be.

What was the attraction?
Kevin: Our passion for education.

Michelle: Definitely the work ethic. He had e-mailed, asking me to get involved with his school. I e-mailed back and said I couldn't do it. It was 2 a.m. when I sent the e-mail, and just a few seconds later, I heard the ding! on my computer. He'd e-mailed back one word: "Nope." I was impressed that he was working so late. And I loved the fact that he wouldn't take no for an answer.

What were your first, false impressions of each other?
Kevin: Michelle can answer that.

Michelle: I knew that he was a former basketball player, and I assumed he was just this NBA figurehead who didn't do any actual work and wasn't really engaged. It was astonishing to learn that he was running this organization - he was passionate about education reform and a very hard worker.

How compatible are you?
Kevin: Very. She'd probably say I'm neater and better organized than she is. Also, that I'm more health-conscious. Michelle has an incredible metabolism. She's tiny, yet eats whatever she wants. I'm proud to say we work out together.

Michelle: I love food! Kevin doesn't love food the way I do. I say, I live to eat and Kevin eats to live! He was a professional athlete, so he's generally more aware of what he eats; I love junk food.

Your relationship is bicoastal, and you spend lots of time apart. What do you text each other? 
Kevin: We text and e-mail "lovey-doveys" throughout the day.

Michelle: [laughs] Nothing R-rated. But we are loving and affectionate with each other. Also, we're news junkies, so we text each other current events.

What's the first thing you do when you get off the plane?
Kevin: We text to let the other know we've landed and ask, "Are you here yet?" And when we see each other, we hug and smooch!

Michelle: I usually fly in late, so we have a late dinner - usually at Mikuni's, a sushi place. Then we go to sleep.

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