So, félicitations are due to French politican Emmanual Macron, who has managed the remarkable feat of becoming President Elect after forming his own centre-left political party, En Marche!, as recently as April last year. (Take note, British politics!) The 39 year-old former investment banker will become the youngest ever Président de la République française on Sunday (May 14).
It was interesting to see the amount of interest taken by the outside world in the election. The media served up extensive coverage and social media, especially Twitter, also buzzed with hot takes and 140-character commentary. Traditionally the Anglosphere has paid little attention to French politics so why all the curiosity? I think much of this foreign focus may have been down to M. Macron’s principal opponent, Marine Le Pen of the hard right Front National party. People feared, I think, another swing to the right after Brexit and Trump. But France has chosen instead to remain resolutely centrist.
Now that Macron finds himself on the main stage of French politics, he can expect no shortage of media scrutiny. One aspect of his personal lilfe has already raised eyebrows. Madame Macron is no less than 24 years and eight months older than him.
The pair originally met when young Emmanual was just 15 and she was 39. Brigitte was a teacher at the future President’s school – the Lycée la Providence in Amiens, where she taught French and Latin literature and also apparently ran a theatre class he attended. At the time she was still married to her first husband, a banker called André-Louis, with whom she had three children.
They became an item after his 17th birthday, to the dismay of Emmanual’s parents, who tried to break them up by sending him away to finish his schooling in Paris. But they were undeterred and remained together, eventually marrying in 2007, a year after her divorce from André-Louis. Two of Brigitte’s children were older than her new husband.
Macron later described their relationship as Un amour souvent clandestin, souvent caché, incompris de beaucoup avant de s’imposer – “a love often clandestine, often hidden, misunderstood by many before imposing itself”.
If the genders were reversed, this situation might provoke the odd eyeroll but little real comment. We are used to age gaps in favour of men – especially if they are wealthy. Even there of course, 24 years would be a big gap but it is not unprecedented.
But an older woman with a younger man is much less common. Why is that? Women sometimes complain about the caddish propensity amongst some husbands to “trade in their wives for younger models” or at least to fantasise about doing so. But, the uncomfortable truth is that if such men have something solid to offer – principally status or wealth – they may well succeed in finding a youthful new paramour, much to the dismay of wife number one.
Meanwhile, older women with younger men are usually objects of suspicion and confusion – ‘cougars’ who should know better.
Sadly, this is one area in which social double standards definitely work against women. From a purely biological, making babies point of view of course, the older husband-younger wife pairing does make sense: men with a few more miles on the clock are more likely to have assets which help with rearing children; younger women are more likely to be fertile. But of course, nobody is a prisoner of biology and not everybody is motivated by children.
We are all indivduals and sometimes, as Monsieur Le Président and Brigitte clearly demonstrate, the heart wants what it wants.