Is age really just a number?
In the past weeks and months the world media have been focussed on the French presidential election, which saw political maverick and everyman Emmanuel Macron take on and triumph over the hotly-contested far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. However, it wasn’t just Macron’s political prowess that hit the headlines. Age was the defining theme of Macron’s presidential campaign, with speculators fixated on the fact that his landslide victory secured his status as France’s youngest inaugurated President. At the ripe old age of 39, he is 19 years younger than his predecessor François Hollande was when he assumed the presidency, and 13 years Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy at his inauguration in 2007.
However, it’s not just his presidential potency that has been called into question because of his age. Speculation was in the air during (and even long after) the election that encircled Macron and his wife Brigitte like a hurricane, as press and spectators alike dredged up long-buried scandal surrounding the couple’s rather lofty 24-year age-gap. It was Mrs. Macron who received the lion’s share of contention during the election period, as it is she who is 24 years (and 8 months) her husband’s senior, not the other way around as many would first assume. If that wasn’t enough, the situation wasn’t helped by the fact that the star-crossed lovers met when Macron was just 15 years old, and his future wife (née Trogneux) was his 40-year-old drama teacher—and one that was married to boot.
Although the couple hotly attest that nothing happened whilst Macron was a pupil and Trogneux a teacher at Jesuit school Lycee La Providence in Amiens, northern France, it was still enough to fuel the rumour mill so much that Macron’s parents ejected him from the school and enrolled him in the private Parisian institution Lycee Henri IV. Despite the physical gap now put between the two, biographers maintain that the torch continued to shine, leading to Trogneux divorcing her husband (and the father of her three children), which paved the way for the couple to eventually marry in 2007 15 years after they first met, when he was almost 30 and she 54.
Questionable meet-cute aside, since the spotlight was shone firmly in the direction of her husband during the election campaign, Brigitte Macron been bandied in the press as a Mrs. Robinson-esque figure, a cruel pop-culture reference to iconic Academy Award-winning film The Graduate in which a young Dustin Hoffman is ensnared and seduced by the much older and more experienced Mrs. Robinson. Whilst eyebrows may be raised over how the couple met, it’s an almost universally-accepted practice in today’s society that couples with a similar age-gap in reverse are rarely under the same scrutiny—take for example sitting American President Donald Trump, whose 23-year age-gap with wife Melania was barely touched upon during his unscrupulous and headline-inducing campaign trail last year.
Further to this, just a cursory Google search shows the inherent difference between men and women in this regard. Men in relationships with women significantly younger than themselves are barely mentioned—Take Tony Bennett and Susan Crow’s 40-year age difference, Mick Jagger and ballerina Melanie Hamrick’s 43-year discrepancy, and Rupert Murdoch’s 25-year advancement on former model Jerry Hall among countless others as cases in point. However, when the roles are reverse, judgement is rampant. A case not too dissimilar to the Macron’s is that of the Taylor-Johnson’s, a tale of gross imbalance and stigma, which is what happens when you don’t conform to societal norms. Like the French First Family, actor Aaron Johnson met now-wife, director Sam Taylor-Wood, when working together on the set of “Nowhere Boy”, a biopic of John Lennon and the formative years of The Beatles. He was 18 years old and she 42, putting the age gap at 23 years. Again the Mrs. Robinson comparisons ran unabashed, but the couple were not to be dissuaded—the couple married in 2012, and have since had twin daughters together.
As the popular idiom goes: “The road of true love never did run smooth”—and this has never run more true than in the case of the Macrons who, against all odds, embraced their age difference and proceeded to a long and prosperous union. France’s First Family shouldn’t be hounded by the past, and instead should be celebrated for their open-mindedness and perseverance in the face of true love. To me, they are the perfect figureheads to drive France forwards into the future, a future that celebrates bipartisanship and tolerance of others, no matter their circumstances.
To this I say: Vive la France, and vive l’amour!