No one should mind that the French president is 24 years younger than his wife, Brigitte. But the story of their romance? That is a bit weird
People seem to be very confused with regards to how to talk about Frances first lady. Can you settle the matter once and for all?
Marcus, by email
Zut alors! Quest-ce quon peut faire? Jadore quand quelque chose happens en France parce que je peux utiliser mes Franais A-level skills. Ils sont incroyables, nest-ce pas?
As is invariably the way with new first ladies, there has been a flurry of angsting and tutting about what this woman represents and how she should be discussed. So, for example, was it weird that the extremely brilliant and accomplished Michelle Obama was shunted off into being a spokesperson solely for supposedly feminine pursuits, such as gardening, nutrition and fashion? (Yes.) Is it completely embarrassing that political wives in this country are marched up on stage to give their husbands adoring stares at the end of the party conferences? (Yes.)
Brigitte Macron presents a whole new set of issues, and bless her for it. Mon dieu, je vous adore, Brigitte vraiment, vous tes ma favorite! For a start, as regular readers may recall, I am a massive fan of nominative determinism, so imagine imagine! – my delight when I found out Brigittes family makes … luxury macaroons, AKA macaron in French. I swear Im not making this up! Whos been burying THAT lede? So, Brigitte had my heart from pretty much the get-go, and thats even before I saw how good she looks in leather leggings, clearly the most absurd garment ever created, after sleeveless coats.
Others, though, get in quite a tangle about her. Many people seem to feel the need to defend the pair, as summed up in this GQ standfirst: Emmanuel Macrons wife Brigitte Trogneux is 24 years his senior. So what? Yes, so what indeed. An age gap does seem like quite an odd thing to focus on here. For a start, has no one else heard about the macaroons? Secondly, as weve all heard ad nauseam, that is pretty much the same age gap as between the Trumps, and of all the things people have said about that relationship, Ive never once heard anyone cite their age gap as the weird part.
But heres the thing. I havent actually heard many people talk about the Macrons age gap, either. Some, sure, but there will always be idiots in the world. But what I have heard people note and in a slightly nervous tone, like theyre not supposed to talk about this is that the way the Macrons met is totally weird. For goodness sake, he was a 15-year-old schoolboy and she was his 40-year-old married, mother-of-three teacher anyone who is pretending that it is unfeminist, or parochial, or I dont know what, to raise an eyebrow at this is not helping anything. Of course we should celebrate a relationship in which the usual gender and age differences are swapped; the only celebrity couple I am genuinely interested in is Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who have a similar age difference between them as the Macrons, and I would be far more upset if they split up than I should be about a couple I have never met. But to conflate the idea of older woman/younger man relationships with a woman shacking up with her student is just de trop.
My favourite quote about the Macrons relationship came from his mother, who initially thought that her son had taken a shine to Brigittes daughter. We couldnt believe it, Francoise Nogus-Macron says in Anne Fuldas biography, Emmanuel Macron: Such a Perfect Young Man. What is clear is that when Emmanuel met Brigitte we couldnt just say: Thats great.
Quelle surprise! (I can do this all day.) I mean, I dont care how Frrrrrrrench you are, you wouldnt be opening the champagne if your teenage son was having long romantic phone conversations with a woman your age, would you?
Brigitte has insisted: He wasnt a teenager fact check: he was He had a relationship of equals with other adults. Mmmm, well, thats one way of putting it, Brigitte.
Look, few were happier than me when Emmanuel won the presidency, so Im obviously not saying that the beginnings of their relationship should preclude either of them from anything, or that it in anyway denigrates their relationship. If anything, I find it even more impressive that theyre still together, despite what Emmanuel has described as their unconventional beginnings. But it is absurd for people to act like commenting on the weirdness of those beginnings is tantamount to saying older women shouldnt date younger men. They only do this because his supporters dont want to acknowledge the weirdness themselves, but would they really be quite as forgiving if Emmanuel had been the 40-year-old teacher and Brigitte the 15-year-old student?
As an older woman myself (ooh la la!), I can simultaneously acknowledge the weirdness and still cheer him on, her on and them on. And that is because, like 15-year-old Emmanuel Macron, I am an adult. Would that others were as mature as us.