the new French President Emmanuel Macron, 39, is 25 years younger than his wife Brigitte Trogneux, 64. So what? Ah, there is a lot to it; and it has rightly sparked global discussion.
In Nigeria, as in most of Africa, where the opposite is the norm, some people are finding it difficult to even process the information. And regardless of their current status, they, particularly Brigitte, would be the butt of jokes and verbal attack.
In France, a country of romance, where people don’t seem to bother about the private life of their leaders, they are enjoying a beautiful love story. Some women are even reported to have described it as a sweet revenge.
French leaders are noted for their dalliances with ladies far younger their age.
Macron’s predecessor and former boss, François Hollande was photographed sneaking off on the back of a scooter to a girl friend in a hotel but it passed in Paris as his own business. May be he shouldn’t have disguised himself.
For psychologists worldwide, studies on the subject are being dusted, and a close watch launched to see how long this audacious defiance of the norm will last. Although there have been exceptional cases, studies have shown that marriages, the type under discussion, don’t last.
But when before millions of people, Macron turns to his wife, smiles at her, and says, “always there, and what’s more, without whom I wouldn’t be me,” there is likely to more from where that came.
To that, crowd chanted an approval: “Brigitte! Brigitte! Brigitte!” echoed around the hall. Psychologists and even Parisians would perhaps know later that this is not their usual December-May relationship in which the woman is far older. According to a report, at just 17, Emmanuel told her ‘Whatever you do, I will marry you!” And 10 years on, the marriage is waxing stronger.
The love story
The various accounts show that Emmanuel initiated the relationship they have kept steaming hot over the years. According to a report: “They met at La Providence, an imposing private school founded by devout Jesuits in Amiens. She was the extrovert Latin, French and theatre teacher, blonde-hair, married since the age of 20 to a local banker.
He was 15, already steeped in the writings of French literary giants. It has been said that Laurence, the daughter of Mme Auzière (as Brigitte then was), returned home from school one day raving about the talents of a classmate who was “a crazy boy who knows everything about everything.”
The teacher herself met him when the 15-year-old Macron played the lead role in a school play Jacques and his Master. He asked the mother-of-three if together they could re-write sections of the play The Art of Comedy by Eduardo De Filippo, to expand it to include 15 new roles.
To that end, they started seeing each other every Friday. There was no question, ever, of the pupil-teacher relationship exceeding any limits set down by French law, which defines the age of sexual consent as 18 in cases where one person has authority over the other.
But Brigitte has subsequently admitted: “Little by little, I was won over by his intelligence. I still haven’t measured all its depths.”
“I felt myself falling,” she told Paris Match, “Him too.”
The married teacher told the teenager he had to leave her, and Amiens, to finish his schooling at the elite Henri IV lycée in Paris.
But – Brigitte confided in Paris Match last year – “At 17, Emmanuel told me ‘Whatever you do, I will marry you’!”
In October 2007, 21 months after she divorced the banker André Louis Auzière, the 54-year-old Brigitte and the 29-year-old Macron married in Le Touget where they have a home.
Emmanuel’s parents had tried to stop the relationship, but it failed
Tiphaine, the 33-year-old youngest daughter of Brigitte, was quoted as saying: “I know few couples so happy.”
The Brigitte advantage
At 64, Brigitte doesn’t have the fresh looks of youth, the smooth-faced, curvy receptacle for reproduction, but she does look much younger than her age. Experts interviewed by the Mail believe her age-defying good looks are down to her athletic figure; and her youthful hair cut envelopes her face and neck and hides any signs of ageing.
She has also invested heavily in the young man from his teens, when they met, and more recently in his political career.
“She’s a very positive person, incredibly ambitious for Emmanuel and very involved in what he’s doing,” says Caroline Derrien, co-author of a recent book on the couple, Les Macron. “She’s one of the only ones who dare to criticise him.”
Brigitte from her teaching job after her husband became the economy minister, and she became his trusted adviser, according to the BBC.
In a documentary by France3 TV, she is shown to play a role of Macron’s coach. In one of the scenes, she was seen guiding him through a practice run of a speech, cutting in to tell him to lift his voice.
“I have to pay attention to everything, do the maximum to protect him,” she told Paris Match.
That is what experts call the Emmanuel and Brigitte kind of marriage. Many of them agree that such relationships have a short lifespan, and some believe this may go the same way. Researchers say couples in which the wife is just five years older are three times more likely to divorce than couples of the same age.
“Society just isn’t ready to accept December-May marriages as easily as it does May-December marriages,” says one expert.
In one study, wives who were a decade or more older than their husbands admitted to a certain insecurity about aging, which is not a good thing in a relationship. Also, the women felt stigmatized by others —judgments likely to impact a woman’s mortality.
Another study concluded that the larger the age gap in a couple, the more likely they were to divorce. A couple with a one-year age gap were three per cent more likely to divorce, whereas a couple that was separated by 10 years was 39 per cent more likely to split. The numbers get scarier with a 20-year gap, too (95 per cent).
“Couples with younger husbands violate social norms and thus suffer from social sanctions,” says Sven Drefahl of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. “Since marrying a younger husband deviates from what is regarded as normal, these couples could be regarded as outsiders and receive less social support. This could result in a less joyful and more stressful life, reduced health, and finally, increased mortality.”
The Nigerian question
The Macron-Brigitte marriage, which is 10 years old, will surely be an interesting case-study for experts, more so when it will now play in the public glare. But in Nigerian setting, the pressure on Macron would be boiled in one question: “Mr. President, when are you going have your own kids?”