When I was in my twenties, I came to know for awhile a couple in which the wife was 18 or 20 years older than her husband who was about my age.
Although I enjoyed meals, day trips and other get-togethers with them, I was still young enough to feel some discomfort hanging out with a woman who was closer in age to my mother than to me.
My failing, but I was young then without much experience with people a good deal older than I was who by definition were intimidating: parents, teachers and employers.
Many years later, I dated for a year or so, a man who was 14 or 15 years younger than I was. He was 27 when we met and I was in my early 40s. Most of my friends thought there were far fewer years between us than there were because, I suspect, we were in our middle years – 30-ish and 50-ish - when it is often easy to be way off when guessing a person's age.
While it lasted, it was a lovely romance and our breakup had nothing to do with age.
Undoubtedly you have heard by now that the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, age 39, has been married to Brigitte Macron (nee Trogneaux) since 2007, and that she is 64 years old.
That age difference has made for fascinating reading in newspapers and magazines. First, here is a short backgrounder:
This December/May marriage has generated a large amount of commentary in France and abroad, and unlike the same age difference – 24 years - between U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, some of it has been quite mean.Town and Country magazine reports that
”News outlets snidely pointed to her deep tan, thin frame, and honey blonde hair, calling her a 'menopausal Barbie.' Some said he was 'hot for teacher,' or had mommy issues, and rumors flew that he was gay and theirs was a marriage of convenience.”
Others portrayed President Macron “as a 'mummy’s boy' who needs Mme Macron to wipe his mouth or give him 'a smack' for misbehaving.”
Glamour magazine reports that Macron has no patience with what he sees as the sexism and homophobia behind the attacks and has criticized the double standard
”... that allows men to marry much younger women while treating older women who do the same thing as deviants—or as covers for homosexuality. 'If I had been 20 years older than my wife, nobody would have thought for a single second that I couldn't be [an intimate partner],' he said.
"'It's because she is 20 years older than me that lots of people say, 'This relationship can't be tenable.'"
On Sunday, Brigitte Macron's youngest daughter from her first marriage, Tiphaine Auzière who is an attorney, defended her mother from those sexist and ageist remarks:
”'I find it totally outrageous in France in the 21st century to make such attacks...These are attacks that we wouldn’t direct at male politicians or at a man who would accompany a female politician. So I think there’s a lot of jealousy, and that this is very inappropriate.'”
The Telegraph in the U.K. saw the December/May romance in a lovelier light:
”The French want their women to be chic, witty, have charm; all characteristics that have little to do with youth; in fact which require experience.
“In fact, there are few more powerful words to a young Frenchman than 'une femme expérimentée'. Literature abounds with stories of young men 'déniaisés” (literally: made less stupid) by women who know what they are about.”
On the U.S. side of the Atlantic, Roger Cohen refused to acknowledge any French ageism, sexism or mysogyny in his New York Times column, and saw nothing but grace in the French reaction to the Macrons' age difference:
”People come to France for its beauty, but what finally beguiles them is its civilization, at once formal and sensual, an art of living and loving. I have been thinking of this non-judgmental French gift as the newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, and his wife, Brigitte, prepare to move into the Élysée Palace next week.
“They are an unusual couple. He is 39; she is 64. They met, as everyone knows by now, when he was a teenager and she was his drama teacher, a married woman with three children. Macron, through her, now has seven grandchildren whom he embraces as his own.
“To all of which the chief French response has been: Who cares?”
Well, maybe not quite but certainly as it ought to be.
Here in the U.S., it has always been acceptable for old men - often with a wink and a nod toward their masculinity - to take beautiful women young enough to be their daughters as their girlfriends and wives. (Some of those men have been known to turn in those wives for younger models when the first ones don't look quite as fresh and nubile as they once did.) But any woman who does the same is almost always viewed, in the words of Macron himself, a deviant or a beard.
I'm hoping that President and Madame Macron, who appear from outside to be as happy together as newlyweds, will help move women toward parity with men in romance because love isn't all that easy to find at any stage of life and no one should let age get in the way of it.