PARIS — Emmanuel Macron, the front-runner in Sunday’s French presidential election, shares something with President Trump: a 24-year age gap with his wife. The difference is that Macron’s wife is the older one.
That cliche-busting fact — a candidate young enough to be his wife’s son, rather than old enough to be her father — is a little social “revenge” that delights many French women, including Martine Bergossi.
“Why can’t we marry younger men? I date them all the time,” said Bergossi, the stylish owner of Alternatives, a secondhand-couture shop in Paris, who prefers to leave her exact age to the imagination.
“It’s normal to see men with younger women,” she said. “So it’s rather great to see the opposite.”
France is famous for its laissez-faire attitude toward sex and love, yet the May-December romance between Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron has added a little ooh-la-la to a presidential campaign that is otherwise a deadly serious matter.
Macron, a pro-European Union centrist, is facing off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, a blunt populist who rails darkly against immigration and threatens to yank France out of the European Union and NATO.
Macron, a former investment banker, is 39, and his wife just turned 64.
Macron was only 15 when he met Brigitte Trogneux, a married teacher at his high school in northern France who had three children. Macron’s parents sent him to Paris to put distance between the teacher who ran the drama club and their precocious son, but their bond lasted, she divorced, and 10 years ago they were married.
Most of the French women interviewed said a politician’s private life is not a reason to vote for or against him or her. In the United States, too, Trump’s two divorces, considerable age gap with his third wife, and even a recorded conversation in which he lewdly discussed groping women did not prevent his electoral victory.
But just days before the French vote, nearly all women interviewed did say they were more interested in Macron, who was a virtual unknown until recently, because his marriage breaks the mold.
French politics has long been dominated by men with younger lovers.
François Hollande, the current president, separated from his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, after a very public affair with an actress 18 years his junior. Former president François Mitterrand took a mistress half his age when he was in his 40s, a younger woman who famously stood near his wife at his funeral in 1996.
“Did men ask anybody when they started marrying younger women?” asked Karin Lewin, an artist with a studio in Montmartre. “Who sets the rules?”
She likes that Macron is shaking up the men’s political club.
So do others. “Every single day, I see an older man with a woman his kids’ age coming into the hotel,” said Chloe Tournadre, 26, who works at a luxury hotel in Paris.
Lilach Eliyahu, a fashion designer, said the fact that Macron has a wife who “has wrinkles and cellulite makes me think of him as a feminist. He is the opposite of Donald Trump.”
Brigitte Macron is a grandmother and her husband has boyish looks. Melania Trump, who used to model here in Paris, is young enough to be the U.S. president’s daughter. The couples have nearly the same age gap: the Trumps were born 23 years and 10 months apart and the Macrons 24 years and eight months.
Le Pen, if elected, would make history as France’s first female president, but men turned out in greater numbers for her than women did in the first round of the election, according to polls. In interviews, many women said that although they would like to see a female president, they were deeply concerned about Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, antiglobalist views and her party’s conservative views on women’s reproductive rights. Le Pen, 48, has been married twice. Her partner, a politician who has kept a much lower profile than Brigitte Macron, is 47.
Cécile Alduy, a French professor at Stanford University who is in Paris this semester following the election, said that political spouses in France do not have the same public role as they do in the United States.
“It was so unusual and commented on” when Brigitte Macron joined her husband on stage after he won the first-round vote, Alduy said. Many women find it interesting that Macron is putting his wife in the spotlight, posing for photos with her, even appearing on the cover of a magazine with her in a bathing suit at the beach.
Carla Bruni, the wife of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, was also high-profile. But she was a special case, a former model and singer who had dated Mick Jagger and other stars.
The Macrons have also been the subject of jokes, and political critics have seized on the age difference to paint Brigitte as a controlling force over “a schoolboy” candidate. Many declare on social media that he is gay — which Macron has publicly denied. A widely circulated mock photo on the Internet purports to show the couple’s “first date”: a woman walking hand in hand at the beach with a toddler.
But Alduy said Macron may get a boost from women at the polls on Sunday, not because of his wife’s age, but because he talks about women’s issues, including gender equality in wages.
“There is a visible difference between them, that’s for sure,” said Martine Dumestre, a physical therapist who, at 65, is one year older than Macron’s wife. She said that many voters do not like either candidate but that she at least appreciated that Brigitte Macron commented that this election is her husband’s only shot at the presidency, even though he is only 39 — because she will soon look too old.