When I was a teenager, I knew my friend Toby’s grandparents as gracious, attractive and generous pillars of the community. When Toby shared their story with me we both thought it highly romantic. It seems that Mrs. D. was engaged to a friend of Mr. D. At the engagement party, Mr. D. came to celebrate with his friend and meet the fiancée. Shortly thereafter my friend’s future grandmother called off her betrothal. In only a few weeks, she announced a new one—to Mr. D.
When one of their children repeated the story on the occasion of Mr. and Mrs. D.’s 50th anniversary, it was indeed a charming tale that brought smiles to their children and grandchildren’s faces. Only years later did I stop to think how upset and worried Mrs. D.’s parents must have been and how painful and embarrassing this was for the jilted groom and his family. The scandalous event probably animated neighborhood gossip for many months. Fifty years down the road revealed a happy end, but at the time it would have been perfectly plausible to see this as a catastrophic and immature infatuation.
What does this have to do with the recent French election?
The incoming French president, Emmanuel Macron, has a rather unique marital story. Not only is his wife, Brigitte Trogneux, twenty-four years his senior, but they met when she taught the fifteen year old Emmanuel. At the time she was a married mother of three. The attraction between the two dates from that time.
I have no reason to speculate about the Macron’s ten-year-old marriage or to wish them anything but happiness together. However, I do want to comment on the press coverage of their relationship. First of all, it is interesting that in an age when every wart and whisper about public figures is endlessly highlighted, heading into the French election the American media was inexplicably silent on this slightly unusual marriage. The marriages of President Trump and VP Pence are titillatingly headlined. The marriages (and divorces) of celebrities are not off limits. Yet regarding a really unorthodox aspect of the Macron marriage—barely a peep! Why not? I have a theory about why this might be (as you’ll see, the only exception I came across was Cosmopolitan Magazine), but I’m curious to hear your guesses.
The reaction overseas, though, is truly interesting. The reports from Paris that I’ve seen celebrate the love story. I’m not French, have never been to France and after two years of high school French about the only words I remember are ‘frommage’ and ‘Mercredi.” Countries have different cultures and France has a much more ‘anything goes’ lifestyle than America does. C’est la vie.
The Mirror out of England printed the sentence that led me to write. It said, “The front-runner was just 16 when he vowed to marry Trogneux – a married mum-of-three at the time – and his parents EVEN (emphasis mine) tried to put a stop to the schoolboy love affair…” EVEN – here is where a personal story becomes important to the public square. What exactly are a sixteen year old boy’s parents supposed to do when they realize that he is infatuated with a married teacher who seems fine with the attraction? Trust his maturity and life experience while shrugging their shoulders at her teaching responsibilities, marital and motherhood status?
Cosmopolitan magazine, that portal into sophistication for so many American teenage girls, weighed in with a similarly dismissive comment: “Macron’s parents ACTUALLY (my emphasis) sent him away from the Amiens, France, high school to a Parisian one after learning of their affections for each other in an attempt to prevent anything furthur from happening…”
What absurd parents! Unless, that is, you actually believe that parents have a responsibility to guide their teenage children and every right to consider something very wrong about a young boy besotted with an older, married teacher who seems to be encouraging his emotions.
We human beings are created in the image of God. That means that we are each unique individuals. Society, on the other hand, must make laws and rules that work for the group. There is an inherent conflict here and a constant tug of war exists between protecting society while respecting the individual.
Now that Mr. Macron has won the election and is seeking a public, official role for his wife, I expect to hear more about his marriage in American publications. So, let’s be clear. More than one American teacher is in jail for having an affair with an under age student. It is often a female teacher and a male student. While I am not implying that the French president-elect and his teacher had an affair, parents as well as citizens whose taxes fund schools are already deeply concerned as to what takes place in many high schools. Celebrating teacher-student romances is an unhealthy cultural step, not an advance.
On a societal level as well as in the message we want to pass on to our children, there’s a world of difference between Mr. and Mrs. D.’s story and that of the Macrons. If the Macron romance becomes today’s cause célèbre, let’s be careful not to forget that.