At 39 years old, Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated as France’s youngest President on Sunday after many questioned whether he was “too young” to lead. But that’s not the only reason his age has come under media scrutiny.
Ever since Macron burst onto the scene, his marriage to Brigitte Macron (née Trogneux), who at 64 is 24 years and eight months his senior, has been of intense fascination and debate.
While the circumstances in which the pair met were bound to raise a few eyebrows - he was 15 and she was his school teacher - their life together as adults has also been ridiculed.
Ms Macron has been subject to trolling on Twitter, while satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo printed a front cover showing the President alongside his “pregnant” wife, with the caption: “He will do miracles.”
The Macron’s age gap is not so different to the Trump’s, who were born 23 years and 10 months apart - Melania Trump is 47 while President Donald Trump is 70 - but while some publications did comment on the Trump’s age gap during the US presidential election, the level of scrutiny the Macrons have received is incomparable.
What’s more, there are countless examples of older celebrity men dating younger women, without scrutiny. There’s been little comment on the fact that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, 30, is expecting a baby with Jason Statham, who is 19 years her senior. But new parents Cheryl, 33, and Liam Payne, 23, have caused a stir for their 10-year gap.
So why do we find it more acceptable when women enter into relationships with older men but not the other way around?
The ‘Older Woman’ Stereotype
According to Relate counsellor Barbara Honey, our reaction to older women dating younger men has a lot to do with the stereotypical way we see relationships.
“There’s a stereotype that men like to date women who are younger than them and vice versa. In fact, official statistics do show that generally women in the UK marry men older than themselves, in 2000 the average age gap was just over two years,” she told HuffPost UK.
“The truth is that age-gap relationships can work both ways and there can be mutual benefits to both parties when the woman is older and the man is younger.”
She added that it may be becoming more common for older women to date younger men thanks to improvements in gender equality elsewhere.
“Now that women are financially independent they have greater choice around who they decide to date, which is a really positive thing,” she said.
“Unfortunately, some people remain surprised when a man dates an older woman because it goes against what they regard as ‘normal’.
“Women are sometimes criticised for having a ‘toy boy’ whereas for men it’s considered perfectly fine. These double standards are not helpful and it’s important that we celebrate all kinds of relationships. At the end of the day it’s the quality of the relationship that counts, not the age gap.”
Rachael Lloyd, a eharmony relationship expert, agreed that outdated gender stereotypes may be influencing our choice of partners and how we view the relationships of others.
“While our research shows the trend remains that men typically go for same age or slightly younger women, female daters shouldn’t feel stigmatised for choosing younger men,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Some of this may be inherited from historic Victorian ideals where it was common for women of a certain class to marry older, financially solvent men. Their youth was arguably part of the negotiation. Let’s hope we’ve all moved on from those feudal influences.”
From a young age women are told “girls mature faster than boys” and according to dating psychologist Madeleine Mason, this may influence who we date.
“There is evidence to suggest girls mature faster than boys, physically and mentally, and this may play a role in who they socialise with,” she told HuffPost UK.
“For example, younger women might prefer men a few years older than themselves, but I think this evens out when they reach their early-mid 20’s.”
However, Mason does not agree with the concept that women find older men “more desirable” and believes who we fall for is down to chance.
“It is seldom obvious to tell whether a potential partner is two-three years older or younger than oneself without asking, so I would argue that an age difference of three years is not really much of a difference at all. Meeting someone three years your junior or senior is more down chance, opportunity and availability,” she said.
She added that age is not typically the first question you ask someone when you meet them, although it may be one of the first questions your friends ask if you tell them you’re dating someone new.
“I think people tend to think in terms of an age-range they would consider dating and would be open to dating someone younger than themselves and who we fall in love with is relatively arbitrary in terms of age,” she said.
“I think we meet more randomly than we like to think. It’s only the idea of a large age gap that might feel awkward, until you find yourself falling in love with someone outside your desired ‘age range.’”
Challenges In Age Gap Relationships.
Relate’s Barbara Honey said one of the key challenges that couples in an age gap relationship often have is “justifying their relationship to friends and family”.
“But even if the relationship raises a few eyebrows in the beginning, people will often learn to accept it, especially when they see over time the couple’s commitment, love and respect for each other,” she said.
Problems may also arise if couples are at different stages in life.
“For example, one person could be ready to have children and settle down whereas the other partner has already done that in a previous relationship and wants to enjoy their freedom again,” Honey said.
“Another challenge can be having very different social interests although equally it can be a shared interest, such as literature or politics, that draws partners of different ages together in the first place.”
Communication is an important part of all relationships, but Honey advised that open and honest talk about your needs and the future is especially important if there’s an age gap between you and your partner.
“In some cases, different life stages and expectations can mean that the couple decide to go their separate ways,” she said.
“But having some differences is actually good for the relationship and having an older or younger partner can provide you with a new perspective on life – it’s all about how you navigate those differences and make them work for you.”