Histoires d’amour

Love stories are both universal and intriguing. Irrespective of age or gender, culture or nationality, whatever alchemy makes people fall in love with each other is a mystery. And it is a beautiful one at that.

What puzzles me more, and is a question I’ve been thinking about lately, is what makes people stay together. Once that first spark fades, some couples endure, others split. There are shared values, of course, and commitments both contractual and emotional. There are financial interests. There is sexual attraction, intellectual companionship and compatibility on so many levels. Still, it is a long haul. For better or for worse.

The idea of divorce, of breaking something that has been built together over a lifetime or even a number of years, is brutal. And yet it is something that happens roughly 46% of the time in France, a figure similar to that of other countries. Which means that those who do stay together must have their reasons. Just as those who split must suffer terrible pain.

What is the glue that attracts and then holds people together? Perhaps it is some combination of complementarity in character and need that each fulfills in the other.

The love story of Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron should never have happened. Or if it happened, by all rights it should have ended when he left the high school in Amiens where she was his French and drama teacher.

Their 24-year age gap is beyond what most people can fathom and certainly what most parents can accept. Apparently Emmanuel’s parents at first objected strenuously to the relationship. They could have had Brigitte fired, even jailed. He was 15, she 39. When it became apparent that it was happening, against all reason, they accepted Brigitte. In 2006, she left the husband with whom she had born and raised three children, then married Emmanuel the following year.

Shortly after her husband turned 40 as France’s youngest-ever President, Brigitte celebrated her 65th birthday in April. Truth is surely stranger than fiction.

Lately I’ve been watching two wonderful BBC dramas about love and divorce.

The first is The Split, a dramedy about a family of female divorce lawyers with their own relationship issues. Right up my alley. And with outstanding performances from the ensemble cast led by Nicola Walker and Stephen Mangan. Here’s the scoop on the production from screenwriter Abi Morgan.

The other is A Very English Scandal, directed by Stephen Frears, in which Hugh Grant memorably portrays Jeremy Thorpe. Thorpe was a British politician and leader of the Liberal Party who became involved in a homosexual scandal in the late 1970s. Norman Scott, his young lover, is played by Ben Whishaw, whose performance I found even more gripping than Grant’s. The mystery here is the love story between the two men. Despite the fact that his mentor tries to have him murdered, and the scorned lover attempts to bring down the older politician in a biting yet hilarious courtroom drama, the glances between the two men reveal a very real and enduring love.

What is this thing called love? And why are we forever fascinated by it? There is something about the unlikely pairing of people that captures our imaginations and tickles our romantic hearts. Who more so than Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg?

It is perhaps no great mystery why, when a young Frenchman walked into a bar in Toronto back in 1985, this woman eight years older went home with him. What I still haven’t figured out is how we managed to bridge the gap of distance, language and culture, get married and remain together all these years.

But I’m so glad we did.

What’s your favourite love — or divorce — story?

27 thoughts on “Histoires d’amour

  1. Lovely post, Mel. Funnily enough I was just musing on the very same thing today, feeling thankful that I am with my partner, thankful that he is emotionally literate, when I meet so many people who seem to career through life not really understanding what the hell they’re doing (no judgment, ha). The parents on both sides had long and happy marriages and so I think there’s something in us that believes in the stability and longevity of partnership too and that problems can be sorted. 24 years on, we still make each other laugh… Can’t wait to see that Thorpe thing, by the way – Whishaw is always amazing.

    1. So glad it spoke to you, Colin. And happy that you are able to speak from experience about the satisfactions of a long-term relationship. I think you’re right about coming from a background of long and (mostly) happy marriages — and what better proof that it’s working if you still make each other laugh? 😍 As for Whishaw, he was a true revelation for me in this mini-series. Huge talent!

  2. Happy anniversary!
    Birkin and Gainsbourg had an 18-year age difference, but one never hears about that.
    The important detail in the Macron couple is that the younger one pursued the older one (and who at first rebuffed the advances).

    1. Oh, I agree! The age difference is only ever mentioned if it’s the opposite of what is expected gender-wise. 😉 As for us, we’re between anniversaries at the moment but at this stage, who’s counting? (Although we always celebrate in one way or another!)

  3. Congrats! Lovely post (and I love that link from Colin Bisset too). After 23 years together I still enjoy my hubby’s humour and to me he is exactly the same person I fell in love with. Isn’t love strange!

  4. You would think that, having divorced not once but twice and raised four daughters from the age of 8, 5, 2 and barely embryo on my own (the eldest is from my first marriage, by the way) that I would have thrown in the towel and bitterly renounced all things Eros. But when I heard a soft voice behind me in The Tate Modern as I expounded garbage about the particular Kusama I was peering at to my friend JimPig who had, unbenoticed by me wandered off, when I heard that voice gently tell me that he thought I was speaking to the wrong person all that could be right and beautiful about life was there in the breath between us. That was 6 years ago. We married 5 years ago this month. We have endured quite the battle to be able to be together on the same continent for as long as we both shall live. There are cynics who quietly murmur and sometimes boldly exclaim to us that living together will probably be Hell and we will go our separate ways. How do I explain sanely and rationally that we know that will never happen. I was in my 50s and he in his 60th year when we met. Love fascinates me. Always has. It’s bright light it’s darkest darkness it’s hope it’s pain it’s delight it’s despair. I love love. But I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found my one true love at any point in my life …. and maybe that’s the thing. I had two failed marriages and they failed ultimately because we were not with the right person. Even now there are people enduring the pit of despair that comes from being with the wrong person but for whom divorce is not an option. The real question for me is whether it has become too easy to jump because one thing I can say with certainty is that if you have children together that relationship will never truly end. I (rather appropriately) LOVED this post, Mel. Thank you so much (and I will be waiting for PBS to air both shows here …. the Thorpe I knew I was eager to see but the lady lawyers I have not had wind of so I will write a note to self to look out for it).

    1. I am so glad I wrote this post as it produced this wonderful story! How very interesting and how utterly romantic to meet under such circumstances and to know now you are finally with THE one. I understand better now why you struggled so long and hard to get your green card. I just knew there was a story there and the frustrated rom-com writer in me wants to use that scene of talking to your absent friend in the Tate and turning around to see HIM. Ah…maybe one day. 😍

      1. We were hugely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time that late afternoon. JimPig in a rare moment of clarity (he is hugely brilliant but functions on an entirely different plane to the rest of us) understood the significance of the moment and suggested that Two Brains join us for dinner. By the way, JimPig dated Jane Birkin when they both still in their teens …. he too is very gorgeous. I think you should turn your undoubted gifts as a writer to that Rom-Com for what is life if we are frustrated? Steal the scene with my blessing x

    2. @Osyth; I can’t tell you how happy I am for you – I have lived far longer (and will again) apart from the beloved one than anybody could wish for – and now that it all worked out in the greenest way possible, I’m so glad. Just send me that mail with the removal company in France; I shall need one too, not right away but better be prepared!

      1. Hey Kiki …. thank you. You understand, I know. I will be sending a bunch of emails tomorrow and I promise I will send the details for the movers. I can’t recommend them highly enough and yes, it is much better to be prepared 😊

  5. This is a GLORIOUS post, dear Mel. Love it, love it, love it. I’m a craddle snatcher too – although the baby wanted to be snatched – I could have done without it…. But now, 20yrs of married life later (and we knew each other a very long time before), and albeit if I regret one thing about our relationship it is the lack of a shared sense of humour (believe it or not, that’s a very important issue to me and according to what I have, I should never have married that man….), I can still say, I’m amazed and utterly thankful and happy to have found THAT one AND that I got over myself and married Hero Husband when I did.
    Contrary to you who MET her Love of her Life in the Tate, I (too) often find myself talking to HH at an exhibition, in a shop, in a group and HE has left to do something else….. I made the most amazing encounters that way 🙂
    You see, we really shouldn’t have come together and after all the bidding is done, I think what made us come and stay together was the fact that we never thought we would end up as a couple. Therefore, we never ever acted in any way, we were totally natural with each other, he stayed with my family when in the city, we watched each other brushing our teeth, he walked about in his underwear and told outrageous stories while I plucked my eyebrows, all in the best taste and with not a hint of double-entendre.
    After my divorce we got real close and on the day he said he’d been in love with me for a long time, I asked him why he had hidden his feelings so completely. I’m not telling you what he said but it made me going all soft inside myself. If this person could hold back for all those noble reasons he truly had to be a good man. And he was and is….. A friend of that time told me ‘to go for it’ (marriage) because ‘nobody will be able to take the good times away from you – what you will have had, will be yours’ and even life is never plain sailing and many a tear has been shed (and doubtless more will have to be shed), I can proclaim that Love conquers all and Love is the mightiest power – and I would go for it again but hope to God that I will be the one dying first.
    The Macron story is a double sided sword-one…. As a parent I couldn’t accept such a love story but we need to read the background – it WAS all good and we should give the due credit to this couple.
    It’s quite interesting that we find here several couples with a ‘history’ and also several with older women and younger men. It’s still relatively rare to read about that but I can say that those people who only knew us as a couple, nobody ever made a remark or a snide comment. The only ever person to give me ‘the look’ was HH’s neighbour, an already then elderly woman, who, when clapping eyes on me the first time; me climbing the stairs one late night, dead tired from a working day, the rush to the airport, the delayed flight and a 4.1/2hr train trip – uttered to nobody in particular ‘Ooooh, YOU are X’s girlfriend – You are a right baby snatcher, aren’t you?’. I never heard that expression before, luckily I guess, and by the time I fully understood her saying, I was already inside the flat. We have become very good friends and every time we visit the UK, we invite her for lunch and have a whale of a time. She claims she can’t remember but she is a ‘heimlifeissi’ (http://ahumorousguidetoswitzerland.blogspot.com/p/swiss-german-dictionary.html) – she still plays her cards close to her heart and she has a wicked sense of humour which is sometimes nearly too close to the bones!
    Aaaanyway; I have been mostly absent of the blogosphere but ‘when she comes back, she can’t stop to talk’ – forgive me, I shut up now 🙂

    1. Dear Kiki,
      As usual, your reply is so full of detail and your own storytelling, I feel honoured! I love the story of you and your beloved. I must say I can related to the fact that one of the reasons it worked was because you had no great expectations for the relationship — that is very similar to my own experience with ZFrenchman. Who would have thought, eh? That is the magic! 😍 I also adored the ‘heimlifeissi’ — although I have abandoned hope of ever decoding much Swiss German, I enjoy the slang! Keep talking, you are ‘une vraie piplette, mais tellement adorable!’ Bzzzz

  6. PS: CONGRATULATIONS to your long marriage – it’s not ever ‘in the pocket’, it means a lot of work but if we do it right, it’s so worthwhile.

    Have also viewed everything on the Very English Scandal (thanks to YT) and can’t wait to get my hands on this film but never heard of The Split…. more to look forward to!

    1. Thank you! (She says, not sure she’s so very deserving, surely he’s the one who deserves the prize?) But it’s true: we should never take our relationships for granted and yet it feels like we do work for something after all these years…
      Do look for The Split — it’s a gem!

  7. I’m afraid I’m a jaded, divorced lady, but…a part of me still envies those who can stick it out, through thick and thin, till the old ‘death do ye part’ bit. 🙂

    1. Not sure I know quite what to say to that — you don’t seem jaded at all to me! And I can imagine that it is better to be alone than ‘mal accompagnée’ as we say in French. I’m a bit of a loner, so I can see advantages to both! 😜

      1. Okay, jaded was gilding the lily a tad, but I have learned that there are advantages to being single. I have a ‘supportive’ mindset, so tend to see other people’s needs as more pressing than my own. I probably wouldn’t be writing, seriously writing, if I were still married so there’s my silver lining. 🙂

  8. I loved this post. After 14 years of being with someone 7 years older than me, and at nearly 40 years old, I happily struck out on my own. The only problem was that my friends were married with kids and I had to really “strike out on my own” because nobody was free. It wasn’t easy to make new female friends and I found that I would tend to meet younger men (woo hoo!), which can be fun and exciting, but also gets to be tiresome because of the generational difference. Then I met my Frenchman. A server in a restaurant that I had frequented over the years, but I had never seen him before. He got my order wrong and then brought me the right one. He seemed friendly with the regular customers and he asked me my name. I liked him but nothing quite struck me until later that day. I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about him. It was midnight and my French friend Robert in France happened to be online, so we chatted. I told him about this mystery Frenchman and he said, “You must return tomorrow evening!” I was up for returning, but completely against returning so soon and looking so darned obvious. I went to my hairdresser the next day and she told me to return that evening, too. She even went so far as to call and make sure that he would be working that shift…except that she went too far. She asked his name. Okay, fine. Then she asked, “Are you single?” I felt the heat rise off my face and I wanted to snatch that phone away from her! Well, I did end up going back to the restaurant that evening and it’s a good thing I did because working weekends was unusual for him, so I may never have seen him again. He was happy to see me and gave my table extra attention. He gave me his number and after I left, I prayed that he wasn’t in his 20’s. He cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge to see me and the rest is history. That was 11 years ago. We bought that restaurant, and we have a wonderful daughter. He is 7.5 years younger than me and we never think about it. (My brother’s wife is 7 years older than him and they have two boys.)

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