Love supported by the Loved Ones

July 13, 2017

We are used to seeing beautiful young wives on the arms of older men. Rarely do we see a powerful young man choose an older woman as his life companion. That is why I, like many people, was charmed when I learnt that Emmanuel Macron, the new French President, has a wife who is 24 years older than him. They met when Emmanuel was 17 and still at school in Amiens; Brigitte Macron was his drama teacher.

The French are famously open minded when it comes to affairs of the heart, but this unusual love story raised quite a few eyebrows among the political classes. So much so that Macron felt obliged to explain and defend his love for Brigitte, telling the International Business Times that theirs was “a love often clandestine, often hidden, misunderstood by many before imposing itself”.

I imagine Macron has had to face down his family, the political establishment, the electorate of France and the curiosity of the world. To overcome such resistance and judgment, one can reasonably surmise they must be extraordinarily intelligent emotionally and committed to each other.  His reward: a devoted and loving partner who will most likely still be at his side long after the Presidency is a memory.

Recently I attended a beautiful wedding in London. After the bride and groom exchanged the vows, the priest asked all in attendance if we would support and uphold the couple in their marriage, now and for the years to come. We answered in unison: “We will.” At the end of the ceremony, the music, Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles played and we all cheered. Seeing this young couple beaming, so full of hope, promises and the conviction of their future happiness, I was moved to tears.

In many ways, marriage is the spiritual agreement the couple formed not only with each other, but also with their families, communities and societies—whose conscious or unconscious support and acceptance helps to provide a safe space for the marriage to grow and prosper.

Without such support and acceptance from the community, relationships and marriages often struggle or even collapse. Lord Alfred Douglas described “the love that dare not speak its name”, and same sex relationships in the past rarely lasted long due to society’s judgment. We all know what happened to Oscar Wilde, Douglas’s lover.

I recall attending an event shortly after same sex marriage became legalised in UK. The comedian Graham Norton, who was master of ceremonies, asked those who had finally married their same sex partners how long they had been together. I was truly surprised by their responses. They had all been waiting for many years, one couple even for 50 years, to formally and legally declare to the world their love and commitment to each other.

At the end of the day, a deep, loving relationship, based on loyalty and friendship is surely what we strive for. Old and young, black and white, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, gay or straight – these differences are not what define us, nor do they determine our happiness with another.

While we may not need others’ permission or approval to love, every successful relationship and marriage owes to the community a debt of gratitude for support and acceptance, spoken or unspoken.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation