America has a very complicated relationship with sex, one that could fill a whole library full of books and magazine articles or be the subject of a college course or a seminar. And yet with all the things that have been discussed and written (and even for any future coverage this topic will receive), I think we will only ever be able to scratch the surface and never really get to the bottom of such a vast topic. However, there is one aspect of this intricate relationship that has always interested me from a cultural standpoint–the American point of view on extra-marital affairs of public figures, whether it be actors, singers, athletes, politicians–anyone who is classified as a “celebrity.”

When an extra-marital relationship of a public figure hits the headlines in the US, the response is fairly predictable: the intense scrutiny of the mistress or lover, speculations over whether the wife or husband knew, the statements through a publicist asking the public to “respect our privacy at this difficult time…” In short, it’s exciting, it’s explosive, and we love to watch it unfold.  And if it is a President who is caught cheating on his significant other? We clutch those pearls so hard that they snap sending the pearls flying in a million different directions.

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In contrast, the French don’t pearl clutch so much when it comes to their President engaging in extramarital sex. In fact, they barely raise an eyebrow, or so they claim but I’ve been rolling my eyes at that blase attitude for quite some time. I’m not going to rehash them all, but let’s just say French presidents have a history of cheating on their spouses, to which French reaction has mostly been, “Eh, c’est la vie.” (I suggest Googling Mazarine Pingeot if you would like an example.)

The French stance on this sort of thing is very clear: a public figure’s life remains private. There are certain things the French will not intrude on and two of those things are sacred: family life and love life. The French press prides itself on respecting this cardinal rule. However, in the age of the Internet this rule has been harder and harder to stick to. And then Francois Hollande became president in 2012, dragging along several large skeletons behind him that would not stay quite shut in the closet.

Portrait-officiel-Francois-Hollande1Hollande posing in the Elysee Palace gardens for his official portrait. (Source)

Hollande’s whole shtick during his campaign was, ironically, that he was “Mr. Normal” and would reestablish normalcy to the French presidency, setting him apart from former President “Bling Bling” Sarkozy (whose antics we will not get into because that’s a whole other kettle of tuna. Feel free to Google). However, it had already been very well-documented that Hollande’s personal life was in shambles and not exactly  “normal,” even before he started campaigning to be the next French president.

The media is giving you the simplified version of events: Hollande cheated on his partner of seven years, Valerie Trierweiler, with French actress Julie Gayet. However, international media has only been paying attention to this latest affair because he is now President of France. Very few outlets have mentioned Segolene Royal at all and the drama that unfolded before the Gayet affair came to light. The reality is that Hollande’s personal life is a lot more complicated and makes Bill Clinton look like the pope. Let’s review, shall we?

The Affair Part 1

Before Julie, before Valerie, there was Segolene Royal. You may not know her, but she is a well-known politician in France. She ran against Nicolas Sarkozy for president in 2007 and ultimately lost.

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She was also Francois Hollande’s long-term partner for 30 years (they never married) and is the mother of his four children. They met at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the school which up to date all French presidents have attended. They were considered to be the Bill and Hillary Clinton of France.

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Young Segolene and young Francois full of French political ambitions. (Source)

Francois et Segolene

Segolene and Francois at an event last year. They may no longer be together, but they seem to get along now and they still run in the same French political circles. And no, that did not sit well with Hollande’s now ex-girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler. (Source)

Royal ran for president in 2007. Her political stardom had been on the rise for quite awhile, ascending through the ranks and leaving behind her partner Hollande in the dust. She is, by all accounts, a bright, educated, intelligent woman. She was getting all the attention.

Hollande was not. He sought attention elsewhere, physically and emotionally. Rumors abounded that Hollande was seeing Paris Match journalist named Valerie Trierweiler as early as 2005, a woman he spent a lot of time with granting interviews. Unsurprisingly, Trierweiler wrote rather favorable articles casting Hollande in a positive light.

Valerie Trierweiler

Valerie Trierweiler Source

Royal and Hollande maintained a united front during Royal’s presidential campaign, but after she lost in 2007, they officially announced their separation. Hollande most likely knew it would look bad (and hurt his political aspirations) if he abandoned Royal  during her campaign to run right into the arms of Trierweiler–the journalist who kept writing glowing stories about him. Since Royal and Hollande were never married, there was no messy divorce, which I guess is an advantage of never getting married. Trierweiler eventually divorced her husband (also a journalist at Paris Match) in 2010 but that did not stop Hollande and Trierweiler from moving in together as a couple in 2007.

And then Hollande became President, met Julie Gayet and we know the rest… right?

Actually no. There is much, much more to this story and believe it or not, it gets much worse, to the point that it got the French pearl clutching too (though it was unrelated to sex, go figure). If you know about that infamous tweet, you know where the story is headed. And it makes Valerie Trierweiler look really, really bad–yes, even worse than the initial affair, which I already thought made her and Hollande look not so great in the first place.

It cracked the “private life is private” mantra wide open and to be quite honest, I no longer believe French people when they say they (still) don’t care about their President’s love life. Thou dost protest too much, methinks. I’m on to you, France.

To be continued…