Why France Is Turning Its Nose Up At Valerie Trierweiler

The former partner of French President Francois Hollande is finding sympathy in short supply

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Danish Siddiqi / Reuters

Valerie Trierweiler, former companion of French President Francois Hollande, arrives at the international airport in Mumbai Jan. 27, 2014.

The story is as old as the Bible: A powerful man strays from his life partner into the arms of a younger woman and is caught red-handed. Usually, the next chapter is devoted to doling out sympathy to the woman he has betrayed.

But things aren’t so simple in France.

For nearly three weeks, the world’s press has seized on every available detail, true or false, about the love life of President François Hollande. The frenzy began with the explosive January 10 photos in a French gossip magazine, allegedly showing Hollande sneaking out of the Elysée Palace on the back of a motorcycle for a late-night tryst with French actress Julie Gayet, and have continued since. Notably lacking from the coverage in France, so far, has been much sympathy for the Hollande’s now-former partner, Valerie Trierweiler (he announced their split on Saturday).

A mother of three children, Trierweiler, 48, put her journalistic career at Paris Match magazine on hold when Hollande (whom she never married) ran for president. She now faces having to rebuild her personal and professional life. Yet despite that, Trierweiler has been woefully short of sympathizers during weeks of wall-to-wall coverage on television. “Among some [Elysée] advisors there was some degree of dislike. Others were more reserved about her,” says Thierry Arnaud, head of the political service at the French 24-hour news channel BFM-TV. “But what was striking as this story developed was how few people were willing to go public and defend her.”

In opinion polls, about three-quarters of French people say that their president’s love life has no bearing on their opinions about him as a leader — although the weeks of obsessive talk in Paris about his alleged romance seems to cast doubt on that assertion. And cynically, some wonder whether the story might even boost Hollande’s ratings, which currently stand at about 24%, thanks to double-digit unemployment rates and a huge public deficit. “It’ll make him more popular, because Julie Gayet is popular,” says Jean-Philippe Filiu, a retired French diplomat who has traveled with Hollande. He contrasts Trierweiler’s “always tense” demeanor with that of 41-year-old, fresh-faced Gayet. “She [Gayet] is the quintessential smart French girl,” Filiu says.

Leaving aside that characterization, Trierweiler’s own missteps since Hollande was elected 20 months ago have left her especially isolated at this crucial moment. She has admitted in interviews that she struggled to find her feet as the president’s partner — the First Lady has no official status in France — and had consulted Michele Obama on the question. She won no friends with an early remark saying she did not want to become a “potiche” (ornament, or vase) in the Elysée. That came off badly, says Colombe Pringle, editorial consultant for the celebrity magazine Point de Vue. “It was as though being First Lady was not a job,” she says.

But the worst faux pas came within just weeks of Hollande’s victory in May 2012, during the hard-fought elections for France’s National Assembly, when Trierweiler, a heavy Twitter user, tweeted her support for a candidate who was running against Ségolène Royal, the mother of Hollande’s four children, with whom he lived for many years (and whom he finally left for Trierweiler). Royal lost the race, dashing Hollande’s hopes for having her as an ally in the fractious parliament.

Though Trierweiler tried hard to make amends for her mistake in subsequent posts, the tweet was never forgotten. As the months went on, the doubts about her emerged at odd moments. While Hollande was on a visit inside France one day, a woman in the crowd bluntly told him, “don’t marry Valérie Trierweiler, we don’t like her,” leaving the president speechless; the video of the scene played heavily on French TV. “Even French feminists felt no empathy for her,” Pringle says. “Not until we got the story of the mistress, and then the hospital, and suddenly we thought, maybe we ought to be more sympathetic. But there had been too many missteps.”

But three weeks into the story, there are signs that Hollande could yet pay the price politically for his behavior, especially among women voters. Opposition politicians have seized on the alleged affair to paint the president as callous in his dealings with women. The fact that his relationship with Trierweiler began long before he left Royal, and that the gossip magazines have asserted that he began his affair with Gayet as long as two years ago, has added to that impression. So too did the president’s formal breakup announcement: He issued a one-line statement on the telephone to the Agence France Presse news agency last Saturday, saying,  I wish to make it known that I have ended my partnership with Valerie Trierweiler.”

The fact that Hollande omitted to mention Trierweiler, or for that matter any words of pain or remorse, outraged his critics, and finally uncorked the backlash, albeit small, that had not been seen until this week. “I felt like I was reading a lay-off letter, rather than a letter of a break-up,” conservative politician Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, said on French television Monday night. Hollande’s left-wing challenger for president, Jean-Luc Melanchon, called the president’s breakup announcement “the statement of an oaf.”

Perhaps trying to cut as much distance as possible from her life’s implosion, Trierweiler flew to Mumbai on Sunday — a day after her public breakup — to attend a charity event that had been scheduled long before the current drama. Yet even from a distance of 4,300 miles she seemed unable to leave it all behind, telling a clutch of reporters that the pressures and internal tensions within the Elysée had torn her and Hollande’s relationship apart, and suggesting that they might still be together if Hollande had not won the presidential election in May, 2012. Instead, she said she had faced “low-blows” and “backstabbing” during their 20 months in the Elysée. With that part of her life over she may find that the blows do not entirely stop, as France continues its transformation from a country that once barely commented on the private lives of public officials and their families to one that considers them fair game.

30 comments
Cate Wagner
Cate Wagner

Things like this are what make me not want to get married. Gay marriage isn't leading to destruction of straight marriage, this b.s. is

Didi Onyezili
Didi Onyezili

Davey do some research before opening your yap! He had 4 children he abandoned for rottweiler

BenCaesar
BenCaesar

Only women care about such trivial matters. She has no sympathy because she isn't married to him and she is not a good human being as well.

RogueHedonist
RogueHedonist

// He contrasts Trierweiler’s “always tense” demeanor with that of 41-year-old, fresh-faced Gayet. “She [Gayet] is the quintessential smart French girl,” Filiu says. //

I doubt that the words - 'fresh faced girl' , are apt to describe a 41 year old woman.

Mohit Juneja
Mohit Juneja

A bit of exaggeration to make a point never hurt anyone. Why do the French suddenly care about their leaders being truthful or trustworthy?

Lynette Mn
Lynette Mn

Who cares? Since when did it matter who the president date or sleep with? His job is to run a country not provide entertainment, leave that job to Hollywood. Guess it's great to forget the president's incompetence sometimes and talk about his dating life instead? How sad.

Maha Fazal
Maha Fazal

This woman did the same thing to the mother of his children ....Segolene Royal...

Davey Adams
Davey Adams

Her 3 children were with the man she left for Holland. Do some research before you open your yap.

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

With 1.1 Billion users, will Facebook pages like TIME's be modified, designed and customized by artists to fit each company's image of itself?

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

How has social media changed history and the ways by which peoples communicate? Is social media replacing TV on a very slow time scale?

Mohit Juneja
Mohit Juneja

The leader of a country abandoning the mother of his four children for cheap thrills.

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

The evolutionary purpose of communications technology is allowing monkeys to spread ideas. The Internet is an evolutionary tool used by Humans to organize information and our world. Extraterrestrials would identify humans for the degree to which we use it to manage our species.

Ben Lowe
Ben Lowe

The French acting like jerks? Who'd thought it? 9_9

itsyoureternalsoul
itsyoureternalsoul

I am confused about their relationship.  I find not much evidence of real love.

RobertNguyen
RobertNguyen

The US is far from being a "Puritanical country". Self serving Hypocrite is a much better description...

Channah
Channah

The USA would never stand for their President having a girlfriend--even if he was not married.  A single President would be unheard of in this Puritanical country.  A widower would probably be acceptable, but if they even dreamed he'd have relations with a woman-forget it. 

This country is so hung up on sexual encounters as being sinful.

Marielucenavas
Marielucenavas

because when an unhappy event strikes a woman in love and so devoted and that is already old of 2 years people find awful th e

double heart of their president and the consequences on the health and life of that woman yes they are empathic and full of compassion they have no enough tough word for to condemn him there is also the fact that many frenchies felt betrayed by him and identified their deception angriness to  those of that woman they had lived the same schock of the same man

Marielucenavas
Marielucenavas

why that woman was courted by a lot of influent political men she is old  and her rival so young by side her physical appearence  she has a character a way to speak french which can seduce and as mother i suppose many qualities 

Marielucenavas
Marielucenavas

He  has hours where He runs his country and He has hours off office for his privacy why HE would be enchained at HIS office 24/24 hours ? his intimate life is not our concern .

Marielucenavas
Marielucenavas

She was challenging him for the presidentials a man stays a man their  relation had turning bad if only have christian principes they will be togheter yet may be but they are socialists to get married is a view of bourgeois here s the result spilt up living each on his side differentlyand now a youg actress the last new groupie

Marielucenavas
Marielucenavas

@itsyoureternalsoul  it was more than2decades of true love   but she had a strong character certains of closed president s friends didn t appreciate her  and frenchies  who do not know exactly the real story  didn t love a her because the first girl friend of that man had been 4 times mother of his children and formany years and falling of love of that woman  he had spli up with her to think that S Royal had challenged her own partner in the presidentials  even the frenchis had all the elements true of the president s life

thesauros
thesauros

@Channah  "their president’s love life has no bearing on their opinions about him as a leader" 


I always find those type of comments interesting. Oh the outrage when our politicians lie to us. Yet when has there ever been adultery without lying?  It's as though the naive actually believe that he'll be dishonest when he's at home but become some type of angel and shun all forms of corruption while at work. Of course as Channah seems to think, there's nothing corrupt about cheating on the woman you cheated with when you cheated on the former woman you cheated on. There's no wrong doing happening so he's obviously a man of integrity - let's get him to lead our country - right? 

 

rascouet
rascouet

@Channah  Not anymore. But mid-19th century, President James Buchanan was unmarried and childless. He lived with and adored his niece, but the story goes that he was gay. No one cared then. The puritanism is a recent phenomenon.