Co Down age gap couple: 'I thought he should find someone his own age'
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's marriage to wife Brigitte, who is 25 years older than him, has raised eyebrows especially as the pair met when she was his teacher. Karen Ireland talks to Co Down couple Tracey and Matthew Kennedy who say love, and some divine intervention, conquered any concerns about their 10-year age gap.
The course of true love didn't always run smooth for Tracey and Matthew Kennedy, from Hillsborough, who are now happily married with four children.
Tracey was 28 when she first met her husband-to-be - and he was just 17. He was also dating someone else.
The pair were friends, but when Matthew told Tracey of his feelings for her, she was shocked and worried about the 10 year age gap between them.
Despite this, love and faith helped them find happiness together despite the age difference.
Tracey, now 42, and Matthew (32) run Catstone Homes NI Ltd together as well as the recently opened Owl and Pussycat cafe in the town. They have four children - Jude (10), Kristen (8), Chloe (6) and Kayla (3).
She admits, though, the idea of dating such a young man in the beginning did play on her mind. However, Tracey didn't count on Matthew's determination to woo her.
"I met Matthew when one of my friends started going out with his friend," Tracey says. "We always ended up being in the same company and spending time together. We got on well and I enjoyed his company but, as I saw it, he was very young and we were just friends.
"We had been in each other's company for a couple of months when we were out one night. Matthew was helping someone out who had taken too much to drink. Later, in the evening I asked where she was and he said she had been taken home. I said that was a pity as I thought he should have stayed with her as they made a nice couple."
According to Tracey his reaction left her taken aback.
"He just looked at me and said 'why would I want to be with her when I want to be with you?' I was completely shocked and said 'no way'. 'You are only 17 and I am nearly 30, how would that look'?"
But Matthew was very persistent and said he didn't care what other people would think. Besides, they got on well so what could be the problem?
"I couldn't get my head around it working and was worried what his parents and everyone else would think. He told me not to worry as we liked each other and that was what was important," says Tracey.
Matthew, it turned out, knew his family wouldn't have a problem as his grandad was a lot older than his grandmother.
"That is the type of person Matthew is," says Tracey. "He knows what he wants and he goes for it. He was only 17, but he already knew that he wanted to settle down, get married one day, start a family and have his own business. He had it all planned out and, according to him, I was part of that."
And Tracey couldn't help but be impressed by the young man who appeared to know his mind.
"His maturity and genuineness shone through and eventually, somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to go out with him to see how it went," she says.
She recalls the dynamics of the relationship from very early on.
"Matthew was serious about us from the very beginning and everyone thought we made a lovely couple. No one had any issues with me being so much older. Or, if they did, they certainly didn't say. Everyone just accepted us and seemed to think we worked well together," she says.
"My family really liked Matthew, in fact my brother said out of all the relationships I had and any boyfriends I had brought home, he was the one that I should settle down with.
"Similarly, his parents liked me and we got on well. They were very accepting of me."
She admits that, in the end, Matthew wore her down and she really liked him.
"He was incredibly honest and good fun and had a certain edge to him which I liked without being too over-confident."
But Tracey admits the age gap continued to occupy her thoughts, to the extent she considered ending things.
"After we had been seeing each other for a while, I thought I should break it off with him and let him find someone his own age," she says.
"I thought I should do this for his own good. I was nearly 30 and I just felt like we wanted different things and he would be better off finding someone who was his peer.
"Even though we (our relationship) really worked and I loved him, I thought this was for the best.
"He kept telling me 'why would I want anyone my age? Have you seen the way they get on'? I knew we were both on the same wavelength with a similar mentality, but I couldn't settle."
Around this time the couple started attending the Elim church in Lurgan when one night at a youth event everything changed for Tracey.
"The pastor said he thought God wanted to speak and he told us to be quiet and listen to what God was saying to us," she says.
"I don't think I've ever heard God speak to me before, but I believe I clearly heard his voice that night.
"He said that everything that had happened in my life was for a reason and would make me a better person. He said he had brought Matthew into my life and that I was to marry him.
"The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, but I didn't say anything to Matthew until the next day when he asked me what I thought."
Tracey told him it was an interesting night and then told him what she had heard.
"He just smiled and said 'I told you'. It was confirmation for Matthew of what he already knew."
A few months later Matthew proposed to Tracey when they were walking in the Mournes.
"It was very romantic and he had got the ring especially made for me in America and sent over via a friend. I was blown away," she says. "I thought we would be engaged for a while but Matthew said 'no', we would marry at Christmas just six months later. He was 20 and I had turned 30."
Tracey says a strong Christian faith is something they have in common.
"Matthew has always lived his life by Christian principles. He adheres to the way the Bible says you should treat your wife and children. I respect and love him for that," she says.
"We have a strong marriage and I can honestly say we never argue. Maybe in 11 years of marriage I have been cross with him once and stopped speaking to him, but that's all. We have squabbles but then we talk things though."
Looking at the couple's happy family and working life now it seems Matthew's plan was right.
"Life is hectic with a new business, a cafe and four young children but we make us a priority," says Tracey.
"We always go out on date nights and my mother-in-law is great about baby-sitting. If she wasn't I may not have had four children," she jokes.
"We have also just hired a nanny who is a great help.
"Last weekend we went to Bushmills for the night just to spend some time together as a couple again. We believe that we come first and then the children as they will grow up and move on - but there will always be Matthew and me.
"We don't want to grow old and be left sitting looking at each other with nothing to talk about as we have grown apart.
"Now, I really don't think that age does matters, not if you have the same mentality and mindset.
"My husband is selfless and puts us before him and that makes an enormous difference.
"And I imagine it's the same for the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. It's more important to share the same interests and values. Matthew taught me that."
Tracey adds that she doesn't feel under pressure to try and keep up with her younger man.
"I don't feel like I should make a big deal about my appearance for Matthew. I never worry about him straying as I trust him. I know he believes in the vows we made. That said I would never let myself go. Fortunately I have a fast metabolism and busy enough lifestyle which keeps me young, so people don't think I look older than him," she says.
And, despite her initial fears, Tracey says love has bound the pair together - regardless of the fact she is an older woman.
"I certainly don't feel as if there is a big age gap between us. It's what's inside that matters and how a couple feel.
"We work because we love each other and make time for us and put the other person first.
"Now we spend even more time together with work, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
Celebrity couples who say age is just a number
- Kris Jenner is 61 and Corey Gamble is 33. The Kardashian-Jenner matriarch is 25 years older than her toyboy lover who she got together with in October 2014. She called time on the relationship this week.
- Ryan Gosling (38) is married to 43-year-old Eva Mendes. They have a two-year-old daughter Esmeralda.
- Madonna is no stranger to dating younger men. Her last boyfriend Timor Steffens was 29 years younger.
- A nine year age gap separated former couple Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry, who have a daughter Nahla Audbry (9).
- The age-defying Jennifer Lopez had an on-off romance with Casper Smart, who is 17 years her junior.