But over time, Chirac proved to be the political equivalent of Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men. (Chirac, whose numerous quick trysts spurred his former driver to nickname him "10 Minutes, Shower Included," was similarly promiscuous in politics, making promises to all even when he had no intention whatsoever of keeping his word.) Still, he was a lot more fun than his sardonic, professorial Socialist competitor in 2002, Lionel Jospin, and thus France made the improbable decision to stay with Chirac a little longer.
By the end of Chirac's time at the helm of France, his charms (like Sheen's) had long ago worn away. The movie-star handsomeness had evolved into something, well, a bit sad. So France did what so many people do after a bad relationship: She went for something totally different. It wasn't just that Chirac was tall and contemplative while Sarkozy was short and frenetic. Chirac was a stay-at-home guy who wouldn't even repair the door handle; Sarkozy wanted to move France to another home, perhaps even to America.
Like the feisty, domineering, and controlling lawyer that he was in his soul, Sarkozy didn't seduce France as much as he negotiated her to the altar. He would shake her, he argued, back to reality -- get her life in order again. She never really liked him, but his storm of ideas was intriguing -- at least at first. And who could resist such energy, such confidence?
Only later did France realize that Sarkozy's obsession with himself was almost limitless. At times, she wondered whether Sarkozy even knew she was there. Worse, he seemed to lack boundaries, and he thrived on destabilizing her, which undermined her already fading confidence. Sarkozy had a million projects for them to take on, together, but he often got distracted, and she quickly began to wonder whether their relationship added up to anything meaningful. Spending time with him was akin to drinking too much coffee; it energized, but was rarely productive, and the buzz gave her a headache and made her crash. The result: France was left feeling older and more vulnerable, wondering whether her best days were behind her.
As her interest wandered, Sarkozy's energy didn't. To the end, he argued, often desperately, about why France should stick with him, how she would be nothing without him. No one would work harder than he would to make the relationship work. He even said that he risked his health trying to help her. She had to stay with him for her own sake, and for his.
Then, late in their relationship, there was a flirtation with another man. He seemed to have it all: intellect, gravitas, all of the money in the world (he oversaw the IMF). This jet-setting man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, spoke of his compassion for the needy and his capacity to solve so many of her problems. Yes, there were rumors about him, but France wanted to believe that the perfect suitor existed. And just as France was ready to leave Sarkozy, Mr. Perfect turned out to be Mr. Perp Walk. His convictions, it turned out, were more courtroom than conscience.
Which brings us to France's next president. How could a nation of lovers pick a schlumpy Socialist like François Hollande? There may be nothing sexy about Hollande, but that is entirely the point. France has for too long been betrayed, manipulated, lied to, and used.
In a sense, Hollande has long been supportive of France, often to his own detriment. He is the kind of guy whom everyone takes for granted -- by Ségolène Royal, the politician and mother of his four children; by most of the Socialist Party leadership; and certainly by Sarkozy and his friends. Yet Hollande has, stunningly, defeated them all. He is the best friend, the one France never thought of in that way. But now he has, improbably, gotten the girl.
Monday morning, France is still asking herself what it will be like to actually live with President Hollande. There isn't much natural passion there. But he seems to be a decent, thoughtful, supportive guy, which is important for a maturing lady like France. And maybe if she squints her eyes just so, he looks and sounds a bit like Mitterrand.
Hollande surely won't torture or tease France in the same ways, but at the very least, he might be good company.