George Clooney has not been "finally" pinned down

The reporting around the actor's love life reveals the worst of media sexism

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published April 28, 2014 6:41PM (EDT)

George Clooney       (Reuters/Andrew Kelly)
George Clooney (Reuters/Andrew Kelly)

If reports Monday are to believed, human rights attorney Amal Alamuddin, whose law firm has confirmed her engagement, is soon to marry actor, director and sexiest "Facts of Life" veteran ever George Clooney. It's the end of an era for a man who's spent nearly two decades as everybody's favorite imaginary boyfriend. Just don't turn this into a story of an elusive ladykiller, hogtied and dragged to the altar at long last.

Clooney may be the last man in public life for whom the phrase "confirmed bachelor" is not a euphemism. The 52-year-old actor has long made no secret of his ambivalence about the institution of matrimony, so it's understandable that there'd be interest in the woman who could bring about his change of heart. (Clooney's own camp has yet to affirm the engagement reports.) Nineteen years ago he described himself as not "very good at" marriage, a sentiment he echoed to Esquire almost verbatim just this past January. And in between, he's expressed his reluctance to settle down and have kids by explaining, "I am never at home and every woman gets sick of it ... If I was them, I would never put up with me for long — and they don't."

Yet it's been Clooney himself who has frequently had to point out that he's not as commitment-shy as the press frequently makes him out to be. He has in fact already taken the plunge before – early in his career, he was married for four years to "Mad Men" actress Talia Balsam. He said three years ago, "People forget that I was married. I love that, 'Will he get married?' I don't talk about it because I don't think about it. I don't ever question other people's versions of how they live their lives or what they do." And despite the fact that he has spent the past 20 years very publicly involved in a string of serious relationships, often of two or more years' duration, the rumors of an engagement have been met immediately with breathless speculation that he's "finally" lost his heart to the woman who could "do the impossible" and "tame" him. Could it be, as CNN has put it, he's "met his match" – and hey, no disrespect meant to the apparent parade of inferiors he's been saddled with up to this point, right? And is this union coming about because, as the Telegraph speculates, Alamuddin is "an operator" who coolly planned exactly how to "bag" him? Gosh, how else could one explain it?

Sure, Clooney only seems to get easier on the eyes with each passing year. He has two Oscars, and the Renaissance man has been nominated in multiple categories. He's funny. Two years ago, he got arrested at a protest. With his dad. He's a catch -- a supercatch. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a woman 16 years the man's junior, a woman who speaks multiple languages, has represented Julian Assange and has a successful career of her own, one who also ranks as the top "hottest barrister in London," is no slouch either. And I'll go further and wager that if this were the news about how that poor, sad, childless wreck Jennifer Aniston was "finally" getting engaged, the tale would not be about how on earth her lucky, lucky boyfriend cleverly wore her down.

The world holds men and women to different standards and we can't make that go away and blahdey blah blah. But what do you say we at least question the stories we're told, and maybe even ask if they're accurate or not? Mr. Confirmed Bachelor has already been married. He has loved. Whatever happens next with Amal Alamuddin, this is not some "Lord of the Rings"-worthy triumph of an "operator" to get a ring on it. He's a person, not a prize. Marriage isn't about wearing a man down into submission, nor is it, outside of a Shakespeare play, the finish line of anyone's story. It's just another milestone on the road, an often fulfilling but optional choice. And unlike a whole lot of the pundits around him, George Clooney seems like a smart enough guy to know that.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Amal Alamuddin George Clooney Jennifer Aniston Marriage Nick Clooney