According to Miss Manners, a rather stern arbiter of correct behaviour, one does not congratulate a bride-to-be, because that could suggest that she is to be applauded for somehow managing to snag a husband. You congratulate the bridegroom, states Miss Manners, while offering the bride your best wishes.
If the headlines surrounding the recently announced engagement of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin are anything to go by, members of the tabloid press are a very rude bunch. Alamuddin, a Beirut-born, London-based lawyer, is clearly being congratulated for having trapped, snared, or otherwise lured the famously single Clooney into lifetime captivity. The Daily Mail published a picture of Alamuddin alongside this rather ungallant header: "Look that says 'I've hooked the man who hates commitment.' Glamorous British barrister is the woman to finally tame George Clooney."
You might think it would be smitten female fans getting upset about the upcoming nuptials, but it's the media that seems to be having a hard time letting go of the Clooney-as-perpetual-bachelor narrative. People magazine puts it this way: "He was living a pretty enviable life as a bachelor. He had a thriving career, a close circle of friends and the luxury of a low-key dating life." The magazine somehow makes it sound as if Clooney is prematurely dead rather than engaged.
Clooney isn't even a true bachelor, having been briefly married in the early 1990s to Talia Balsam (now known as the first Mrs. Roger Sterling on Mad Men). But he's been granted a kind of pop-culture annulment, and for more than 20 years has been seen not only as a born-again bachelor individual but as the iconic embodiment of bachelordom as a whole.
With his slightly ironic deployment of retro-Hollywood charm, Clooney has made this role his own. The celebrity bachelor's life is evidently just a super-cool round of movies and motorcycle rides and red carpet appearances, with the occasional break to prank Matt Damon or raise awareness about Darfur.
There is no girl equivalent to this single man's state of paradise. Clooney's female counterpart, at least according to the tabs, is "tragic spinster" Jennifer Aniston, always portrayed as barren, lonely and unfulfilled, clutching at a series of would-be husbands with her yoga-toned arms and vainly trying to fill her empty existence with material excess.
Aniston's love life is viewed as a series of desperate emotional emergencies.
Clooney, meanwhile, is seen as nonchalantly cycling through a lovely but interchangeable line of waitress/actresses, model/actresses, model/models and model/wrestlers.
The media periodically reconfirms Clooney's desirable bachelor status by reporting his rueful rejections of the institution of marriage. (Over the years, he's perfected a characteristically charming version of the "it's not you, it's me" line.) Confronted now by the renunciation of his renunciation, the gossip industry has been thrown into confusion. Gossip columns compound their impolite implications that Alamuddin "landed" Clooney with elaborate speculations about how, exactly, that happened.
One source suggests that Alamuddin employed the classic "treat him mean to keep him keen" strategy. Before finally accepting Clooney's offer of dinner, she reportedly refused twice by saying she was busy. Of course, it's possible that she actually was busy, since she is an accomplished lawyer who has represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and has lectured at The Hague on international law. Alamuddin is, as Bridget Jones would say, "a top human rights barrister."
"She isn't someone who is pursuing a career in acting or entertainment," says an "unnamed source" at one magazine. "She's on his level." For example, Clooney stars in Oceans Eleven sequels, and Alamuddin has been an adviser to former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan. So, yes, they're pretty much the same, in celebrity gossip terms.
"They are both professionals of mature years," comments another source. The 52-year-old Clooney and the 36-year-old Alamuddin are in fact separated by 16 years, but that's a negligible gap in famous-people relationships. (Unless of course it's the woman who's older, in which case it's a freakish anomaly and only a matter of time before the natural order reasserts itself and Ashton Kutcher leaves Demi Moore for Mila Kunis.)
Some of the slightly skewed analysis of the Clooney-Alamuddin engagement is a result of the sudden disruption of the usual celebrity narrative. And while you could hope that news of Hollywood's eternal bachelor getting hitched might prompt some rethinking of the common media trope that all women are desperate for matrimony and all men are desperate to dodge it, that probably won't happen. More likely the tabloids are already casting around for their next unmarried male smoothie (maybe Ryan Gosling could jump in?), while doubling down on their coverage of Aniston's forlorn and lonely old age.
So congratulations, George. Best wishes, Amal. And condolences to the gossip rags on the loss of their best bachelor.