George Clooney is officially engaged to be married. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
George Clooney is a movie star, but he is most often described as a bachelor. His singlehood is part of his identity; he's been called a "longtime bachelor," an "eternal bachelor," a "confirmed bachelor." The fact that he is unmarried is, in the gossip world, at least, what sets him apart. One could argue that his female equivalent — again, in the tabloid world, at least — is Jennifer Aniston, who has made appearance after appearance on glossy celebrity weeklies, also living a single life. And so, when Jennifer Aniston got engaged in 2012, it was big news. And now that George Clooney's mother confirms that yes, he intends to get married, it is huge news: Our understanding of him has undergone a seismic shift.
It should be noted that the reaction to these two engagements are very different; Aniston's announcement came with relief-oriented headlines like "FINALLY," and one cover declared she was "HAPPY AT LAST," as though everything before had been utter misery and despair.
Clooney's engagement comes with sheer shock. USA Today: George Clooney Engaged? What? The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch: George Clooney Engaged, a Sign of the Apocalypse, Brokenhearted Find Comfort in Chocolate. The Daily Mail, eschewing brevity and subtlety, put it this way: Look that says 'I've hooked the man who hates commitment': Glamorous British barrister is the woman to finally tame George Clooney.
These reactions are so different because the Clooney narrative is wildly different from the Aniston narrative, of course. Clooney hasn't been married since 1993, and in the twenty years since, his public persona has been of a charming, genial, twinkle-eyed playboy with a party pad on Lake Como, only breaking from wooing striking women to make critically-acclaimed films and to attempt to save Darfur.
Aniston's media cycle story is not quite as fun. Her divorce (from Clooney pal Brad Pitt) in 2005 turned her into constant tabloid fodder: She was sad, she was alone, she was sad and alone. Desperate. "Unlucky in love." While Clooney's single life seemed to involve pranks, Cannes and yachts, Aniston's was all sobbing and yoga.
The tabloids assumed, correctly or not, that every time Jennifer Aniston moved on from a relationship, she did so with a heavy heart, and with her biological clock ticking like a bomb. There are 28 million results when you Google "Jennifer Aniston pregnant," although as far as the public knows, she has never been pregnant. Clooney has floated from lady to lady (really, only SIX since 1993, so not that many) without a single magazine emblazoning the word "DUMPED" over his photograph, and without having to endure a headline about a non-existent baby. One of Clooney's best friends, Brad Pitt, is a father of six; it wouldn't even be weird if a want-t0-be-a-daddy story starring the Cloons popped up. But it never does.
Obviously, getting engaged is not the same as getting married. It remains to be seen whether or not Clooney and Aniston make (separate!) trips down the aisle. But if Clooney doesn't get hitched right away — if he waits for more than a year — will he be subjected to false tales of woe, the way Aniston has ever since she got the rock on her finger?
Of course not. They'll say he had cold feet, or that he didn't want to commit, or that he couldn't be tamed, like some crinkly-eyed exotic beast with excellent hair. It is a far, far better thing to be a Clooney than an Aniston in this world.