Jay Talking

The secret to the Clooneys' wedded bliss

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin probably believe they are settling when it comes to relationships

If you ever find yourself floundering during a conversation, unsure what constitutes a decent topic of discussion that does not involve inhumane groups, viral outbreaks, protests or viral inhumane protests, then I think I have just the topic for you.

Try posing the question of whether actor George Clooney married up or down.

I tried this recently and managed to turn a dying conversation into a passionate hour-long debate. I don't know what it is about the couple, but they just bring out such strong opinions - even if the opinions tend to be divided along gender lines.

Many women tend to see this as Clooney marrying up, successfully hooking up with a beautiful, internationally acclaimed, trilingual human rights lawyer. They cannot understand why all the media coverage so far has focused so heavily on Clooney.

Sure, he is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but what has he done with his life really? He pretended to be a doctor or something right? Also, he was in that movie where he robbed a casino.

The guy is basically a fraud and a crook.

Meanwhile, Amal Alamuddin was making a real difference. She was representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. That's right, Assange, the man behind one of the biggest leaks of international diplomatic documents ever.

Not only that, Alamuddin went to Oxford. Clooney dropped out of the University of Cincinnati. Surely, it's not even a contest.

On the other hand, the men's basic argument was this: Where was all this context when you women were busy putting Clooney on your celebrity cheat list?

How come when asked to choose one person you should be allowed to cheat on your partner with, you are picking a good-for-nothing university drop-out?

The last we checked, Alamuddin was not on our celebrity cheat list.

Actually, we didn't know who she was until this whole Alamuddin-Clooney (Amalooney? Or is it Cloolamuddin?) thing became big news.

Still, I must say the exchange got me thinking about the whole idea of settling.

You see, underlying all the arguments about who came out of Cloolamuddin with the better deal seems to be the fundamental idea that almost everyone - man or woman - secretly believes that there is someone out there better than his or her current partner. And therefore the thinking must be that either Alamuddin or Clooney (or both) are settling.

I did a little Googling and found that there are reports that back up this idea.

An admittedly non-scientific online poll of 1,000 married women earlier this year found that at least half of them had a "back-up husband".

In case that is not clear, a back-up husband is a husband you fire up when your main husband stops functioning. That one needs to even prepare a back-up husband doesn't say very nice things about the main husband.

The report reads like a jealous man's nightmare. Apparently, this back-up husband is likely a man she has known "for around seven years who will be ready and waiting because of unfinished business".

One in five women apparently believes that Husband B would "drop everything for her if she asked him to".

The survey did not involve a poll of men, but I would safely vouch for my fellow men and say it is unlikely as many would have a back-up wife.

That's not to say that men have any moral high ground here. The reason I don't think men have identified a back-up wife is because most of us believe we can get another wife, no problem.

You see, I have always argued that most women married up while most men married down because women were picky.

A man generally does not care what social level the beautiful woman he was going to marry comes from.

Most men - and I include myself in this group - are not self-aware enough to realise they were marrying someone better than them.

Call it ego, call it self-delusion, call it a more than healthy sense of self-esteem, but men secretly do not believe that there are any women out there who are technically out of their league.

If actress Megan Fox would just give him a chance, he is sure she would see what a magnificent catch he is and how great a personality he has.

I swear, in the midst of my hour-long debate, my friend basically argued that he - as a total package - was not inferior to Clooney.

You see, a man's personal situation does not figure into this calculation. He may be jobless, living with his parents, playing Xbox all day and it would make very little impact on how he views his chances.

In the man's mind, that situation is temporary.

If he really wanted to, he could stop playing video games and make a million dollars. (Of course, there's no urgency right now given the lack of progress on the Fox front. He'll make the million dollars tomorrow.)

Men also tend not to have a lot of qualifications-based criteria when looking for a wife or girlfriend.

You never hear a guy saying: "You know guys, my dream woman is an internationally renowned, Oxford-educated lawyer who can speak three languages."

I mean, it's nice to have but only if it is supplemented by, shall we say, more superficial things.

So where do we stand on Amalooney after considering all that?

For me, what it says is that Clooney and Alamuddin, just like most other couples, are coming out roughly even.

In their own minds, they probably think they are the ones who have settled.

In their minds, the other one is the one that needs him or her more.

And isn't that the recipe for any happy, balanced relationship?

jeremyau@sph.com.sg