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George Clooney laughs at a news conference for 'The Men Who Stare at Goats.' (MARIO ANZUONI)
George Clooney laughs at a news conference for 'The Men Who Stare at Goats.' (MARIO ANZUONI)

Sarah Hampson's Generation Ex

What every man can learn from George Clooney Add to ...


He alighted for the Toronto International Film Festival and flitted off, a dazzling celebrity, but wait - there is much that's substantial about George Clooney.

As a model for divorced, single men, that is.

Women know exactly what they get from any proximity, even celluloid, to Mr. Clooney - a chance to fantasize.

But men should be paying attention, too. Do not roll your eyes, shrug your shoulders and retreat into the shadows when you see women swoon in his path. Pay attention.

He can teach you how to serial date with impunity (no small feat), deploy your masculinity (it's not just women who play their gender as an art), handle success and generally take command of mature postdivorce life.

The guy is an ex-pert.

First off: As a man who has been at the mature dating game for a long time - he was divorced from his first wife, Talia Balsam, in 1993, after almost four years of marriage - he has managed to turn his commitment phobia into something admirable. See, guys? You can have your tart, muffin and cupcake, and eat them, too.

The playboy image comes with a cautionary side, let's not forget. It can morph to become a disadvantage. It was arguably only marriage to Annette Bening in 1992 at the age of 54 (she was 33) that saved Warren Beatty from becoming a slightly creepy Hugh Hefneresque cliché. Jack Nicholson, alas, did not escape that fate.

Mr. Clooney, 48, has perfected his style of uncoupling and recoupling.

If Jennifer Aniston has become a poster girl for being unlucky in love, he is a poster boy for how to love, many times, and move on gracefully.

Consider: Sarah Larson, the former cocktail waitress he met in Las Vegas, who was seen to be a serious perma-girlfriend/possible-wife contender after he took her to the Oscars in 2008, has never said a word, let alone a nasty one, about their breakup a few months later.

Does he get his girlfriends to sign a confidentiality agreement at the bedroom door? A better theory: He is such a menschy gentleman that they have nothing nasty to say after they've been dumped.

NB: Women, if treated well and honestly, will accept almost any disappointment.

Charm goes a long way, and Mr. Clooney has it in spades, for everyone it seems, regardless of sex. "There's no great dirt to give," writer/director Jason Reitman said about Mr. Clooney at a TIFF party for Up in the Air, in which "the world's most eligible bachelor" stars. At a certain point in life, it is not a bad thing to just flirt your way through it.

If his previous relationships were difficult, Mr. Clooney eases out of their emotional entanglements, a Houdini of the heart, seemingly baggageless, never displaying bitterness or disappointment.

For the failure of his first marriage, which he entered at 28, he takes all the blame. "She was the girl I chased and was in love with, the girl I always wanted to marry," he told Parade magazine in 2006 about Ms. Balsam. "I had this image of marriage. ... Maybe I wasn't ready to be married. It was my fault all the way down the line."

And when he appears with a new girlfriend on his arm, he lets her have the spotlight. At the Venice premiere of his movie The Men Who Stare at Goats, the biggest debut was of his latest girlfriend, Elisabetta Canalis, the swimsuit model and Italian television host. There he was, proffering her his hand as she stepped from the private boat. He was her gracious presenter. (Listen, no matter how many women came before her, a new girlfriend wants to feel that her lover has been waiting for her all his life.)

Yet he is also a man's man who likes to hang with his buddies, watch sports, go to strip clubs. Which is important. One of the first things a woman wants to know is if a man has guy friends. It suggests generosity and a capacity for emotional intimacy.

Besides, by midlife, you should have a life. Clingy? Forget it. Mr. Clooney clearly doesn't feel compelled to have his new squeeze on his arm at every moment. Don't strive immediately for couple "oneness." It's a turnoff, really. He gives himself and his partner space to do his and her own thing - have "air" in their intimacy as Esther Perel says, author of Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.

And consider, too, his handling of the job of being famous. Many people at midlife have a few accomplishments behind them, which they use as a shingle to hang out there in the jungle. (Introduction agencies for mature singles exist for the very purpose of matching people with those of similar socioeconomic status.) But this George-in-the-jungle is like a prince who dates down, plucking a Cinderella from the masses, especially waitresses, for whom he seems to have a particular attraction, if you count, among others, Ms. Larson and Maria Bertrand, the Montreal server he met while filming Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

And not insignificantly, he has learned how to finely calibrate his masculinity. He is self-aware, once telling People magazine that the way he looks down and then up with his brown eyes is "the Clooney manoeuvre." And he knows how to modulate his default boy-prankster persona. Which, if he didn't, would become tiresome.

When asked at a TIFF event one of those goofy presser questions about when he knew he was famous, his first response (predictably) was a joke. "Well, my parents told me when I was really young," he quipped. But then he offered a more thoughtful response. Remember, boys: Humour is important, but so is a capacity for seriousness.

"Everything is luck, you know," he said. "Everything we do is luck. And the truth of the matter is I ended up on a television show that was averaging 40 million people," he said of ER

His I'm-just-a-regular-guy shtick is a shrewd media stance, of course. But we also want to believe, you see.

Because, last but not least, Mr. Clooney allows us to project onto him - think things about him that may or may not be true, just as I am doing here.

That is how all relationships begin, no?

And, well, it's best to facilitate the fantasy for as long as it lasts.

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