Editor's note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author or co-author of 19 books, the latest of which is "The Normal Bar." She is the love and relationship ambassador for AARP and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. She is a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families, and chairwoman of the advisory board for the Ph.D. program in sexual studies at the California Institute for Integral Research. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) -- He is in that landing pattern that middle-aged heartthrobs finally come to: time for home and family and a woman who is worthy of keeping his love.
The 50-plus Oscar winner, producer and political activist George Clooney is apparently engaged to be married. He's at a particularly pivotal age. Forget about the 50s being the new 40s -- the 50s are really very specific. Even the most youthful people will start thinking about the meaning of life as the years no longer stretch out in a fantasy of infinity. Those years between 50 and 60 do seem to be a particularly poignant age for men, especially the kind of man who has trouble giving up motorcycles.
Sometime in this period, the thrill seekers and lust lovers get their whiff of mortality (perhaps because of their latest motorcycle accident) and they turn to love with a new sense of its gravitas. With a nod to the motivation most of us mortals have, they are ready for an emotional legacy. (Hint: watch for children)
It might irk Clooney to be seen as so predictable. He's a gifted, idiosyncratic, goes-his-own-way, irreverent kind of guy. But he has been practicing for this life transition in full view. In his films, he has played lost middle-aged men, lost in their careers, lost in neglected marriages, lost because of a lack of connection to something important -- "Up in the Air," "The Descendents," "Michael Clayton," among others. Many of these men reshuffle their lives, readjust their principles or at least find some self knowledge they sorely lacked.
If the reports of his engagement are true, this is kind of what Clooney has done, and what a lot of professionally single men ultimately come to do, especially about love. His apparent fiancee, Amal Alamuddin, is an accomplished and wordly lawyer. Clooney's doing that middle-aged love choice. He's picking a woman of substance as well as beauty -- the kind of woman you would want as friend and counselor, the kind of woman who would have the genes to be the mother of your children -- and it's now, because it suddenly dawns on you that you have no time to lose.
In this scenario of the chastened older Lothario, the candidate is young enough to lust after and smart enough for impregnation. It's not that women, especially stars, don't come to the same point as Clooney and end up in the same position. But biology forces them to make the comparable choice at least a decade or so earlier. Unlike a woman his age, Clooney can do the whole settling-down gambit at almost any age. But he probably understood some ages are better for this than others.
I know this isn't very romantic, but the timing is -- whether the 50-something group knows it or not -- guided by the Grim Reaper. If that sounds bad, it's not.
Middle age is an important time for reassessment and course correction. No matter how bright your star, you know that only so much time is left to have a profound relationship and, perhaps, a family. This is the real anchor of middle-aged love: It's time to stop fooling around.