Jack is a 40-something insurance exec. Jack hates his job. And although he would never openly admit it, he loathes his wife of 22 years, Holly. They haven’t had sex more than a few times in the last three years and have been emotionally estranged far longer than that. Jack takes out his mid-life frustrations on his insurance underlings each day. He subjects them to monotonous staff-meetings that drag on forever and expects individual briefings from employees that are mundane to the point of lobotomizing a person. The culture of fear he’s bred in his division grants him the only sense of empowerment he regularly feels anymore.
Jay is the hottest DJ in the city. He’s booked three to four nights a week and has traveled all over the Eastern seaboard doing shows. He’s partied with B-list celebrities and could suffer an aneurysm trying to recall every girl he’s slept with. He loves to surf. He’s always tan and his tattooed biceps practically tear through his tight shirts. Jay isn’t so much confident in the club scene as much as he has an emotional vice-grip on it. He owns it. He traverses Sinful Wednesdays at Hype and Sexy Lyfe Thursdays at Passion with a worldly and super-hip ennui cultivated across thousands of hedonistic nights and hundreds of VIP tables. It’s his playground. Everyone knows him and everyone loves him. Naturally, women flock to him. The shorter the skirts, the quicker.
Marissa is Jay’s girlfriend of one year. She’s arguably one of the hottest club regulars in Jay’s town. She used to model part-time, and still picks up a go-go dancing gig now and again, especially if Jay is spinning. She lavishes Jay with attention and praise and is always the first one on the dance floor and last one off during his sets. She secretly brags to other girls about him and lets him fuck her anywhere and any time he wants… which is often… and usually doesn’t last very long.
Ben is a construction worker. With only a high school education, he makes up for his lack of intelligence with his charming smile and heart of gold. He works summers for a company which builds swimming pools. Women are always attracted to his strong, stoic persona, although he rarely pursues them, they pursue him. He’s had girlfriends, but they come and go as they please, Ben remaining mostly indifferent.
In June, Jack and Holly hire Ben’s crew to construct a swimming pool behind their home. Holly conspicuously comes out on the deck and watches the men work during the day, particularly Ben. She gives the men trite rationalizations for her presence, you know, bland statements that involve phrases like “monitoring your progress” and “keeping an eye on things.” But it doesn’t take Freud to see something simmering beneath the surface. An aura of tension surrounds her. And there’s a faint scent of a caged sexuality crying to be let out, a woman who obviously hasn’t been fucked in years. She sips a drink that looks like lemonade as she watches. By noon her breath smells of vodka and she stumbles.
When Ben fucks Holly, it’s mostly to impress the other men on his construction crew — an act he purposely does about once a summer. It provides enough storytelling and banter among the boys to help get them through the hottest three months of the year. Acceptance from the guys has always been important to Ben, far more important than the haggard house wives he lets seduce him. A week later, Holly concocts an excuse for Ben to come into her bedroom again. But Ben has already lost interest and can’t get it hard. Instead he spends an hour holding Holly and listening to her sob about how she doesn’t love her husband anymore. He reassures her and counsels her the best he can, which is not very well. When he returns to the crew, he still tells them that he fucked her. They laugh and joke and smile. Ben smiles too. But he smiles only because they smile.
Marissa has a day job as Jack’s secretary. She isn’t very good at her job and Jack is uninhibited when he chastises her on her basic bureaucratic failures. Although she only admits it to herself late at night when Jay’s out playing a gig, she sometimes wishes he would yell at her more and with more force. She fantasizes about Jack getting so mad at her one day that he bends her over her desk and spanks her for fucking up the TPS reports. Sometimes she wants to purposely mess up the TPS reports so that Jack will yell at her more, maybe even call her into his office to do it alone. There’s something in his angry authority that turns her on. When she keeps notes of his meetings, she savors the way he talks down to the other men in the room — grown men, with degrees and houses and BMW’s. Though he’s old and has a gut and is balding, there’s a fire inside him that she’s seen in few men in her life. Months later she will find an excuse to stay late on a Thursday and Jack will fuck her on his desk. It will be the most exciting moment Jack will have had in the last 10 years. Then on the way home, he’ll cry.
Jay will never find out about Marissa fucking her boss. But if he ever found it, it would in a way relieve him. He’s been talking to his high school sweetheart, Jane, every afternoon on the phone for months now. He feels guilty about it viz. Marissa. He misses Jane and thinks about her constantly. Always has. He tells her this. But Jane’s married to Steve now… a US marine fighting in Iraq. Steve is deeply religious and saved his virginity until he married Jane. Jay tries to convince Jane to see him again, but she refuses. She’s religious as well and would never betray Steve’s trust in her, especially while he’s in Iraq. And even though she misses Jay a little bit, she really only savors his daily phone calls for the attention and affection she’s been missing since Steve’s been away. Later, after Steve returns home from duty, Jane will stop picking up Jay’s phone calls.
Question: Out of the four men described above, which one is the most Alpha? Are none of them Alpha? All of them?
This is not a simple question to answer… I would argue that the intertwined lives above are realistic portrayals of men and women in our society. Strong men and women, and also weak men and women… people that some would point to and call successful, if they didn’t know the secrets each harbored.
I want to talk about reality today… not the idealism or avatar that most of us conjure up in dating advice: you know, the steroidal sunglasses-clad broski, with brass balls and ice cold blood, macking on chicks left and right, because he simply DGAF (Doesn’t Give A Fuck). Forget that guy a minute, and let’s focus on realism. Which of the men above is most Alpha to you? None of them? All of them?
You could argue it’s Jack for banging his super hot secretary. But Jack is miserable, is chained to an unhappy marriage with a wife he hates and who is cheating on him as well. He’s a miserable man whose only thrill in life is inspiring fear throughout his tiny insurance fiefdom.
You could argue it’s Jay, the player, the bad ass DJ. He’s got the party lifestyle and the super hot girlfriend. But his girlfriend is cheating on him, chasing a “fire” that he doesn’t have anymore, probably because it’s still with the high school sweetheart he can’t stop calling. His unrequited love has affected most of his adult life, and his only real inspiration for the dozens of women he slept with was to seek reprieve from the quiet torture of what he’s afraid he’ll never get back.
You could argue it’s Ben. He’s a stud. Girls pick him up, and he still doesn’t give a shit. He bangs disgruntled housewives for laughs and his co-workers revere him as a hero for it. But he seems more interested in the guys’ approval than any particular woman’s. He’s fixated on positive male attention. He may even be gay and not know it.
Or is it Steve? He’s loved one woman his entire life, and he has her 100% love and dedication, despite the fact that Jane is pursued by a former lover who is extremely attractive in his own right.
So I ask again, who is the Alpha Male out of the men above? There’s a strong argument for all of them and none of them. Which, to be honest, is how real life usually pans out.
In the last year, I estimate that at least half of my major disagreements and arguments with men on the subject of attractiveness — on this site, on forums, in person — have been incited by what I see as the blind worship of the The Alpha Male ideal. Over the course of this (extra long) article, I aim to accomplish three points: 1) explain what the term Alpha Male actually means and how it became horribly misappropriated and butchered by the Pick Up Artist (PUA) community and men’s dating advice (MDA) niche at large; 2) analyze the current PUA/MDA interpretations of The Alpha Male and show that they’re not only inaccurate, but actually counter-productive for men in the long-run; and finally 3) offer an alternative theory on Alphaness that avoids the disadvantageous generalizing, stereotyping, alienating (and all sorts of other disgusting -ings) traits of The Alpha Male’s emotional baggage. Hopefully you won’t fall asleep on your keyboard or drool on yourself between now and then.
Now, I realize the concept of Being Alpha is not only intellectually celebrated by just about every guy who’s improved with women in PUA/MDA, but most of said guys also have deep personal and emotional attachments to Alphaness and its effect on their own lives. I expect their reaction to be vitriolic. As a result, I will be more thorough and conscientious in this article than most. My goal is that those who begin this article as multi-year Alpha Male devotees will come out the other end converted. It won’t be easy. But hear me out…
The Definition of ‘Alpha’
The term “Alpha Male,” as it pertains to human socio-sexual dynamics, originates in anthropology/primatology, primarily in gorillas, but to a lesser extent in other apes such as bonobos and chimpanzees. The (much-simplified) idea is thus: there exists a semi-formal male hierarchy within primate cultures based on strength/fitness/power. The strongest/fittest/most-powerful is the “Alpha” and then you have second-place, third-place and so on. The lower apes on the hierarchy are “Betas.” The hierarchy functions rather simply: whoever you’re above on the hierarchy, you can tell them what to do, what to eat and what to fuck. Whoever is above you on the hierarchy tells you what to do, what to eat and who to fuck. The Alpha tells everyone what to do, what to eat and who to fuck. The lowest Beta tells no one.
The way this plays out sexually is that the Alpha literally has almost all of the sex and the lower Beta apes have none. If a Beta tries to step out of place and fuck/eat/do something he’s not allowed to, the penalty is often death.
The utilities and parallels to human sexuality on a macro-level are obvious and not entirely useful, but regardless PUA/MDA theory quickly picked up on them. The focal point was the idea that the more dominant/powerful/strong you are as a man, the higher on the male hierarchy you’ll place yourself, the more female sexual options you’ll procure, the easier life becomes. Exact definitions of what constitutes Alphaness and Betaness were ignored in favor of a broad/vague prescription of the typical “be confident; take charge; don’t let anyone fuck with you, bro” tripe that usually passes for advice on forums. The Alpha Male theory ended up just being a yet-another remix of the classic Be Confident Bro theory, except now with some sort of connection to evolutionary biology.
You may disagree with me, but I challenge you to define what “Being Alpha” really means within the PUA/MDA framework. From what I can tell, it amounts to some vague combination of being confident + assert yourself over others + lead and make decisions + social proof + a splash of testosterone for good measure. Implied somewhere in there is communicating effectively and being persuasive (after all, if you’re leading and no one follows, that’s not very Alpha). But as you can see, there are no definitive Alpha traits one can point to. It’s a nebulous concept. Kind of a one-size-fits-all prescription for any guy anywhere who is being a pussy, bitching out and/or not acting too manly at the moment.
As a result, Alphaness was one of those things that was always better understood in PUA/MDA parlance when demonstrated or shown by example, rather than explained or analyzed. Just so we’re clear, here are some classic PUA/MDA examples of Being Alpha: convincing a bouncer to let you into the club for free by sheer tenacity and charm; approaching a girl who is with a guy and intimidating/ignoring the guy until he leaves you alone with her; asserting yourself into an alien social setting and successfully taking advantage of free beverages/munchies/sexual-opportunities/couches-to-sleep-on as a result; finagling your way into getting girls/guys who don’t even know you to do favors for you and/or give you things for free; excessive high-fiving; and wearing sunglasses in a dark room and hence implying you DGAF (Don’t Give A Fuck) as girls wet their panties; I could go on, but you get the idea.
Now, understanding that most guys involved in the whole PUA/MDA shebang come from backgrounds of passivity, emasculation, ridicule, and limitless potato chips/computer games, we may be able to sympathize… a little. For these neophytes, the above activities give a helluva adrenaline/testosterone/endorphin cocktail when accomplished. Conning your way into a club for free, inching your way into a VIP table owned by someone you don’t know, stealing their drinks, then intimidating some poor girl’s boyfriend into letting you talk to her all night all can be labeled as “Life Changing” for a guy who just spent the last eight years in Mom’s basement. When the neophyte’s previous lifetime achievement involved a Lvl. 50 Warlock on the Aestimus Craekus server, doing the actions described above can make him truly feel like a man for the first time.
Unfortunately, it also makes him an Overcompensating Dick.
But being an Overcompensating Dick aside, all-in-all the neophyte’s newfound Alphaness is a beneficial transformation. It’s an important process for one to go through: from being the stepped-on to being the stepper, from being the push-over to being the pusher, from being the intimidated to the intimidator. I get that. I was there too. As a man who spent the first 22 years of his life rolling over for others to walk over him, it was nice to know I could piss people off and the world would go on. The neophyte, for the first time in his life, is expressing his masculinity, and releasing years or decades worth angst from being sidelined and inconsequential.
But what typically happens next is the neophyte’s new-found success from Being Alpha begins to cement the Alpha worldview into his mind as what defines success and failure. It makes sense, after a lifetime of being Beta and failing repeatedly, it wasn’t until he became Alpha that he ever experienced success. Therefore, the idea that Being Alpha = Success seems wholly logical. A devotee is born.
The neophyte concludes that all male behavior can be divided into two camps: Alpha and Beta. Alpha behavior gets you laid, gets you power, wins over loyalty and camaraderie. It makes you loved and feared. It attracts those around you. And it gets you what you desire. Beta behavior, on the other hand, repels people. It is weakness personified. It’s any behavior that subverts your own will to the will of others, especially women. It may make you many friends, but only friends who use you and take advantage of you. If you’re nodding your head while reading this paragraph: good, keep reading.
The Alpha worldview also dictates that women’s behavior is determined by the Alphas and Betas around them. Women will become attracted to Alphas, sometimes even against their will or better judgment. Women will walk over Betas and use them for attention, money or just an ego boost. If a woman is dating a Beta, she will cheat on him with an Alpha. Women end up settling for Betas because true Alphas never settle down, they just keep fucking more girls. She’ll settle down with her Beta provider until some strapping young Alpha comes strolling by, who she’ll then uncontrollably bang, and if she gets caught she’ll divorce the Beta and take all of his money with her. Or something. And of course, the “higher value” (translation: better-looking) the girl, the more likely this is all to take place. Only fatties actually enjoy Betas.
Admittedly, this worldview serves the neophyte well in the beginning. For many guys who have been pussy-whipped and pathetic, socially anxious and neurotic their whole lives, it’s exactly what they need to hear to get the ball rolling. It helps them own their masculinity, to assert themselves and stand up for themselves, to draw strong boundaries in their relationships and demand what they want for once. And it works. This is why Alpha Male theory has been handed down from man to man in the PUA/MDA scene for almost a decade. It’s why it’s revered — an integral part of the very fiber of current men’s dating advice.
The problem is that Alpha Male theory, while beneficial in the short-run in helping guys take action, does not reflect actual reality. It’s a means to an end. But once that end is met, once the neophyte gains that confidence and self-assurance and asserts himself, the Alpha Male ideal is not only inaccurate but can become harmful.
When Good Ideas Go Bad
The first problem with the Alpha worldview is that it creates a binary proposition; all men and behavior can be viewed in black-and-white terms. If the opening story showed you anything, hopefully it showed you that most male behavior CANNOT be analyzed in a simple “He’s Alpha” or “He’s Beta” behavior. Human behavior and motivations are more complex than that. Our intentions are inextricably linked to our emotions, some of which are totally irrational or even self-destructive. Unlike Gorillas and Hippos and Baboons, we’re really complicated creatures. Our hierarchy is not in plain view, and is often not there at all. For instance, is cheating on the mother of your children with your super hot secretary Being Alpha? Is sleeping with 100 hot girls because you’re still not over your ex Being Alpha? Is barging into some guy’s birthday party and stealing his booze Being Alpha?
No, it’s being an Overcompensating Dick.
Everything described above requires confidence, power, persuasiveness, and all of the things mentioned previously. But they’re all actions borne out of deep insecurities, moral faults and anxieties. Our society is more complicated than a Gorilla’s. We have things called trust, empathy, fairness, ethics, emotional attachment, sacrifice and love. Pure sexual gratification is only a small piece of our biological pie.
As a general guideline, it’s useful to be able to point at a guy who’s being a pussy and not standing up for himself and call him Beta. But beyond that, the dichotomy breaks down. And it breaks down horribly.
The Alpha/Beta worldview leads to misogynistic thinking as well, since female behavior is interpreted not through their own thoughts and feelings, but through their reactions to the Alphas/Betas around them. The idea is that women are indelibly attracted and drawn to Alpha’s and repelled by Beta’s, regardless of circumstance, situation, personality, conscience, morals, or preferences. This is simply not true at all.
Just as a man can Be Alpha at his insurance job and be a total Beta socially, a woman may value men with professional Alpha traits more than social Alpha traits. Some women want an intellectual giant but a physical teddy bear. Others have unique psychological profiles that may attract them specifically to musicians with long hair and wrist tattoos, or to guys in skinny jeans and horn-rimmed glasses, or transsexuals pre-hormone treatment, or to 50-year-old men who resemble their father who died in a car accident.
Emotionally speaking, women may be the most complicated creatures on the entire planet. To claim their motivations exist solely to chase some ephemeral notion of The Alpha sells them (and us) way short. It leads to a dark and narrow and lonely purview of human sexuality. It’s a sad place to be.
If you don’t believe me, scientific research has shown that women’s attraction to men with high testosterone (the ultimate indicator of Alphaness) not only changes with age, locations, and situation, but it even changes within their menstruation cycle. If science has shown us one thing, it’s that the desires and attractions of women are, believe it or not, even more complicated than we originally thought.
But the Alpha worldview pigeonholes women into two simple, robotic drives: pursue the Alpha, use the Beta. This is fantasy. A role that’s purely an extension of the guy’s Alpha/Beta fixation in himself, a broken record playing inside his own mind. And not to mention it gives women little to no credit to both their nuanced preferences, as well as their ability to act on their own free will. When I see a man judging female behavior in these terms, my first reaction is always to think: this guy has spent way too much time chasing the wrong kinds of women.
And finally, perceiving the world in these terms sabotages real relationships and strong emotional connections. If the definition of Being Alpha is somewhere in the vicinity of holding your personal drives above others, and the definition of an emotional connection with a woman is to empathize with her and literally see and feel the world through her eyes, then we have a major conflict of interest. The two are mutually exclusive. Genuine emotional connection, by definition, requires one to experience and relate to the drives, motivations and will of a woman. This is simply impossible if you’re enmeshed in a self-serving and social-bulldozing mindset.
And once you begin to date a girl you really like, other issues begin to crop up: i.e., commitment, sacrifice, compromise, boundaries, etc. These are anathema to the classic PUA/MDA dogma of Alphaness. And if you hold onto it, you’re going to get hurt and screwed again… and it’s not going to be her fault this time either.
Here’s what I think is the crux of the entire Be Alpha movement without blanketing our worldview with black-and-white perspectives: establishing and asserting our individual boundaries.
When the neophyte is experiencing his first Alpha awakenings, it’s not that he’s getting free drinks that is making him successful, and it’s not that he’s able to intimidate another guy away from talking to a girl. It’s not even that he’s acting confidently. For the first time in his life, he’s establishing boundaries around who he is and what he wants, and he asserts control within those boundaries. That’s all. Everything else was just a mirage to get him to work up the nerve to take action.
A new-definition Alpha Male has complete control over his boundaries, so if he CHOOSES to act selflessly, to act compassionately, to sacrifice himself, or even to take a backseat and let others shine, he can. That’s the mark of the True Alpha Male, the man who has utter control over his boundaries and how he enmeshes himself into any social situation. He feels no NEED to overcompensate or to dominate or to intimidate, although he CAN if he wishes. He feels no NEED to sacrifice or lay down for anyone, but if the appropriate situation arises, he can do that if he wishes as well.
And most of all, he recognizes that women are unique and their desires and needs are complex, shifting and changing with the place, time and the even moons. He recognizes that not every woman will always be attracted to who he is or how he represents himself…
…and that’s fine.
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