alpha male

Bear wanted to know if I thought he was alpha enough.

The thing is, women don’t like beta guys. Women want a man who’s an alpha.

I’ve been running into these words a lot. They are used to describe men in articles, in research papers, casually, in conversation.

“He’s totally beta, y’know? He has, like, no self-confidence.”


There’s all that Pick Up Artist stuff out there, floating around on the internet, being inhaled by guys who already suspect they don’t fall into the sexy category. I read a little of it, once, when someone mentioned negging to me. Negging, for the uninitiated, is when a guy gently lowers a woman’s self-esteem through expertly subtle jibes. And then she sleeps with him because her self-esteem is lowered. “I love tall women. Nice heels…What are they, five inches?” GET IT? HE’S SAYING SHE’S NOT ACTUALLY TALL. (Clearly, I’m no Pick Up Artist– the ladies already love me).

Most of the literature I ran into during my brief foray into the world of the PUA focused on acquiring the highest number. The near-mythical perfect 10 was, obviously, the ultimate goal (they’re out there, gentlemen! And if you sign up for a PUA boot camp TODAY, you too can have a chance to sleep with one of them!  Maybe more than one! Just imagine!). In the world of the PUA, it seems like women always  have numbers instead of names, and I left infuriated, quickly retreating back to the safe space of Jezebel to recoup and be comforted.

But sometimes I start to see the PUA everywhere. Or at least trailing bits of his worldview. An article in NY Mag about “alpha” women who marry “beta” men is a profile of several Manhattan couples with a hopeful, increasingly common dynamic– the women earn a lot more than the men. How does it work out? Very badly. The reporter doesn’t seem to spend much time talking with the husbands, but he learns from the wives that they don’t have very much respect left for their partners. They think of their partners as children, because they are providing for them, the way one provides for a child, and their husbands are lazy and unambitious and aren’t even attempting to make money. Or they are attempting, but it’s kinda pathetic (the article’s tone, not mine). It’s a mess. One of the only couples in the article that appears to be OK– Barbara Corcoran and Bill Higgins– has survived only because Bill, in Barbara’s words “… forces me to be a partner rather than the boss. It’s what keeps our marriage healthy. He won’t give me an inch of satisfaction. He won’t acknowledge my superiority.” Bill, in other words, is an alpha. Phew.

So occasionally alpha women (defined here mostly by their ability to make a lot of money) marry beta men (defined here mostly by the fact that they don’t), and it’s generally bad. Because it upsets the natural order and stuff. Unless the guy is a badass who won’t give you an inch of satisfaction.

It also turns out that women don’t like men who smile. OKCupid found that guys who look away from the camera and don’t smile got more responses from women than happy looking dudes. Another, more official study that Bear was talking about last night showed that women prefer guys who look “proud” to guys who look “happy.” Smiling is beta. Being stern and mysterious is alpha.

Alpha is an attitude, it’s explained to me by a guy friend I decided to get some answers from. It’s not really about making money or being talented or anything. It’s about really believing in yourself, all the time. It’s about not caring what anyone thinks. Chicks can sense that. It’s about not getting dependent on a girl. You have to show you don’t really need her. Then she wants you more. You can’t get mushy. You can’t, even for a second, let yourself look desperate.

“What about being vulnerable? You know, like falling in love?”

“Nah. I mean, I guess you can fall in love, like if you need to get married or whatever eventually. But don’t let her see you cry. Like, ever.”

Hmm…I’m confused.

In the world of alpha and beta males it seems like every guy at least has a chance. Hipster dudes can be alpha, guys with bad teeth can be alpha, really heavy guys and old guys and extremely young guys can be alpha– with the right attitude. But women have very few options. We are either hot or we’re not. And if we want an alpha, which supposedly we all do, we’d damn well better be hot. If we want a beta, I guess we can have a high powered job, but we shouldn’t expect to be happy. Actually, I’m not sure where the happiness is in any of this. Because either you’re with a man who comes off as a jerk all the time, or you’re with a guy who has no self-respect and sits on the couch picking his nose all day.

Is it more complicated than that? Probably. There are a lot of theories and a lot of PUA related sites and a lot of scientific research and a lot of guesses about what exactly it means to be alpha or beta and what exactly women like or dislike about these modes of being.

But I am so, so tired of people trying to figure out what women want, while women remain a blank canvas—  or a two dimensional portrait in a sexy little dress.

And I’m also pretty sure I have never wanted an alpha male, for the record. I like guys who smile. I like guys who are happy, not edgy. I like gentle guys who feel things and show their feelings. It was Bear’s sweet bashfulness that attracted me. I like being married to a man who cares a lot about me, all the time. A man who is dependent on me, obviously respects me, and wants my good opinion. I am also in favor of his broad shoulders, fantastically logical mind, ceaseless work ethic, and ambition. But that doesn’t mean I want him to be an alpha– it means I want him to be a whole person.

“Do you think I’m hot enough?” I asked Bear back. “Am I a perfect ten? Because that’s what you’re supposed to want. That’s the only thing you’re supposed to care about.”

He was caught off-guard.

“How about neither of us fits the rules of that game,” I said. “How about I’m not a perfect ten and you’re not an alpha male and we’re both just people, who love each other.”

He smiled. “That sounds good. But you’re a perfect ten.”

“Uh huh.”

“You’re my perfect ten.”

“OK, fine!”

“You don’t think you’ll lose respect for me, for being too nice?”

(What a thought! Oh my god, internet! Stop it already! You’re messing with my husband’s head!)

“I promise I won’t.”

That promise is totally going to be kept.

*  *  *

Thoughts on alpha/beta guys? Do you think of guys that way? Are you, in fact, more attracted to guys who fit the alpha profile?

Unroast: Today I love the colors of my skin.

P.S. I’m starting yoga today! Wish me luck!



Kate on December 14th 2011 in relationships

35 Responses to “alpha male”

  1. Aurora responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 10:41 am #

    I can’t stand the whole “alpha vs beta males” concept. Every single guy I’ve ever dated has been a “typical beta male” type. As an alpha female, I love this arrangement. It basically means that the guy is laid back, and we don’t fuss, and we get along because he’s nice and wonderful to me and he also is okay with whatever decisions get made — he’s not picky and obnoxious. He’s also not a total jerk, like the typical alpha male is supposed to be.

    I’m not sure how people put up with alpha males. I want my guys to smile, laugh, cry, talk about silly emotional things, hold my hand, not be afraid to say he’s wrong — all the mushy little things that make a person real and open.

    “The Game” is really just that — a game that guys play to feel badass. I get the feeling that these are the guys that *pick up* chicks, not that *marry* chicks.

  2. Christina McPants responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Yoga’s awesome. You’ll love it.

  3. Melanie responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I am an extreme alpha female. I make decent money, own my own home, and have a really strong personality. My boyfriend makes far less than me, and is just a genuine and nice human being. He also doesn’t let me walk all over him. When I get too big for my britches he just kindly says, “Babe, you’re being ridiculous.” Then we both laugh and move on. At age 37 I am finally in a healthy relationship. It’s very new and I’m really happy about it. I wish everyone would just get over the game and realize all you need is someone who loves you exactly for who you are, and makes you laugh. There is no such thing as, “I would love him/her if….” So many people make the mistake of dating someone they would like if they just changed this, this, and that. To me, that’s a bad idea. Date someone whose imperfections you can deal with, and love them for who they are. It is actually as simple as it sounds.

  4. Rachel responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Funny; I was just thinking this morning that the boy I just started dating is way cuter in person than in his OKc profile pictures, because he’s a really smiley guy but wasn’t smiling in any of this pictures. I wondered why he did that; he must have read that OKcupid study!

    Clearly, I go for the ‘beta’ guys, whatever the hell that even means.

  5. Leah responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 11:21 am #

    My husband’s a beta and we have been working really well for almost 9 years. I make more money, which occasionally begs the question: if I’m the “breadwinner,” does that mean I’m taking up the role traditionally reserved for the male? Do I get out of housework for this? Who’s supposed to raise the kids? You just have to re-establish ground rules for what works for you, not men and women as stereotypes.

  6. Hannah responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    The whole alpha-beta thing drives me crazy, as does negging. If you need to lower my self confidence for me to sleep with you, something is wrong. Also, if a man starts to insult me, I’m not sleeping with him.

    I don’t know how I’d classify any of the men I’ve dated. I guess as human beings, who were confident most of the time but not all of the time, and who were funny and sweet and mostly just people can’t be categorized as either/or things. Just like how I am more than a number of hotness, men are more than a stupid one dimensional description.

  7. Joanne responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    I like men who are confident, independent, ambitious, and intelligent. Is that alpha? But I also like men who look for the same thing in women, rather than looking for a piece of arm candy or someone to “take care of.” And I like warm, affectionate men who say sweet things.

    As for PUA and alpha males, I’ve dated men who have admitted to “toying around” with PUA, and seeing as I’m nowhere near a 10, I could sense, through several things they said to me, that they were looking to “upgrade.” It hurts, and I’ve avoided dating for that reason. But I’ve also noticed that the ones who admitted to reading pua stuff are terribly insecure and still have vendettas against girls they knew in high school in college (despite being in late 20s-30s). So that says something.

  8. katilda responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    very interesting indeed….do you think it works the other way w/ the “make them want it” thing? i’ve been thinking about that lately…about how if you give someone everything they’d get as your boyfriend (time, affection, attention, etc) then why would they bother dating you? i heard it worded “if you give someone all the free milk they want, why would they buy the cow?” i’m still weirded out by comparing “free milk” to dating in any way, but the concept seems to make sense. i blogged about another interesting theory today that i heard of (the ladder theory) — i’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it!

  9. Raven responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Like the views of how women should behave, look, and dress, media sources provide a superficial view of men, as well, even when catering to them. When I use the term alpha, it has a lot more to do with my relationship with my cats in the house than my partners. Just as you do, I prefer my men (and women) to be whole people with their own drives, ideas, passions, and voices. I like it when men I love smile, especially when I am the one to inspire it, but also because I genuinely get pleasure from my partners being happy.

    For those who believe that earning and possessing money is the height of achievement, I suppose having a man who embodies the Donald Drapers of the world is an ideal. It works so well with the ideal of women being less-than, inferior, and it helps when they make just a little less money than the men they’re dating or to whom they’re married.

    As you’ve already stated, it’s a game. A game, in large part, created by a media machine wanting to make people scramble to be better capitalists and consumers. The ideals they’ve created simply don’t exist in the real world, because behind the exteriors of these alpha males and two-dimensional 6′ tall women, they’re real people, with vulnerabilities, insecurities, histories, thoughts, and feelings that don’t conform to the cookie cutter molds they are meant to embody.

    Don’t play the game; even better, ignore it as much as you are able, and life will provide you with far less self-doubt than it does now. As Bear said, you’re HIS perfect 10. That’s what matters. The person you love and want to be with most, loves you and wants to be with you most. Not everyone has that, and not everyone appreciates it when they do find it.

    Cherish each other, and ignore popular magazines (both on and offline) that tell you you’re somehow wrong.

    And they are wrong, not every straight or bi woman wants an alpha male. Just look at places like, and you’ll see a host of submissive (i.e. “beta” or even “omega”) men who are loved and cherished by dominant men and women. Not only that, their submissiveness isn’t all that they are, and their partners *respect* them for being who they are. Crazy, no?

  10. Caitlin responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Funny, but I’ll check out the alphas, but will always, always come home with a beta. And by that, I mean someone who is not emotionally distant, someone whose eyes melt when he sees me, someone who can act like a kid sometimes. So in my mind, “betas” are where it’s at, because they’re not self-obsessed. Then again, I’m a bit of an alpha, nowhere near a 10, and less attached to anniversaries and the like than J. So what do I know? Everyone’s wants are different – if you’re naturally an alpha, there’s probably someone out there who wants you. Same goes for the betas, gammas, whatevers of the world.

  11. Elena responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Hi there!

    Well, I couldn’t help but smile, even laugh, while I read your post today. It is true that guys come up with such insecurities, which I find funny sometimes and enlightening – it’s not only us who wish to meet some kind of standard! My boyfriend has had such thoughts too! My only fear was that he would try to turn into that kind of guy (precisely the one I don’t like and the reason why I chose him, a kind, smily and sensible guy).

    If you want to learn more about masculinities I can recommend the books by Rachel Aslop, although Men’s Studies is not really something that convinces me at all.

    On the other hand, I have been a silent reader of your blog for some time now, but I’ve always wanted to suggest (and I hope I’m not poking my nose where I shouldn’t) that you read, if you have time and are at all interested, Susie Orbach’s Bodies. I just read it last week and it shed some light over the issue of our concern for our bodies, although I thought some other ideas in it were just too essentialising…

    Well, anyways, nice to share thoughts for the first time and glad to read you again!

  12. Carol Hess responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    I think all this alpha/beta/negging and whatever other PUA word is out there goes away when people grow up. And by people, I mean both men and women. Forget the silly labels that are always trying to objectify and simplify complex human beings and our complex human interactions.

    Find the guy you love for who he is and who loves you for who you are. Let go of changing him/her. Keep the lines of communication open. And ignore all the pop psych crap that is — well — crap.

    That’s my advice. Of course I’m single and partnerless at the moment so what the heck do I know? ;)

  13. Emmie responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    I love your blog, I’ve been reading for months now and I always get happy when I see a new post. What you have to say is so personal and yet so relevant even to me, a mother of two teens in my late 30s who stays at home. I think so many things about the human experience transcend those kinds of differences. now to the point of the comment…

    My boyfriend is an alpha if you are just defining it as a guy who makes a fair bit of money. He is also a natural leader, sweet, sensitive, smart, funny, likes to laugh, considerate, cuddly, and a good listener. He loves me lots and has no problem showing it. I personally think those are true alpha qualities.

  14. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    i know i need a man whose dick is bigger than mine (figuratively speaking)…meaning he’s man enough to know how to make me feel like THE woman, which means i can be my best at being THE woman who makes him feel like a man (in other words, if doesn’t know how to treat me like the Queen in his life, then he’ll never get to be King of the Hill)…i think about those roles all the time, and it’s hard to find the right fit…and magazine articles on the subject are totally annoying.

  15. Kate responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    I don’t really believe in that idea—I think if people care about each other than they’re not measuring what the other person’s “giving away.” In fact, it shouldn’t feel like giving anything away, it should just feel good and fulfilling and participatory. If a guy doesn’t want to be your boyfriend and you want him to, it might be time to find a different guy. If he does want to be serious about you, he shouldn’t play games and try to “get” things for you without fully committing.

    I’m sort of simple about it, I guess.

  16. Kate responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    I like that you define being loving as an alpha quality. I think if I was going to get technical and break down the terms “alpha” and “beta” and try to imagine what I considered “true” alpha, according to my own thoughts on what constitutes being a successful guy– I’d also say being able to express affection and love were critical. Because that takes self-confidence. And I think the idea of alpha has a lot to do with self-confidence, it’s just that the concept gets mixed up when people confuse cockiness or aggression with good self-esteem.

  17. Kate responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    Thanks for commenting!!
    Orbach’s “Bodies” sounds familiar…Maybe I’ve read an excerpt? I minored in gender studies, and was actually really interested in masculinity, specifically. Why did that sound so pretentious? Sigh. Are you studying gender?

  18. Kate responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    I love that you use the term to refer to your relationship with your cats! I need to be a LOT more alpha with my cat. She has no respect for me whatsoever– and her understanding of respect is a lot more basic and simple than mine :-)

  19. Kate responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    I agree. There is someone for everyone. I think that people spend too much time worrying that no one will like them for who they are, and I hate dating/relationship advice that urges people to act in ways that aren’t natural for them.

    Also, interesting how clear cut this is for you. You seem comfortable with the terms and certain about what you need. You should be in one of the studies!

  20. Elena responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Hi Kate!

    Yes, I did an MA in gender studies, and I’m writing my PhD in Caribbean lit., urban studies and gender right now (gosh, that DID sound pretentious…).

    Men’s studies are quite interesting if you want to take a look, and actually Alsop’s insights are quite critical, but as she herself puts it, I think you’ll find that men, when talking about themselves, tend to forget about women completely and fall into reifying gender dichotomies…

    I must say it is a pleasure to read your texts and the ideas exposed in them. I always wondered you should’ve done some gender studies or at least be quite interested in them. You don’t see this kind of questioning of gender norms and stereotypes in most of the people : )


  21. Bethany responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    No alpha men for me. Though I wouldn’t say I go for a simpering beta either. Confidence doesn’t have to mean being an unhappy jerk. Leadership qualities don’t have to mean looking down on everyone else. I want a confident, happy, able, relational man who doesn’t fit the stereotypes at all.

  22. Susanna responded on 14 Dec 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I’m not sure whether this will interest you at all, but did you know that the idea of an alpha male existing at all in wolf culture (where the term was originated) is actually a completely artificial construct?
    I forget where I read it – I’ve been reading a lot lately about human nature – I think it may have been in the fabulous and potentially life-changing book ‘Sex at Dawn’ or possibly in an animal behaviour book I also read not that long ago.
    Anyway.. the study from which we get the idea that wolves organize themselves by Alpha, Beta etc was based entirely on looking at a non-natural pack of wolves – wolves who were captive and had no choice about who they were living with (when the pack was formed). It turns out that wolves in the wild behave completely differently – they don’t dominate each other the way they did in the pack that was first studied if they’re not forced together – they organize themselves more like a family and are far more cooperative and less competitive for food and sex than that captive pack.
    I’m not sure how this correlates to this discussion, since obviously the idea of the alpha male is firmly embedded in our consciousness now – and is clearly attractive to a lot of people.. except that I don’t think it’s nearly as natural as we think it is. Perhaps that’s why plenty of women actually find so-called Beta males attractive.
    And that’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot of late – how much of how we behave – especially around dating and sex – is natural and how much is a construct of an outdated and artificial idea.
    Oh, and thank you for the blog, Kate – I really enjoy reading your thoughts
    (Susanna, in Portland, OR – originally from England)

  23. P Flooers responded on 15 Dec 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Me and my husband discussing my old dear friend Wes, whom my husband has never met:

    Me: I hope you get to meet Wes someday. You would like him. He’s into humor. He’s like you. He’s very manly without being into being macho. What’s the word for that? Is there a guy word for that?

    Joe: Awesome?

    Me: Yes! He’s like you. He’s awesome!

  24. shana responded on 15 Dec 2011 at 9:05 am #

    enjoy yoga!! it’s awesome :)

  25. tirzahrene responded on 15 Dec 2011 at 10:07 am #

    Yay yoga!

    The stuff you’re describing as “alpha” is what I think of as “macho” and I cannot make a bored enough face to show how uninterested I am in machismo. It’s a turnoff. I’m into integrity and authenticity and owning your shit and being a Good Person(tm). As far as whether you’re a leader or a follower or you beat your own drum or you can’t keep time, I really don’t care.

    As far as “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free,” this one makes me sad. Why be in a relationship where the other person is just going to take advantage of you and not want to give to you just like you give to them? Somebody who will use you for free milk will use you if you’re their cow. Also, WHO COMPARES WOMEN TO COWS?! We are individual people in our own relationships, not animals that people get to buy and sell and maybe eat or milk or put out to pasture. Maybe that’s the key, is to have a partner who knows you’re NOT a cow and isn’t about to treat you like one.

  26. Gia responded on 15 Dec 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I think the disconnect is the terminology. Alpha and Beta are DEFINITELY personality types. I’ve been married to both! My ex-Beta was a good guy, sweet, worked hard at his job, was always happy to smile. He was also the type to be taken advantage of and had no DRIVE! Not for himself, his job or bettering his situation.

    My Alpha husband; he’s not the goofy laughing type, he has a tendency to come off as a jerk, sometimes he is, most times though he means well and it’s just how he comes off. He’s super motivated to provide, not just to make ends meet, but to give his kids everything he can that we didn’t have and make the best choices for our family and our future as a whole.

    Alphas and Betas can have varying types of quirks and qualities, but it’s the overall drive in life that defines which side of that line they walk.

    ” Somebody who will use you for free milk will use you if you’re their cow.” … now, that? That, is a douche – alpha, beta or otherwise. That is a child, and certainly not to be confused as an alpha :)

  27. Kate responded on 15 Dec 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    I’m still confused, honestly. Because there are definitely people who are subtle blends of a lot of these characteristics– including Bear. Maybe some people fall more obviously on one side or the other, but I can’t help but think that we haven’t clearly defined either beta or alpha. Or at least that there are a lot of varying definitions.

  28. Gia responded on 15 Dec 2011 at 12:23 pm #


    We all walk lines, and some people are lucky enough to be in the middle and be the best of both worlds. The relationships from it are defined as how those two people work with their personalities.

    I just wanted to clarify that the “shmooze ‘em and lose ‘em” attitude doesn’t define either of those.

  29. JJgal responded on 16 Dec 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Carol Hess: Perfectly said until you got to the part about being single so what the heck do you know… you know plenty, dear!

  30. Kate responded on 16 Dec 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Thanks for saying that. I agree! I don’t think someone needs to be in a situation to comment intelligently on it.

  31. Sammy Tucker responded on 20 Dec 2011 at 3:58 pm #

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    14 Tips On Being An Alpha Male

    Sammy Tucker

  32. Eat the Damn Cake » marrying down responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    [...] has them or not) don’t come even close to telling the whole story about any couple. And I don’t think anyone really fits a stereotype.  Instead, I think people want different things, and there’s plenty of awe to go around. I [...]

  33. gamerbill responded on 27 Mar 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    I like the idea of control, but I like being vulnerable also. I don’t want a power trip, but women who take the reigns is also cool with me. Maybe S/M is my thing.

  34. Lilly responded on 19 May 2013 at 8:12 am #

    I acted like a “beta” woman in order to attract an alpha male, because I know that these are the things that alpha men search for. So, you could imagine the shock of their lives when my true alpha colors emerged one year or so into the relationship, in such a slow and pscyhcological manner that they didn’t know what hit them until it was too late! i had taken control over their lives, and had the upper hand. Knowledge of their weaknesses became my strength. My Beta (ex Alpha) does occassionally challenge me, but knows not to push an Ultra Alpha (super crazy, good looking) too far.

  35. Lilly responded on 19 May 2013 at 8:16 am #

    And by “control of their lives,” I only mean allowing them to do my washing whilst I was busy preparing for a major assignment or exam. It means if they wanted to make a choice, they’d have to consult me and I would have the final say because I, as a female, have a right to live in a successful and happy relationship