Recently I was talking to my friend Mark, a 24-year-old male, about the trials and tribulations of modern dating when he lamented, “I just don’t know what women want anymore. I’m supposed to be assertive but not too forceful; humble but confident; dominant but feminist. Do women want an alpha male or a beta male? Which one is it?”
Mark isn’t the only man feeling lost. When I reached out to other male friends, they expressed similar frustrations. Joe, 23, told me, “It’s as if women want you to be patient but never passive, to initiate but never too aggressively, to provide but never assume she’s unable to.” Jeremy, 26, said he feels like the women he dates send mixed messages. “Be emotionally available but don’t show any emotions,” he describes. When in bed, “Spank me, but worship me.”
From the sounds of it, more and more women are demanding a delicate alpha male, which may in fact be an oxymoron. I have to admit: a part of me (the female part) is like, Boo-fucking-hoo. You mean men are wrestling with a double standard? However will they cope? Do they not realize women have had to straddle the Madonna-whore tightrope since the age of well, Madonna?
Nonetheless, in the same way the Madonna-whore complex has created internal conflict for women, men are now facing a similar conflict that is pitting the alpha against the beta. The good news is double standards start discussions. The act of women bucking the alpha-beta hierarchy highlights the bucking of old ideas about masculinity, gender and bro culture. These conversations are long overdue.
Oxford Dictionary defines the alpha male as “the dominant male animal in a particular group” and “a man tending to assume a dominant or domineering role in social or professional situations.” If you consider this definition at face value, alpha males are everywhere, and working in every field. They’re not just warring on battlefields or showering in locker rooms. George Clooney is as much an alpha male as Louis CK. Chris Hemsworth is much an alpha male as Neil deGrasse Tyson. Barack Obama is as much an alpha as Rudy Giuliani.
I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but Christian Grey sounds like a fucking psycho. We don’t actually want a control freak stalker.
The tug of war young men like my friends are experiencing, however, seems to be between biology and “progress.” Women, knowing the best bedmate doesn’t always equate the best life mate, are now upping their requirements and voicing who they want their men to be. In response, men are trying to balance the biological imperatives women are instinctively attracted to with the new social orders they find intellectually stimulating. This cultural—and emotional—shift has given rise to a large population of men who feel marginalized. It’s a gender-wide identity crisis.
“It seems like the Western world has no use for men anymore,” my friend Brian, 32, said. “If you’re a gentleman in the modern age, women look at you like a sucker. But if you’re aloof, you’re a player. They all want the Fifty Shades of Grey dude, but he doesn’t exist. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
First of all, I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but Christian Grey sounds like a fucking psycho. We don’t actually want a control freak stalker, just like you don’t actually want the woman you just watched get triple penetrated on PornHub. Fantasy is fun because we don’t have to act on it or live it. Secondly, I’ve been torn between giving up my favorite 30-year-old, emotionally stunted fuck boys with enormous penises for more financially, emotionally stable (albeit less endowed) providers for well over a decade. Welcome to the club.
Here’s the root of this alpha-beta identity crises, coming from a woman: I refuse to make myself choose and I refuse to settle. This is an actual decision on my part. I can’t speak for all women, but I happen to know exactly what I want. It’s no secret that I love a “man’s man,” aka the alpha male. Perhaps I have a pessimistic vision of the future, or perhaps my idea of the alpha male is based on an old-school, outdated concept rooted in evolutionary biology, but my qualifications for what makes a good long-term mate includes skills like building, hunting, growing food and other survival shit. I know only a few single men like this—but none of them are in Los Angeles.
That’s not to say alpha males don’t exist in L.A., though. They absolutely do. They might not be able to build a fire with two sticks, but they can build a website, which actually impresses people in this town. Which brings me to my main point.
With the rise of technology, social policing, greater equality between the genders and more options by way of dating apps, a less generic kind of alpha male has emerged as the ideal. The traditional, Oxford Dictionary alpha is no longer in charge. Athletes signed with the Washington Wizards or the Kansas City Chiefs are out. Coders who own a two-bedroom in Silicon Valley are in. Pop culture has owned these cultural shifts for decades. Jocks like Dan Marino, Ronald Reagan and The Breakfast Club’s Andrew Clark ruled the 1980s and gave birth to 1990s bro culture, Tucker Max books and Neil Strauss’s The Game. The internet brought us the reign of the nerd—the revenge of the betas. Mark Zuckerberg is a perfect example of a beta male turned alpha. So is Elon Musk. Hell, even Bernie Sanders. Gamers are now YouTube stars. Comic-Con went from a gathering of geeks in San Diego to a multi-genre, weeklong festival that draws Hollywood’s cool kids.
As the definition of the alpha male expands, so too have the opportunities for men to thrive and succeed. Women realize this. But worry not: gender dynamics on both sides are eroding. Men have become more accepting of the kinky wife as women have become more interested in sensitive providers. To some, this might seem like a “war on masculinity,” but that’s oversimplifying things. The essence of what it means to be a man or a woman is constantly in flux as we adapt to ever-changing political, social, economic and literal landscapes. It’s not that the alpha male is going extinct—he’s simply evolving, and that’s a good thing, at least until the grid goes down. Until then, I’m not going to stop settling for that perfect alpha-beta. Let’s just hope that doesn’t mean I’ll die alone.