But, as always, that's just my opinion. My slightly paranoid and rather misanthropic opinion.
...or three alphas, actually.
I've talked previously about my fascination with the alpha male trope in fiction (here and here). He's a hard character to write. What better way to learn than to get inside the heads of a few men who identify with the concept at various levels?
Let me introduce RJ, Nolan and Andreas (as they have chosen to be called). They range from mid-twenties to mid-forties in age, they're from different spots around the world and they're some of the more articulate men that I know (in the interests of being fair, none of of them are my husband. Ahem). I've copied and pasted their answers as they are so you can get a good feel for their voices.
This isn't a "how-to" on writing male characters; it's an insight into a couple of male minds and, whatever you make of them, I hope they serve to inform your thinking and writing in some fashion.
Sitting comfortably? (Because they can certainly talk...!)
1) What does the term alpha male mean to you?
Nolan: I believe the term can be positive or negative. Very negative. At its best, living the "alpha male" life should entail maintaining control of ones own self and your environment in a constructive way. To me an alpha make should be physically fit, intellectually curious, and someone who helps keep things humming. He should never be the one losing it when a crisis, big or small, comes his way.
RJ: For me, an alpha male is somebody who can be in any sort of social situation and not only be part of it without feeling out of place, but come to dominate it as well, if that makes sense. It's a phrase that can be used in a positive and a negative sense, and I think that depends on how they come to dominate the situation - guys who are overly arrogant and shouty get known as 'alpha males', but that's a thoroughly pejorative use of it. The more positive alpha male is somebody who can be part of a social scene and be known to others as a good guy, a friendly person, somebody who'll socialise with everybody; they dominate the scene by ubiquity, I suppose.
Andreas: A man who carries himself with a certain confidence. You know them the moment they walk into a room. The energy gravitates to him. His head is carried high, looking at where he is going, with almost no care for who’s there. He doesn’t need to know who is there; because everyone knows HE is there. When he does look around, it’s in a controlled manner, not like a giddy school boy seeing hot girls for the first time. If he smiles, it’s more of a smirk then a smile. When he looks at you his eyes almost look through you. He makes you take notice without saying a word. Your thoughts run wild. You imagine him as a lawyer, a business man, a leader of men, a seducer of women (not in a cheesy way. In the way that you know he could have almost any woman he desires). When he does talk, people listen.
2) Was there a specific point at which you began to feel you might be “alpha”? If there was a changing process, can you describe it?
Nolan: I realized at a very early age that those around me considered me a natural leader. I excelled at both athletics and schooling and this may have contributed to this perception but does not, I believe, fully explain it. Some people are just trusted to take charge of things and I was one of them. Sometimes I embrace this role and sometimes my natural inclination towards solitude (read as loner tendencies) will cause me to shun it. This tug of war over how much of myself I allow to be public property has continued my entire adult life.
RJ: The thing is, I don't believe I am an alpha male. I aim to be a good guy, a friendly person, somebody who'll socialise with everybody, but that definition of an alpha is only my own and I suspect it's not a common one. By the other definitions - an alpha male being somebody who's extremely attractive, very fit, rich, enjoys being the centre of attention, likes being the leader of a group - I'm far more of a beta, especially with respect to that last quality. I can't stand being in the spotlight, it's just not how I'm built.
With that said, over the last year I've gone through a lot of distinct changes, and these are changes that have been quite obvious to the people I've got to know over that year - I've become more confident, much more comfortable in social situations, actually happy to take charge when it's necessary and felt more attractive. It should be noted all of these changes coincided with my entry to the London scene - it's been one year and about a week since I went to my first munch. (Note: a munch is an informal public meeting for those interested in BDSM lifestyles in their various guises. Often just looks like a bunch of drunks in a pub. You've been warned...)
Andreas: I don’t think there was a specific point at which I realized I might be alpha because I believe all men have alpha characteristics, but for one reason or another they have been repressed. After my breakup, I realized, not so much what I wanted, but what I didn’t want. And what I didn’t want was to ever feel like that again. I wanted to be the prize. I wanted someone to be impressed with me on every level. With my career, with my looks, with my outlook, with my intelligence, with my goals, with my dreams. And these things aren’t an ‘act’ for me. I don’t fake a career, or my intelligence, or my goals to impress someone. I realized that I needed to be more confident in myself, and in order to get that confidence I had to change certain aspects of my life.
3) If/when you started to see yourself as an alpha, did it change the way you treated women? Did it change what you wanted from your relationships? What does the “alpha you” want from a woman, physically and mentally?
Nolan: Experience and wisdom have affected how I interact with women but not my own self perception as an alpha male. Probably this is because I went through puberty with it as part of my identity and did not have to adjust my thinking. The women I have loved tended to have several common traits. They were all very intelligent and have been physically active. Sometimes they were beautiful and sometimes there weren't, but all were very good conversationalists. For some reason which I cannot explain almost every woman that has caught my eye has been very, very aware of her surroundings. They notice everything.
RJ: As I said, I don't believe myself to be an alpha, but I do think I've become a better person over the last year and yes, it did change how I treated women because...bluntly, I was able to talk to them in person. I hate to use the cliche, but previously I'd put women I found attractive on pedestals and then get tongue-tied when I had to interact with them - now, I don't know, they're humans. Not really that different to me, certainly no better than I am. What I wanted from a relationship hasn't changed, just the likelihood of actually finding it. As for what that is...I wrote something a while back about the keys to my heart - I can't get to it now, being that it's on a site rather more risque than I sense work allows - but that sums it up quite nicely. It's all about making me comfortable enough around them for me to let my guard down, and I've got a lot of guard to let down.
Andreas: Yes. I went through a phase where I didn’t care what I did or who I hurt in the process. Alphas don’t care about that….or so I thought. There is a difference between being an alpha and an asshole and I was definitely more in the asshole category. After going through that phase I realized what it meant to be an alpha male and I’m still learning as I go along.
That being said I still treat women differently now. Where I used to flatter them because I was intimidated by them (their beauty mostly), I now make myself the prize. I use offhand comments to verbally slap them around. Not in a degrading manner, and not to make them feel like shit, nor to make myself feel better, but to show them that I’m not impressed with their beauty alone like every other shmuck in the place. I’m the prize, and it’s going to take a lot more than your looks to be with me. Most aren’t used to this at all. It’s a very fine line I walk, and I’m still learning to calibrate it, as every woman responds to a different level of “smart-ass.”
In the bedroom, nothing changed, I still want to be dominant. In relationships I’ve definitely learned not to be a doormat. It’s ok to disagree with something your partner has done and it’s ok to bring it up in a manner that is respectful. If you feel as if you have to tippy-toe around sensitive subjects with your partner for fear they may get upset or complain, then you are with the wrong person. The alpha male (speaking about me here) wants an intelligent woman with whom he can converse on a variety of subjects and topics. A classy woman who looks put together when she’s out and who is respectful, honest and loyal to her partner. A exceptional mother to her children and an amazing wife to her husband. These traits will be automatically returned to a woman deemed worthwhile by an alpha male. This goes without saying. An “alpha male” who seeks a submissive woman on a daily basis, to listen and obey isn’t an alpha male. He’s insecure. He’s insecure about himself, totally and completely, and his way to gain power over his woman, is to exude his dominance. Dominance and Alpha male are 2 separate things. Alpha males don’t need to exude this dominance because they are naturally confident in themselves and there is a mutual respect between the 2 people involved.
4) Do you think the concept of the alpha male is still relevant now that you can’t steal women from random farms along with the livestock/challenge Sir Beta of Brooding to a duel/slaughter a cow for supper? What kinds of challenges does the modern alpha face?
Nolan: I think true alpha males are more essential than ever. Not least because a whole lot of women, I believe, have a curse of choosing men who have the outward appearence of strength but are hollow inside. They tend to leave a lot of messes behind that more able men have to clean up. I cannot count the number of times I have seen women flock to a prospective mate, boss, politician (whatever) and thought to myself "This is it? This is the guy you are going to rely on when things get really rough? Seriously?" It tends to end badly and the women always seem to be surprised. Ah well, we all make mistakes.
RJ: Power struggles, in a nutshell. "Traditional" alphas live to be the king of the mountain and to be seen by all as such, so power struggles and matters of reputation between them and any number of prospective kings are to be expected. I'm in favour of them, personally. London has a particularly repugnant alpha male who absolutely delights in being seen as the biggest baddest Dom around, and if somebody humiliated him enough to knock him from his perch, I can't see it being a bad thing.
Andreas: The alpha male is relevant as ever if not more. With more and more women becoming professional women with careers and powerful positions, they require someone of equal stature as partners. If that type of woman seeks an ordinary submissive man, then you get a reversal of what I wrote of above. She wants someone she can order around at home like she does at work. The modern alpha male faces the challenge of the modern woman having a sense of entitlement. Because of the oppressive history of women due to their male counterparts, some feel that it is now time to turn the tables and to give as they received many years ago. Though I don’t agree with the treatment of women throughout history, there have been many men that have fought for the rights of women alongside them. But I’ve digressed.
This entitlement comes in many forms. Some women look at certain men with a sense of disdain, as if the men aren’t worthy of being in the same venue as them. We call these women, stuck up bitches. Most have careers and make decent money, and now feel they can say and do what they please. The male version of this is the slimeball. Only an alpha male would be able to bring these women back down to a more respectable level by showing her that he’s the prize, and that her Gucci purse, and Mercedes don’t impress him, because he’s looking for a lot more than that. An ordinary man would call her out on being a stuck up bitch, or would be too scared to talk to her, thus negating any chance of having her. Only an alpha would be able to tame her.
5) Do you notice a “pack mentality” within your groups of friends, and where do you fit in? Does being alpha mean something different when you’re with men compared to when you’re with women?
Nolan: I think studying 'pack logistics' could be called a hobby of mine. I do see it play out around me all the time but I tend to view it with a detached and somewhat amused mindset. I am not the guy across the room that everyone hears before they see and I tend not to be animated and/or talking with my hands. Usually I am the guy who is relaxed and taking it all in but at the same time very much in control of himself if that makes any sense. Is it different around men and women? Absolutely but the differences are subtle. This is a subject that could take a novel to explore TBH.
RJ: It's not so much a pack mentality as it is cliqueness; there's at least a degree of that in all of the groups of people I consider friends, although it's markedly more obvious in some than it is others. The second bit of that question is more difficult to answer, though, because I fit in with different groups in different ways. The one that's particularly cliquey I'm not entirely sure I do, by dint of not having known the core players for long or well enough, whereas in others I'm just...there. I'm the guy who's got a joke, a snarky comment, a piece of irreverence for any situation. This may be why I feel like I don't fit in particularly well, I don't have any particular identity. Certainly none that I'm aware of. And finally, not really, no. You're still trying to demonstrate your superiority, just with different objectives in mind.
But, as always, that's just my opinion. My slightly paranoid and rather misanthropic opinion.
But, as always, that's just my opinion. My slightly paranoid and rather misanthropic opinion.
Andreas: There is a pack mentality within every group. If you see a group walk into a place, you can usually tell who the leader is, and who the follower is. There could be a few of each, but you can always tell which is which. In my opinion, the Alpha leads the group, or is the last one in the group. Some may disagree with the latter but in my eyes I see it differently. You do not want to be caught in the middle. People notice the first, and the last. It also has to do with how you carry yourself. See my response for question 2. I always make sure, if I can, to be first or last.
I feel as if I’m the alpha male of my group of friends that I’ve known for 20+ years. The way I dress, the way I carry myself when I’m with them, the way I talk to girls, the books I read, the things I discuss, the knowledge I have makes me the alpha. Not to say they are idiots, cant dress, can’t talk to girls etc etc, but I notice small differences. I have one friend who always asks permission to ask a girl/waitress/bartender/police officer a question. Always starts off with “Can I ask you a question”. Drives me nuts. It shows that he lacks the confidence to just ask. Yes, there are times and places where you may have to ask permission, I understand this, but if you’re at a restaurant and you say to a waitress “can I ask you a question….bla bla bla” it brings you down a level. She’s not the fucking pope; ask her whatever you want, on your terms. She doesn’t want to answer? Good for her.
But I also notice how I’m not as alpha with my newer friends (guys from work I go out with often) because they are older and have more experience than me. Whether it be in life, in career, with girls etc. But it all comes down to confidence. I notice when I have a few drinks, my liquid courage comes up and I’m more confident, I’m not afraid of being judged because I have that confidence in me, but it takes some time to come out around other people. Truly a grasshopper alpha. I’m still developing my alphaness.
This is key – Alpha’s don’t care for your opinion of them, because alpha’s don’t need your validation. They are confident enough in themselves, that they don’t need anyone else’s pat on the back. They don’t care if you think they are an asshole (which alpha’s aren’t, but a lot of people take the confidence as being an asshole) because what you think doesn’t matter. They know what they are. Alpha’s don’t need to defend themselves, because they don’t care what people think. How many times have you heard Brad Pitt justify his breakup with Jennifer Aniston or Angelina with possibly breaking them up. They don’t care. They believe in themselves, in what they did, that what they did was right, and they don’t need to justify it to anyone. George Clooney used to change girls often, but he didn’t come on tv, or in magazines and say “well, I just don’t think we were right for each other….we decided to move on”….he doesn’t care! He dumped her, found a new one, life is awesome. But he does it in a way that respectful and gentlemanly that no one really questions it anyways.
When it comes to being alpha in a group of men, there is always that underlying “who’s the boss” type of thinking. I believe its sub-conscious, and not something that you think of directly, unless you’re someone like me who is actually interested in the subject. But unlike around women, you’re not really trying to impress them, unless there is a male there you are trying to impress with your confidence (ie; a boss of a company and you’re angling for a job etc.) When you’re with women, you want to exude that confidence all the time. You want to be the leader of the pack, the decision maker, the man with balls and opinions (always expressed gentlemanly), the funny guy etc. When you’re with your friends, it’s not entirely necessary to do this as they are your buddies. Bring one girl into a mix of 3 guys, and you will automatically see who springs to action - the alpha, and who fades in the background - the beta.
6) If you could give the stereotypical romance fiction alpha a piece of advice, what would it be? (Or indeed, if you could give women writing men a piece of advice, what would that be?)
Nolan: Laugh more and learn to see the humor in life. There is humor everywhere and it is a sad thing when we let it pass by without a nod to the gods. For those who are results oriented, as alpha males tend to be, the task of life can be all consuming. But it no sign of weakness to occasionally laugh at ourselves, it is part of honest self perception and should be encouraged.
RJ: Yeah, hi. A quick heads-up - other guys are not actually the enemy. If you're befriending people purely because of what they can offer you, alright, you'll make a great networker but it's a bit of a dickish thing to do. So, y'know, don't?
Andreas: Make the men strong and gentlemanly, but also make them in-tune with the softer side of things. Make them not only interested in sex and seduction, but in generally - leaving the woman better off than he found her. This could mean an alpha recognizing a woman with a weakness because alphas recognize these things. A woman may be having a bad day and the alpha will see this, and he may say something as simple as “I like that scarf” in passing. He’s not interested in sleeping with her…it’s just his nature to be that way. It’s his charm and charisma.
Whew...that's that, then. If you have any more questions then the guys have agreed to come back for another post to answer -- feel free to leave them in the comments section. Or indeed, if you have your own answers to the questions, it'd be great to hear those too.
As for me? I'm off for a liiiiittle lie down...