Loving an alpha male can make you vulnerable in a way you may not have been in a long while, says Samantha Eyler.
In response to a piece last week by Kasey Edwards here on Role/Reboot about the dangers of being attracted to an alpha male, I have to admit something a bit unpleasant about myself, a part of me that I often try to smother with logic by reading articles about, say, how Japanese young people have sworn off sex: I really have a thing for the kind of guy that Edwards calls “alpha” males.
I just do, OK? Don’t harass me about it.
Now to do a bit of appropriate hedging: Are we even allowed to call men alpha males these days? The men I know seem to find it just existentially negating to sift themselves in just two categories like that, and the term itself denigrates the value of the unbelievable men I’ve known and loved who don’t radiate pheromones into every room they step into.
But while the term is undoubtedly reductionist, I think a lot of heterosexual women will understand who I’m talking about here: men who somehow manage to seethe latent sexuality while also radiating the loyalty, benevolence, and physical protectiveness of a 150-pound Newfoundland or Henry Cavill in Man of Steel. (Forget art house cinema. I was mesmerized and nearly drooling for the entire 143 minutes of that film. There, I said it.)
Edwards’ piece spoke entirely sensibly about the reservations women should have in looking to such men for validation and emotional rescue. Alpha males tend to be difficult to get a serious commitment out of—and even if you’re not looking for one, they’re worried that you are—because they attract a lot of female sexuality. And one thing I’ve learned in my life: In heterosexual relationships with alpha males, other women’s sexuality sometimes really scares you.
I know this because it happened to me. I spent most of 2008 through 2010 frantically trying not to lose the most beautiful man I’d ever come into physical contact with—a green-eyed, golden-skinned Brazilian who I longed to convince to make a baby with me.
And I felt for those two years that I was losing my mind.
I can thus fully attest to the damage to a woman’s psyche and self-esteem that often comes with trying to hold down an alpha male. That said, the great joy of living and learning lies in being burned, becoming risk-averse, and then training yourself out of your risk-aversion. Furthermore—and here I can only speak for myself—part of what turned me into a firebrand (if unschooled) feminist in my mid-20s was the need for “liberation” from the crazy-making power that I realized I had given the men in my life, in particular that goddamn Brazilian.
Although I’m much stronger now than I was then, that part of me still lives in my head. And I feel like it’s very dangerous, with my ferocious feminism serving as a kind of armor against ever falling back into such emotional anguish. Thus, during various relationships, both monogamous and non-, I stifled my sexual urges toward alphas to protect my own and the relationship’s stability only to find that something inside me was shriveling. I couldn’t feel my body. I was freezing myself out.
So, recently, I went back out there. I owned that other part of me, and put my heart on the line with an alpha male who I’d known (and fancied) for a long time. We’d been sleeping together intermittently for a while, and I had come to respect that he treated me like a friend, with an unblinking loyalty that surprised me with its authenticity.
So I told him I cared about him, and, during a 36-hour haze of oxytocin, adrenaline, and pheromones, fell in love.
And then I got rejected.
My ego is still smarting from this, but I think it’s going to be OK. Those hours of losing yourself in a pretty face, only to be wildly jerked backed to reality, gave me a new understanding of my own relationship to male beauty, of the power I allow it have over me. (Keyword there being: allow.)
It also helped me take possession of my own gaze (we talk so much about the male gaze, but we still don’t understand very well our female gaze, and the effects it has on us and on its objects) in a way I haven’t done since I said goodbye to that Brazilian years ago. I was radiant for a few hours with a sexual glow I didn’t know I was capable of anymore, and so sexually spent and bruised and raw thereafter that the whole adventure couldn’t have been a mistake.
It taught me to observe the growth of my expectations of another person in tandem with my desire for that person. I myself have often chafed at the hostility from men when they feel they’ve been “friend-zoned,” as if their simple desire somehow gave them some sort of righteous claim on another person. And then I watched myself prickle with indignation when my expectations from my own friend were disappointed.
And it was good practice picking up and dusting off my ego after a rejection. Learning how to be an initiator is part and parcel of women’s sexual liberation, but along with that comes the urgent need to develop thicker skin about having our advances turned down. And that confidence can only come with practice.
In short, my advice to other feminists who love these men is this: Do not be afraid of alphas. When approached with a high level of self-awareness, loving that person can make you vulnerable in a way you may not have been in a long while. And if the social researcher Brené Brown is right, then vulnerability is what we need to embrace if we want to grow and live strong.
Samantha Eyler is a freelance writer and editor raised in Kentucky and London and now based in Medellín, Colombia. She has written about politics, immigration, Latin America, and social justice for publications such as NACLA and the New Statesman, and is one of the founders of the London Fields Feminist Book Group. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.