Monday, June 16, 2008


One way my dearest and I stay close is by talking on weekend morning walks. I sometimes catch neighbors driving by grinning at us, deep in our heated conversation, gesturing with our hands, one six foot tall while the other is just a little more than five, and so obviously "together" even though we're not touching.

Many topics arise during these strolls. One topic last Sunday was players, "game," alpha and beta males, masculinity, etc. My love has been reading a number of posts and comment strings on The Other World, by Alias Clio and several other blogs, and wanted to compare some of what she'd read against my view of these topics. And I'll say at the outset that I'm talking here about heterosexual attraction. I can't speak for any other kind, because I don't feel them at all.

The following items came out of blogs and comments:
1. Alpha males are the ones many females want for a sexual relationship.
2. Beta males are the "nice" guys that can make great friends, but seldom get to go further with attractive women.
3. Alpha males are insulted if a woman wants to be "just friends."
4. Beta males whine a lot about not being able to attract women in a sexual way.
5. Women who are attracted to alpha males often don't know what to do with them once they get them. There's not much shared outside the physical side of things.

I know some alpha males, and even some players. I know some guys who are supposedly betas, and are nice to women, listen, work hard to be a friend, hoping it will grow into something more physical. The latter do sometimes whine about it. Several times in high school I was deeply disappointed when I found I was "just a friend" to a girl with whom I wanted more. I was not athletic or outgoing and I was made fun of as a "fag" and a "sissy" through much of middle school and early high school in New York. Masculinity is a complex subject to a young man in that situation, who has not had the kind of success he wants with girls, and I gave it a lot of thought and effort in my late teens and early twenties. I think one of the principal tasks of youth is finding your own expression of gender.

Hindsight and experience, particularly the rewarding and affirming experience of being in love with a wonderful woman for thirty years, brings clarity. I'm not saying I've mastered all that follows, but there's nothing like having the love and regard of the right woman to give a guy room for calm reflection.

First of all, the whole alpha/beta thing oversimplifies the range of male behavior and responses to females, attraction, dating, sex, etc. It's not even appropriate to refer to this as some sort of spectrum - that's oversimplified, as well. And it's not a simplification that serves anyone well, it seems to me. But for the sake of discussion, let's talk about alphas and betas and masculinity. Here's what I think:

Some beta males are so busy trying to get something with their friendliness that it discredits the entire thing. They're also trying too hard. So are the alpha males, with their virility only as secure as their next conquest. And both are partaking of only a part of what can make a man comfortably and noticably masculine and attractive.

A man who is grounded enough and interested enough to really listen will catch women's notice (the beta males have supposedly worked out that much). If he is also comfortable in his skin, gentle, confident, and carries himself in a still, steady, deep, calm way, if he is passingly aware of his maleness, but doesn't need to act it out at any particular time or in any particular way, if he has some chivalry and a willingness to laugh at himself when this puts him in awkward or silly situations, if he admires and enjoys the beauty of women (all women) and this is something he can project, then he is going to be attractive. He may not be attractive to all women, or to certain personalities, but he will be noticed and on many levels. Not just sexual and not just as a shoulder to cry on. It does help if you have a deep voice and intense eyes, but they're not essential.

Masculinity isn't a code of rules, as some alphas or betas try to make it. It's not something you do, though it is expressed through actions, but rather something you are. And over the years I've found it seems more bound up with stillness, and a fearless willingness to to be open and vulnerable. It's about being large and quiet spiritually and psychologically - like a forest, a great plain, an ocean - with the ability to calmly wait for others. It's expressed best with quiet gestures of strength and sureness, laughter, playfulness, peace, and open admiration of others. You don't achieve compelling masculinity by trying, but you can become quite masculine if you work at other things, instead. That's what's so wrong at a philosophical and logical level with the approaches of supposed alpha or beta males. They're working hard at being male, and the result is a caricature. They're so preoccupied with gender that they come across as faking it. Masculinity is a result, like maturity, of spending your time and effort on the right things, and focusing on people.

Most of these qualities are hard to maintain, and that probably adds to their attraction. The world makes it much easier to be frantic, closed, pushy, offensive, selfish, mean, tough, angry. I never feel less masculine than when I am running on one or more of those styles, and I spend far more time on those treadmills than I want.

Finally, I'll emphatically add that these same qualities can be intoxicatingly feminine and womanly, as well. I think they make us whole human beings, and therefore complete everything, including our gender. In the end, beauty and attraction complete our maleness or femaleness and then transcend them.

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