But does it really work?
We’re sitting poolside at a Palm Springs resort. Two friends who haven’t seen each other in eight years. We’ve been talking non-stop for the last several hours, catching up. My friend flew in from Chicago for a girls weekend. She’d informed her husband the night before that she was heading out of town. That’s how they roll.
Dani’s a badass Executive Vice President of a large corporation who flies all over the world for work while her husband takes care of the kids. He used to have a busy career directing commercials, but the work dwindled once he became more engaged in childcare. Now both kids are grown. One in college, the other finishing high school. Still, Dani’s husband isn’t working.
“When I get home,” she says, “he’s just sitting there reading a magazine.”
“Maybe he’s taking a break?” I offer.
“That’s not it. He’s not pushing his career anymore. He’s content to take care of the house and the kids, which is great, but all his ambition is gone. It’s not sexy.”
“But he’s the reason you’ve been able to fly all over the world on a moment’s notice, right?”
“Yes, I guess. It’s true. But he could at least display an ounce of ambition in life. When we met, he was full of creative ideas. It’s like his brain’s been taken over by grocery lists and carpool schedules.”
This feels like one of those Twilight Zone moments where gender roles reverse— except, I’m not sure this happens much the other way around, a man complaining that his wife is too busy taking care of his home and kids to pursue a career? Complete freedom to kick ass at work while the wife takes care of the home front? For most men I know, this is a wet dream. It was certainly the norm in the 50’s and earlier.
These days, a two-income household is a necessity for most people. But how do you keep your domestic life functioning when both of you are at work all day long? While single in my twenties and working 14 hours a day, I remember saying, “I need a wife!” Who could stay home waiting for the cable guy to arrive between 9a — 2p?
Some lucky women with a choice relish the opportunity to stay home and raise their kids. Others feel conflicted because they also desire a career of their own.
This is the conundrum of our generation
TV creator and writer Shonda Rhimes said, in her commencement speech to Dartmouth class of 2014, “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in.”
From where I sit, Dani has it all. A successful career, children and a parent to look after them when she’s away. But I get it — successful alpha men can be sexy. Beta men pushing a Dyson, not so much (although, I’ll state for the record that a man who can cook and clean is a personal turn-on for me).
The alpha female provider/beta male nurturer dynamic works for many couples. Usually, though, there’s a degree of mutual resentment lingering beneath the surface that few like to admit. Deep within the psyches of our feminist brains, we secretly want a man to be able to provide whether we need him to or not. Deep within his male psyche, he feels like more of a man when he does.
Another friend, Liz, just left her 20-year marriage with a similar set up. She built a power career and he took care of the kids. In this case, he still had a quasi-successful career as an artist, but her steady, well-paid executive job anchored the household expenses in order to weather the months, and sometimes years, between gigs. He took care of everything around the house, including groceries and paying the bills, and provided her with cash (which she earned) from the ATM. Like a personal assistant.
They stopped sleeping together.
When she left the marriage, she did not even have an ATM card in her wallet. Shopping for groceries seemed lonely. She’d never done it before. And yet, the excitement to explore new experiences, sexual partners and her own independence, overshadowed the fear and doubt that haunted her in the midnight hours.
“I want an alpha male,” she tells me.
“Do you really want an alpha? Or a beta with a spine?” I respond.
Liz is a control freak. Most alpha men I know would not put up with her micromanaging tendencies. Maybe the sexy part for her would be a man who pushes back. Now that the kids are grown, she has more flexibility in choosing a partner. She doesn’t need a caretaker anymore, she wants an exciting lover.
Find your unicorn
Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, credits her late husband, Dave Goldberg, with supporting her on the home front so that she could fly to the top of her profession as COO of Facebook. As a successful tech entrepreneur himself, how did they find the balance? Was he an alpha at work and a beta at home? Was she?
Sandberg’s current beau and fiance, Tom Bernthal, is also a CEO alpha. So she’s managed to land not just one unicorn in her lifetime but two.
What defines an alpha male, anyway? According to Dictionary.com, it’s “a male animal having the highest rank in a dominance hierarchy” or “the most dominant, powerful, or assertive man in a particular group.”
Is there room for both male and female alphas within a household?
There are plenty of couples out there in which both the man and the woman enjoy successful, thriving careers, often with the help of housekeepers and nannies. Does this necessarily mean they’re both alphas?
In Dr. Sonya Rhodes’ book The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match, she says, “clinical experience has shown that this partnership is at the greatest risk for divorce, because two Alphas will tend to compete for power and dominance.”
One study shows that in relationships where women out-earn the man, they are both more likely to cheat.
On the other hand, Rhodes suggests that a Beta man might be a better lover “because he wants you to get off too.” As long as he’s assertive in the bedroom and able to push back when appropriate, the Beta Male may be the 21st century “catch.”
Although I’ve known plenty of alpha males who satisfied me in bed, not all of them were necessarily centered around my needs outside the bedroom. They’re more focused on themselves. That’s where Betas excel.
For Liz, she craves someone exciting with a big life of their own who gives her all the space she needs to excel at her own career. She doesn’t want to commit to anyone right now. Maybe now is the perfect time for her to explore the buffet of alpha men out there waiting to satisfy her cravings for adventure.
Of course, we all contain varying degrees of alpha and beta qualities. It’s not all black and white. Some of us want a dynamo in the bedroom and the boardroom too. Others prioritize a man who enjoys taking care of the home and kids. Many of us are struggling to figure out how to have it all and whether that’s even possible. And if not, what qualities are most important to us?
We’re all searching for the perfectly imperfect unicorn for us.