The stereotypical alpha male thrives as a romance hero, despite (or possibly because of) the progress in society towards more equal relationships.
Alpha males are typically portrayed as wealthy, confident, natural leaders, physically strong, good looking and able to have any female they desire. However, cross them and they can become aggressive, they may be difficult and unreasonably demanding, uncompromising and, of course, unfaithful.
Beta males, on the other hand, although less confident around women and unlikely to become heartthrobs, may make better long-term partners as they tend to be more considerate and respectful. Some commentators argue that betas lack the backbone to confront conflict, yet Roger, the hero in my contemporary romance ‘The Path of Innocence’, is a quiet sensitive type who shows himself to have core strength, whereas his father, an alpha, has some very unattractive traits.
Here they are during a confrontation when Roger shows himself to be far from spineless:
“I shall be returning to London this afternoon,” Roger’s father informed him matter-of-factly. “You may stay here for the rest of the school break if you wish. There should be few distractions to interfere with your studies. Mrs. Mulwell will remain for one more month, until I or your grandmother has appointed another housekeeper.” Brusquely, he pushed a cheque at him, although he didn’t let go. “An allowance. But I expect your commitment to exam success in return.”
Roger eyed the cheque and snatched it from the hand with a dry, ‘thank you’, although the thought of being bought off sickened him. Inwardly bridling, he watched his father gather a bundle of papers and tap them four-square into a neat pile.
“Of course, I would have wished for any son of mine to go to Oxbridge, but as it is…”
Contemptuously, Roger stuffed the cheque into his pocket before his feelings got the better of him, and concentrating hard on maintaining an even tone, he piped up, “Can I ask a question?”
Edward Rolfe did a quick double-take and glanced at his watch.
“What happened to Mother’s personal things?” Roger continued, undeterred. “There doesn’t appear to be one item of her belongings left.”
His father glared irascibly. “What are you talking about, boy? Your mother is dead.”
“Yes, wiped off the edge of the earth without trace, it would appear.”
“I’ve no time for this sort of nonsense.” He slammed down the lid of his briefcase. “Pull yourself together and grow up. And those are my final words.” Clicking the locks into place, he stood up to tower over his son. “If you haven’t got anything constructive to say, you might as well leave.”
“Yes, I’ll go.” Loathing oozed from every pore in Roger’s body and his voice faltered tellingly. “And leave you to get on with your affairs.”
“You have many lessons to learn; not least that business must take priority if you are to succeed.” His father made to brush past him, then he stopped in his track as Roger retorted acidly, “Oh, I didn’t mean business affairs.”
Turning around sharply, Edward Rolfe glowered at his son, but Roger met the menacing stare levelly.
“Just get out of my sight!”
“Yes, I expect you’d like that. I daresay my nuisance value is as tiresome as Mother’s always was. You never cared about her either. You were only interested in your own selfish gratification. And you certainly don’t care about your so-called friends. I wonder what George would think of you if he knew you were bedding his wife?”
Roger watched as his father’s normally inscrutable veneer contorted into an explosion of wrath and, glaring darkly, Edward Rolfe raised a hand, and then slapped it hard across his son’s face.
The force of the impact stung, but ignoring the pain, Roger did not even twitch a muscle and he stared back in defiance, knowing that the bitterness that had festered for so long had, in that instant, turned into pure hatred and there was no going back.
Roger’s father is a powerful businessman with easy authority and sexual magnetism, but he is also selfish and cruel towards his own family, exercising a negative power which is suppressive and weakening and, as the novel progresses, we see the catastrophic consequences of his vindictive actions when things do not go his way.
It may be true that an alpha is more likely to set a woman’s pulse racing from the outset and perhaps fictional aphas do fulfil a fantasy reflecting women’s instinctive, deep-rooted needs which have been suppressed by modern society. Maybe, somewhere deep in our psyche, we all secretly hanker for “bad boys”.
However, for me, true romance is about relationships based on shared experiences, difficulties overcome, tenderness, understanding and respect - in essence, beta qualities.
So which of the two stereotypes makes for the best romance hero?
I would suggest that heroes do not have to be complete alphas or complete betas, but instead they might be amalgamations of all qualities. Perhaps, like us, our heroes are too complex to be pigeonholed.
The Path of Innocence