Alpha Females: You're chasing the wrong guy
Too many successful women are making themselves unhappy, according to a new book, by trying to marry someone as driven as themselves.
Published 23/04/2014 | 02:30
Has there ever been a better time to be an Alpha female? From Beyoncé to Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg to Mary Robinson, public life is full of strong, independent women making their mark on the worlds of entertainment, politics, business and health.
We're learning how to smash the glass ceiling, find our inner tiger mother and balance high-powered careers with a happy home.
Like men have done for decades, 21st-century women are finally embracing the 'Alpha' within – knowing exactly what they want and stopping at nothing to get it.
There's only one problem. The Alpha female struggles to find a perfect partner.
With her reputation for ambition, determination and success, she can be seen by men as intriguing but intimidating; attractive yet aloof.
Some of the world's most inspiring Alphas (Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice) have yet to settle down; while many of their predecessors (Coco Chanel, Jane Austen) never did. As the singer Alanis Morissette puts it: "Alpha men are very turned on by the Alpha woman – really high chemistry, really fun to work with, probably really fun to have affairs with. But there can only be one person in the driver's seat."
All hope is not lost, however: a new book raising eyebrows in the US offers a controversial solution.
Dr Sonya Rhodes, author of The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match, due out next month, says that Alpha women are so unlucky in love because they're looking in the wrong place.
Instead of seeking out a testosterone-driven Alpha man to share their life, she argues, they should try pairing up with his responsible, supportive opposite: Mr Beta.
Dr Rhodes, a New York-based psychotherapist, was inspired to write the guide based on her experience of clients looking for love. "I kept seeing strong, confident women who were concerned that they had missed the boat, that marriage had eluded them because they had wasted their thirties developing their careers," she explains. "They were worried that they would have to settle for someone. But they were worried for no reason. In the US, women between 30 and 45 are getting married at a higher rate than women in any other age group.
"They're now leaving it until they are more mature, until their career has developed and they're in a better place to choose their partners." There is a caveat.
"They just need to start looking past the competitive, domineering Alpha male."
Designed to appeal to the generation exhorted to 'lean in' by Facebook's chief operating officer Sandberg, the book promises to "dispel the myth that being a successful professional woman dooms your chances of a relationship and family".
Opening with a quiz to determine whether you are Alpha or Beta (and, the author insists, most people are a combination), it challenges perceptions about these two personality types, provides guides on dating outside your comfort zone and offers advice on working through relationship problems and affairs.
The pairing of two Alphas, Dr Rhodes suggests, can result in a power struggle. Here, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, who announced their "conscious uncoupling" last month, may serve as a lesson in the long-term incompatibility of two high-powered, career-driven partners.
"Alpha women may believe the Alpha male is their natural partner; a breadwinner, similar to her – but although they might make an exciting relationship, they don't make a good relationship," she adds. "One will always want to assert their authority."
'Alpha' and 'Beta' are well-worn terms in relationship speak – but, when you cut through the psychobabble, what do they mean? Alpha males, the Don Drapers and Gordon Gekkos, are a centuries-old phenomenon; whereas the Alpha female – who, crucially, embraces her Alpha status – is a relatively new breed, typified by intelligent, self-assured women at the top of their profession: think Angelina Jolie, Anna Wintour and Angela Merkel. The Beta personality type describes a more laid-back, communicative mindset – or, as Dr Rhodes puts it, "a man who is just as comfortable changing nappies as making a presentation at work".
The problem with such labels is that they are often stereotyped.
Alpha females are seen as bitches; Alpha males as Lamborghini-driving James Bonds, while their Beta counterparts are weak, lily-livered wimps. No more, says Dr Rhodes. Alpha women don't have to be career women ("You might be the head of the PTA, a genius at connecting people or the organiser of a group for new mums"); nor are Beta men the type you have to settle for. Rather, she warns of another group of 'Omega' men – dreamers, allergic to work, needy – whom empowered women should avoid at all cost. "None of you should have to be your boyfriend's caretaker," insists Dr Rhodes.
Her thesis is appealing – but not without critics. Indeed, it goes against a recent study of American census data by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found a marked rise in "like marrying like", with 48pc of graduates wedding graduates in 2005, up from 25pc in 1960.
Isn't she just encouraging high-achieving women to marry beneath them?
"I'm saying that you don't have to put yourself in a gender box," says Dr Rhodes. "It's about expanding your horizons – finding a match who is supportive, respectful, who isn't threatened by who you are or what you do."
Of course, successful Alpha/Beta pairings have known this for years.
Helena Morrissey, chief executive of a £50 billion investment fund, founder of the Thirty Percent Club which campaigns for women in boardrooms, and mother of nine, attributes her success to her husband giving up work to look after their children. Richard, a former journalist, is a Buddhist and artist who works from home.
Denis Thatcher was arguably another Beta – though a successful businessman, he was happy to spend much of his life in Margaret's shadow.
Other celebrity couples who make the dynamic work are Meryl Streep and Don Gummer (a sculptor), Julia Roberts and Danny Moder (a cameraman) and Cilla Black and her late husband-cum-manager Bobby Willis.
Though the strongest advocates of the Alpha female approach hail from across the Atlantic, Dr Rhodes claims her advice isn't tied to ballsy Americans. "Maybe women [on this side of the Atlantic] are a little shyer," she admits, "but I've met lots who are very confident and assertive. There's no reason they shouldn't feel comfortable embracing their Alpha and getting together with a Beta man."
Indeed, she insists the model can inform all aspects of a thriving relation ship: from making the first move to paying the bill on a date. Ultimately, her thesis is heartening: Mr Good doesn't have to be Mr Good Enough. Brilliant, brainy women shouldn't feel confined to one socio-economic group of partners; they may even find themselves happier and more fulfilled with someone from a very different sphere of life.
But why should we take her advice?
"I've been married for 50 years this summer," reveals Dr Rhodes, "and I have a great Beta husband; an architect called Robert. He's supportive, he makes me laugh, he's not threatened by me and he pushes back when I get bossy. We have a wonderful marriage and we make each other happy every day." So she must know a thing about getting it right.