Romance novels have given readers a variety of idealised book boyfriends to choose from. There is the prince charming, the golden retriever, the possessive one, and of course, the alpha male. This character is a complex one, and you can’t fit them in one image. He can be caring for his loved ones, or he can be dominating; it ultimately depends on what the story demands. But there is one thing all the alpha males have in common – confidence!
But who exactly is an Alpha Male?
An alpha male is one of the most common entities featured in romance fiction. He is a typical bad boy who commands the attention of the room – and the readers – as soon as he enters the narrative. He is driven, passionate, fearless, powerful, and hot. It’d be a crime if he is not hot!
Obviously, alpha males are also on the top of the social ladder. As a result, these men usually appear in books of genres like billionaire romance, mafia romance, BDSM, and motorcycle club. Why? Mafia, billionaire empires, BDSM scenes, and bikers club can only work if there is someone to lead them fairly. And who better to guide them than the alpha male?
However, as these are also romance stories, he is paired up with a heroine that defies him and, consequently, catches his attention. The Alpha Male leads the world while the heroine (or, indirectly, the readers) is the one to lead such an authoritative figure.
Where does this concept come from?
If you think alpha males come from alpha wolves, you are wrong! As opposed to what is commonly believed, the system wild wolves have is almost like a nuclear family. The wolves that are in charge are alphas simply because they are adults. As for the aggression of the alpha males, that theory stems from research that threw wolves, strangers to each other, in captivity.
But, unsurprisingly, the concept of alpha male (or beta male, for that matter) comes from animals. Some species, such as lions and gorillas, thrive on social hierarchy, where the high-ranking animal is referred to as an alpha. These alphas have the first and most access to resources, such as food, water, shelter, and even mates. An animal of lower ranking challenging the alpha is rare but can happen, thus leading to violence. This is probably how the rumour that alpha males are violent started (the book ones are violent when absolutely necessary, though).
The first known record of this term applied to humans was in Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal (1982). The book made some interesting observations about the behavioural similarities between chimps and humans. This phrase then filtered through society easily, eventually making its way into romance fiction.
So, why does he seem appealing?
Humans are social creatures. Thus, it’s unsurprising to see social hierarchy as an inevitable part of our lives. Generally, there are three physical traits commonly associated with dominance – tall height, deep voice, and a handsome face. If a particular man has these features, men look up to him. More importantly, women want to be involved with him, mostly because their primal instincts ensure that he is best to continue the genetic line. He is, in a way, the alpha male in real life.
As a result, the alpha male in books is always tall, has a good voice, and looks like he is always walking down the runway. But romance books go one step ahead by adding more, finer qualities that indeed leave an impression on the readers’ minds. Some are commendable, some are questionable – but the sum of it all makes up his flawed personality.
Whichever way the narrative goes, the alpha male is always confident, always secure in himself. He is in an environment that always demands him to be on his toes. Thus, he is not dependent on anyone and can make the decisions himself. Well, except for the decisions related to the heroine – that needs their equal involvement.
That brings us to the next appealing part. The alpha male is also someone who the heroine can rely on with her eyes closed. This is one of the most – if not the only – things readers love about this particular character. Whatever insecurities the heroine has, the alpha male makes sure to lift her up in every way possible. On the flip side, it is only with her that he can relax, which gives the readers a sense of healthy self-importance.,
Someone seemingly perfect who thinks you are special and treats you right? No wonder readers gobble this up!
But then, no one is perfect in real life. No alpha male in real life can exhibit seamless control, complete confidence, and competency every day. Even they may have days where they need to shut down from the world. You must realise that romance fiction is wish-fulfilment. Consequently, romance books are nothing but a way for readers to imagine what their love life could look like. And that is why the alpha male appears appealing! Because he is an idealised, fantasised version of a perfect partner, capable of providing love and security forever.
Then, why are alpha males considered toxic?
The alpha male has many qualities that dance in the grey area between desirable and toxic. As a result, misunderstanding around this unique character are common. Many authors market a domineering, narcissistic, jealousy-prone hero as an alpha male. And that has skewed everyone’s perception of how this character really is.
Surprisingly, these also become popular, as these qualities are disguised to come across as just protectiveness for the heroine. The readers who take this as purely fantasy seem to enjoy a hero who can do everything for that one woman. From fighting the world to taking care of her in the way he approves. As for the readers who take them as a mirror of the men in real life, they are quick to call them out. Toxic, unsafe, and destructive!
But whether he is toxic or not depends on the author’s understanding and, consequently, the portrayal of the alpha male.
What are the essential traits of the alpha male?
As you can see, the personality of the alpha male depends on how the author writes it. That is why you must be careful while writing your alpha male, to not make him toxic. Here are the basic qualities you can use to ensure that:
- He is a leader: Alpha males are natural leaders, but not in a domineering way. His employees let him lead not because they fear him but because he is unselfish and has integrity. If you wish to write an alpha male who is loved by all (except his enemies), it is crucial to make him a leader worthy of the world’s respect.
- He is competent: Alpha males are sure in themselves, which is why you must show them as being good at what they do. He is highly suitable for his job, whether he is the mafia boss or the CEO of a billionaire company. His humble competence, in turn, makes everyone around him follow him.
- He is confident: Confidence oozes from the alpha male’s whole demeanour. Sure, it can make him seem cocky sometimes, but it should be the harmless kind. He can do whatever he puts his mind to, whether it making a business deal or trying his hand at horse riding. In fact, the alpha male is so self-assured that, even if he makes a mistake, he owns it confidently.
- And lastly, he is head over heels for his fierce heroine!
Adding more qualities – no matter good or bad – and little quirks will make him hotter and more believable. While alpha males are never toxic, you can just add some healthy jealousy to spice it up!
Since alpha males are more of a rarity in real life, a much better option is the fantasy figure lurking in romance books. In fact, if portrayed in the way they are supposed to appear, alpha males are one of the best things fiction offers!