In the animal kingdom, a beta male refers to an animal that is subordinate to the dominant alpha male. In human relationships, a beta male refers to a man tends to be traditionally subservient, weak, passive and a push-over.
When you add Asian culture to the mix, you’ll find many Asian men who may fit this manner of relating based on centuries of teachings to develop men who then tend to “listen and obey” and become people-pleasers.
I should know, as I used to be a beta male with no spine. People would mock my Asian heritage directly at me and I’d slink away, afraid to say anything that might cause tension. Women would relegate me to the friend zone, and I’d accept it as a consolation prize. Some women who I tried dating only gave me the breadcrumbs of their schedule and I accepted, thinking that was better than nothing. For example, during a notable exchange with a woman, she agreed to see me for 15 minutes on a Tuesday afternoon. I was living in Los Angeles, and she told me I’d have to meet her by her place nearly an hour drive away from my apartment. In my desperation and "beta-ness," I accepted. Friends would shirk and cringe at my need for feminine approval.
My ingrained habits hit their peak 20 years ago when I was dating and then married my first wife. “Sally” (pseudonym) was Korean-American and grew up in an upper-class neighborhood in Ohio. When we first dated, for example, she frowned on my taste in R&B music (I grew up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood) so I acquiesced to never have R&B or hip-hop music on when we were driving in the car together, especially when her parents were around.
Sally suggested if I really wanted to earn her parent’s approval, I should learn to speak Korean. I’m Chinese and couldn’t even speak my native tongue of Cantonese very well, but the fear of losing her gripped me. So many mornings both before work and during breaks, I would do my best to try and learn Korean.
After we got married, Sally wanted her Korean family name to live on. I agreed, due to my beta-male personality, to her demand that the boys would be named after her Korean last name and I would get to preserve my Chinese heritage if we had girls.
Fortunately, she divorced me before we had children.
Before the divorce became official, I attempted my final move in hopes of winning her back. I owned nearly 100 R&B CDs back then and offered to sell, destroy, and basically get rid of each one, including my beloved Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, thinking this would prove my undying loyalty to her and our marriage.
It didn’t work and our marriage ended abruptly after three and a half years. I was devastated and crestfallen. I felt a part of my heart had been ripped out of me. In my eventual path towards wholeness (which is still a work in progress), I began my therapeutic journey. It was during this time that I realized I never had known how to express myself emotionally in relationships. Instead, I took the easy route of just agreeing to everything out of fear I’d be judged or rejected. Well, after the divorce, which felt like the ultimate rejection, I vowed I had to learn a new way of relating even if it meant there could be tension because I disagreed with others or had my own opinions, needs, or wants. I no longer was going to sit back and just have people walk all over me (at the time, this also included co-workers).
During this two-decade journey of self-discovery, I have learned to get in touch with my feelings and strip myself of the need to earn others’ approval for the sake of losing my integrity. I can now stand firm in my convictions and give voice to my needs and wants. I can protect myself with my words. And ultimately, I can now go to bed proud of who I am, knowing my external life is in alignment and in tune with my internal world.