Successful spouses become support for high-flying wives
Afew years ago, Murray Partridge realised he was not the most important person in his marriage. He was flicking through a glossy magazine when he stumbled across a photograph of his wife, the jewellery designer Solange Azagury-Partridge.
The picture looked odd. Her arm was jutting out at a strange angle and, to her left, was a blurry, indistinct area of colour. Slowly, the penny dropped.
“I’d been airbrushed out,” he says, when we meet in the kitchen of the family home in West London. “Normally, they just crop me out, but this time, they’d gone to real trouble.”
He was, he realised, married to an Alpha Female. He had been relegated to the role of Beta Male. He started speaking to his friends about it, many of whom were in the same predicament, and the germ of an idea started to form.
Now Partridge, 59, and his friend Simon Marks, 49, have co-written a book entitled How To Live With An Alpha Female. The result is effectively a guide to co-habiting with someone who will always be more successful, more creative, more wealthy and more organised than you.
“Part of having an Alpha Female for a partner is accepting that, whatever you’ve done, your AF has probably done it bigger and better,” they write in the introduction.
While Partridge’s wife oversees a multi-million pound empire, designs jewellery for celebrities including Kate Winslet and Thandie Newton and has her work held in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Marks’s wife, Mel Agace, is a highly successful film producer and property developer. Quite frankly, their husbands can never hope to compete.
Both Partridge and Marks used to have respectable jobs of their own (Partridge in advertising; Marks in the music business) but these days their work has taken something of a back seat. Their main role in life is now to support the needs and whims of their infinitely more impressive spouses, rather like those first aid vans that trail behind elite athletes at key sporting events providing tubular bandages and metallic blankets. Except that Partridge and Marks are more likely to be carrying spare phone-chargers (“In this way you can ensure that you will not end up bearing the brunt of a potentially dangerous mood-swing brought on by a flat battery,” they write).
The new men
Although their approach is humorous, the book makes a serious point about our changing sociological landscape. One in four British women under the age of 24 earns more than their partners, according to 2015 research conducted by the insurance company LV. Female managers and professionals now number 70 million worldwide.
“I felt an affinity with Denis Thatcher,” says Partridge, with a misty-eyed look, “and admired his obsession with golf and drinking. And Prince Philip, of course, has got to be the king of men in our position.”
In her 2013 book, The XX Factor, the economist Alison Wolff made the argument that professional, educated women now behave far more like their highly educated male counterparts than the rest of womankind. Essentially, most AlphaFemales now find themselves in a situation where they need a traditional 1950s-style wife.
Step forward Marks and Partridge.
“They’re new women; we’re new men,” says Partridge.
Marks nods in agreement.
“It’s a difficult thing for a lot of men to be with women who can hold their own in every department and who don’t need us,” he adds. “There’s a social stigma to being called a ‘househusband’ but you need to be strong enough to be totally ok with it.”
Besides, they have their uses. There is a seven-item list in their book of a Beta Male’s “Main Areas of Control” and these include heavy lifting, unblocking lavatories and driving long distances (“valuable emailing time for her”).
“The list never changes,” Partridge says wearily. “Although sometimes things get added to it — particularly nasty things like ‘cleaning the roof ’ or anything dangerous.”
Recently, Partridge has found he’s expected to turn over the mattress in the marital bed every eight weeks, “and that’s a horrible job. It’s this enormous mattress, it’s incredibly heavy and you have to take off all the bed-clothes…”
After the requisite mattress-turning, it transpires that the only place where an Alpha Female wants a man to take charge is the bedroom. Here, we are told, they expect complete role reversal.
“At short notice, you will be expected to transform from being a supportive, attentive Beta Male outside the bedroom into a raging, dominating, hard-sh****** Alpha b****** inside it,” the authors write.
“It’s quite a difficult thing,” acknowledges Marks quietly.
How To Live With An Alpha Female also warns its readers that an AF will take control of almost every aspect of her partner’s life. This can have some advantages (dinners are organised, invitations are answered, bills are paid on time and holidays are booked as if by magic) but can also leave a BM in a state of paralysing indecision over simple, everyday functions such as what to wear.
“When I first met Mel, I was fresh out of 16 years in the music industry and I dressed like that,” explains Marks. “Jeans. Hoodies. Trainers. She hated it. She basically re-dressed me. Now it comes to the point where I don’t think I can get dressed without her advice. If she goes away for two weeks, I’m utterly screwed.”
This morning, as he was leaving the house to come to this interview, he left his wife sleeping in bed upstairs.
“And as I was shutting the front door, I heard her shout ‘Wear a suit!’… She went from a little snore to ‘WEAR A SUIT!’”
They both snort with laughter, although it’s the kind of hysteria I worry might turn into tears at any moment. Partridge’s wife has been on a business trip 3,000 miles away for the last few days but, he says with a haunted expression, “I still hear her voice in my head”.
“Any relationship is about control,” adds Marks. Pause. “And I don’t really have any.”
Living with an AF means never winning an argument. Negotiations over fractious issues must be planned weeks in advance, with all the thoroughness of a complex legal case. The only way you will get your way, they conclude, is if she wants you to.
“Or if she’s in a rush,” says Partridge. “If she’s got an appointment in three minutes time, suddenly her argument will collapse and you’ ll think you’ve done rather well, but actually she just needs to get out of the house.”
Really a love letter
They are half joking, of course, and the book is written in the spirit of joshing affection. It is quite clear they both adore their wives, who not only read the manuscript but offered editorial suggestions (Mel) and designed the jacket (Solange). They’re aware how lucky they are.
“The book is really a love letter to them,” says Partridge. “When you’re with an Alpha, you gain a life, in a way. Instead of sitting on the sofa watching TV, you’ve suddenly got places to go… Also I think they’re really good at moral support.”
“They’re fun and interesting,” adds Murray. “The pluses definitely outweigh the minuses.”
Anyway, there’s no more time to chat. Murray has just remembered he forgot to put the bins out and needs to get back. Partridge is expecting his wife home at any moment and he’s wearing a zip-up blue blouson that she hates. Obviously, he will need to change out of it before she notices. It’s for their own good, after all.
Have you been relegated to the role of beta male?