What Men Want

18 Sep

I just read “Why Standards Night is Substandard,” written by Kathryn Lynard Soper and posted at Patheos.org. It’s a good article. But her experience did not resonate with mine at all. Although I may have fancied myself physically attractive from time to time, I think I have consistently underestimated the power that my attractiveness might have over men. I can remember only a few times a man (other than a relative) has told me I looked nice. Even if I recognized that a man might be interested in me (and let’s be honest, my recognition abilities aren’t that great), I did my best to stuff that recognition as far down in my consciousness as I could to negate the possibility of anything ever happening and continue to believe in my own categorical romantic unsuitability.

I have never learned to wield feminine power or barter sexual attractiveness for love. Maybe it is because of my somewhat unconventional feminist literary upbringing. I grew up with the ideal that I could be valued for my mind and for my heart, not just for my body. I learned about the cultural minefield for women and their battles over body image and social acceptability: I was reading about eating disorders in junior high and mean girl behavior in high school.

My mom raised me to not only avoid clothes that were too tight or suggestive but to study some of the strongest women in history. I rolled my eyes when she told me to read Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life, but read it and found parts of it extremely touching and inspiring. She also encouraged me to research Amelia Earhart, who became one of my childhood fascinations and heroines. I still have a picture of her taped to my bedroom door at home. And I filled my time reading other tales of women, actual and fictional, which led me to aspire to write and to hope for the day when I might be appreciated for a literary contribution to humanity.

And somehow with all this reading I never really learned about love. I intellectualized it, and like Dorothea Brooks, considered the life of the mind sufficient grounds for romantic attachment. But, we all know how the Casaubons of the world fare in love and how withering it can be to Dorotheas. Thus, like young Dorothea, my sweet little intellectual-appreciation theory of romance has proven insufficient to explain the real-life complexities of love. I begin to despair, that all men really want or notice is a sexy woman. Or that they are more interested in the physical than the intellectual qualities of their partner. Such is the fear of the inept female graduate student. I know it all doesn’t fit into simple binary categories, but let me get to my final questions. What DO men really want? And how can women give it to them without sacrificing their integrity or their authenticity?

And because I love the introduction to Middlemarch so much, here’s an excerpt:

That Spanish woman who lived three hundred years ago, was certainly not the last of her kind. Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity; perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet and sank unwept into oblivion. With dim lights and tangeld circumstance they tried to shape their thought and deed in noble agreement; but after all, to common eyes their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and formlessness; for these later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul. Their ardor alternated between a vague ideal and the common yearning of womanhood; so that the one was disapproved as extravagance, and the other condemned as a lapse.

Some have felt that these blundering lives are due to the inconvenient indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of women: if there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as the ability to count three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude. Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains, and the limits of variation are really much wider than any one would imagine from the sameness of women’s coiffure and the favorite love-stories in prose and verse. Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heartbeats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centring in some long-recognizable deed.*

*George Eliot, Middlemarch (New York: John B. Alden, 1883), 5-6.


13 Responses to “What Men Want”

  1. Matt W. September 18, 2010 at 2:51 am #


    A great book for married couples on this topic is “his needs, her needs”.

    In it, it discusses that men’s greatest needs (statisically speaking) are:

    1. Sexual Fulfillment
    2. Recreational companionship
    3. Attraction
    4. Domestic Support
    5. Admiration

    A Woman’s greatest needs (again statisically speaking) are:
    1. Affection
    2. Conversation
    3. Honesty and Openness
    4. Financial Support
    5. Family Commitment

    I should add that while this is the way the stats play out, the book notes there is a huge variance in individuals, with almost all men and all women having characteristics from and of these “top 10” emotional needs. For example, when I took the survey, conversation and honesty and openness were my top needs.

  2. ep September 18, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    Thanks, Matt W.! Those are exceedingly helpful concrete answers. 🙂

  3. jks September 18, 2010 at 1:05 am #

    Did you have a father in the home? It is usually girls without a father (man who loves them) who is a little more “needy” emotionally. That is proven thru research.
    I agree with the idea that girls don’t usually get physical because of sexual desire….their hormones are pushing for them to be liked (loved) and emotionally close and they see physical intimacy as the way to get it.
    Her point was that a girl with “power over her life” won’t get involved physically too early or with the wrong guy. I think of it more as a stable home life, emotional support of parents and friends, self-esteem is just not as likely to need the psychological rush of being a guy’s “good time” because they see it for what it usually is…..fleeting and unfulfilling unless it is in a mature, committed relationship.

  4. ep September 18, 2010 at 1:24 am #

    jks, Ha, yeah, I don’t mention my dad. But I did have a loving father in the home. I didn’t see much gender imbalance in their marriage growing up. If we define gender roles by household tasks, both my parents kept house and cooked. Behind every good woman there’s a good man. My dad has always supported my mom in her career decisions, and he has always complimented me on my intelligence. I never lacked his affection. If you’re reading this as a needy rant, I think you’ve missed the point of my post. My different experience does not make KLS’s assertions any less true. I agree with the take home point of her post.

  5. Angie September 18, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    “I have never learned to wield feminine power or barter sexual attractiveness for love. ”

    In my opinion, modesty is the way a woman uses her feminine power to her advantage without losing control of the situation and having that power used against her. Of course, it’s up to each woman to decide if she will use her power for good or evil!

  6. Belle September 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    This could be written by me! I am also very much a thinker, an intellectually driven person. And I have never felt that I had the kind of “feminine power” described by KLS, and in some ways, I have never wanted to use “feminine power” to manipulate or influence a situation. I want to influence, but not because of some feminine power. Rather, I wanted to be respected for my knowledge or for kindness or for some other quality that I have that isn’t related to my gender. I remember talking to a roommate about this exact topic, something about how I was frustrated with dating, and she said, in so many words, I should be more flirty and less smart, and I thought, “So, I am supposed to be something I’m not to catch a man? I don’t think so. ”

    I find it a bit offensive that jks sees your position as some sort of deficit. And tries to explain it by questioning your relationship with your dad. Some women are just this way, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different thing.

    I got married 11+ years ago to a great guy who loved my mind and who I was–never mind that he was not attracted to me at first sight, or ever for quite a while after knowing me. He supported me through a very long slog to getting my PhD and all of my struggles over my gender identity and what it means for me and our family. It was probably harder and took longer to find someone like him, but it was definitely worth it. I still wonder about how lucky I got!

  7. ep September 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your story, Belle. 🙂 I’m glad you found someone who’s your match in what sound like excellent ways. Also good to find another person who empathizes with the plight of the intellectual woman.

  8. Dallin September 18, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    I remember when I first read that introduction–I immediately knew that the 800+ pages would be more than worth it. Great, great novel, one of the best.

  9. SL September 19, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    I love Middlemarch. One of the best explorations of how life can turn out in spite of expectations, I think.

  10. amanda5245 September 19, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    On a side note, Middlemarch is rumored to have been based on the lives of a real life British couple. http://www.amazon.com/Names-Stories-Emilia-Victorian-Culture/dp/0195158199

  11. jks September 20, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    Sorry, I was addressing the fact that as a teen you didn’t quickly/easily start to use sex as power, partly because you had a happy home life with a loving father. You said, “I grew up with the ideal that I could be valued for my mind and for my heart, not just for my body. ” Sounds ideal!
    I did not address the rest of your post, and perhaps the main idea. Sorry. I didn’t read it as a needy rant at all! (To be honest, I don’t completely understand the quote so I couldn’t really address that part).
    I haven’t been single for a long time. However, what I have learned about social skills since those days would have helped me in so many ways.
    I am CONVINCED that being attractive to men is not just about looks. Which is why two equally “good looking” girls will have very different experiences with men. Social skills differences. Another two equal looking girls will have opposite experiences – one is having sex with her boyfriend and one is wondering why no boy ever asks her out on a date. Self-esteem or neediness differences.
    The number one thing I would go back and tell myself is to learn to smile and say hi and make eye contact with people. Work your way up from there. It has taken a lot of practice and it is still hard for me when I’m busy doing something else, but social skills can be learned. I’m even trying to teach my kids.

  12. ep September 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    Thank you for explaining, jks! That makes sense.


  1. How Redefining Beauty Campaigns Reinforce Our Notions of Women and Beauty (Part II) « By Common Consent, a Mormon Blog - February 16, 2011

    […] to Kathryn Soper’s article Why Standards Night is Substandard, Elizabeth P. of Scholaristas explained, “[Her] experience did not resonate with mine at all…,because after all, how many of us are […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: