Not too long ago, Cute Boyfriend and I had a conversation about "us." Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I hate conversations about "us." I am starting to get better at them because I have been told that I have to, but I think it a bit weird to analyze a relationship while you are still in it. And, I particularly hate this type of conversation because I never really know what the goal of the conversation is. It’s hard to have a serious discussion when you don’t know what your end goal is, because you start talking yourself in circles instead of getting to a point.
As I looked across the room at my very sweet boyfriend, I realized that more than anything; I wanted to not be talking about this anymore. And then, in the spirit of self-analysis, I asked my bad self: why? Was I simply trying to keep the peace? Did I want to stop talking before someone got hurt? Was "Six Feet Under" coming on in 2 minutes? Or did I want to stop talking because we were getting into the territory of The Future, and when it comes to The Future, I don’t really know what I want.
So, I started to ask myself "What do women really want?"
Virginia Woolf wrote that women need a room of one's own and money so they can write. Cindy Lauper (social icon of the 80s) sang "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Patricia Ireland wrote a whole book about What Women Want, and concluded that we want to be treated like equal human beings in society.
In the interest of completely unscientific research, I asked this question of a select group of friends. Responses were interesting, if not entirely insightful. I got a lot of, "women want it all." I also heard that "women want the same things as men," that "women don’t know what they want," and that "everyone just wants to be happy."
One single male friend who will remain nameless for his own sake, sent me back a list of misogynistic generalizations that included, among others, "Women want men to make decisions for them. Women want to be coddled. Women want to be in relationships more than men." And, my personal quizzical favorite: "Women want a world without football."
Which proves that some men have no idea what women want.
One friend told me that women all want to be Oprah. He didn’t say why, but I am sure that he didn’t mean we all want to be unmarried, childless, and constantly struggling with our weight. I am sure he meant that we want to be the one amazing woman who struggled to get to the top and stay there so long that she can now help those around her to get to the top in their lives as well.
Some people say that women want everything: a perfect relationship, a perfect career, a perfect home, perfect children, and to look perfect all the time. If so, then why do so many people abhor Martha Stewart?
One close friend told me, "Women want the right to change their minds."
I like this one. It seems to address the duplicitous personality traits suggested by some of the male respondents. One male friend wrote: "Women want to be independent, unless we’re talking about car repair, money matters, or squishing spiders in the bathtub." He also wrote, "Women want to be treated as equals, but if a guy doesn’t open a door, or actually takes you up on your half-hearted offer to split the check, it gets ugly real fast." Another guy wrote "Women want someone else to take initiative for them, unless they've been wronged somehow -- in which case, look out."
What these guys are saying with their "bang you over the head" kind of subtlety, is that women give out mixed signals about what they want. At any point in their life, a woman may chose to focus attention on her career, establishing her independence, making money, having a family, or maintaining a relationship. And likely not all at the same time. Maybe the same woman who once wanted everyone to think she was strong, independent, and self-sufficient now realizes that it’s easier to deal with problems when you have someone to share them with. Maybe she discovered that she couldn’t curl up with a report card or a bank statement at the end of the night.
One of my closest friends wrote: "I want it all. I want the career, the best friends, the man who would die for me - not necessarily in that order. I also want the money, the fame, the fortune, the glitz, the glitter, and the anonymity all at once. I want the picket fence and the high-rise penthouse. I want the security of having a child counting on me at home, and the freedom to fly off and explore the far reaches of the world no strings attached."
To some, this may seem indecisive. That’s silly. The whole point of the women’s movement was not to give us the right to be superwomen. It was to give us the right to decide for ourselves what we want to do and who we want to be, and the right to do that thing and be that person. If I want to be a stay-at-home mom in my 20s and have a career in my 30s, I should have the right to do that without having employers question my decision to wait 10 years before starting a career. And by the same token, if I want to start a family after reaching a certain level in my career, I want to be able to slow down, travel less, work fewer hours and not have people tell me I’ve "lost my edge."
A very wise and beautiful woman I know wrote the following: "I simply want to be comfortable. Comfortable with myself, my friends, my family, my surroundings and comfortable with my wants, needs, and desires. I want to have that easy feeling you get when everything is in its place, which is just slightly out of place. That easy feeling like you're walking around barefoot on a cool tile floor on a warm, slightly humid day and you're a) sitting by yourself to read a great book or b) entering a room filled with friends and family for a lively conversation... that cozy feeling when you get into bed on a cool foggy night just out of a hot bath into warm clean sheets... that calm feeling when you're driving and you just don't care about that guy that just cut you off or about that car that just double parked right in front of you. I want that feeling of satisfaction when you realize you just did something absolutely right."
When I tried to list on my own what it that I want in life, I came up with the following:
I want love, peace, and happiness.
I want enough money that I don’t have to think about money 23 hours a day.
I want to be taken seriously and adored by the exact same people.
I want to be able to experience emotions without being told I am emotional.
I want to have someone else deal with my car and not feel bad about it.
I want to not feel conscious about how I look now, how I will look tomorrow, and how I will look in 20 years.
I admit, some of these things are beyond my control. I attended a service recently where author Isabel Allende preached a sermon. Among other great things, she said that Americans hate the idea of fatalism, because they hate the idea that they cannot control something. This, of course, sums up my personality in a nutshell. Her point was that we cannot control what happens to us –- we can only control how we react to it.
I can’t stop the media from telling me that I have to look 24 for the rest of my life in order to be beautiful. And I cannot stop people from treating me with less respect because I look only 24. I can only keep on doing what I am doing and hoping that one day, my appearance won’t matter.
I can’t stop displaying my emotions, and I can’t stop people from telling me I am emotional. But I can stop apologizing for it. This is who I am.
On the whole, I agree to some extent with all of the suggestions about what women want. (Except the one about football. Go NY Giants.) But I think what women want most is summed up by an expression they have in French: Bien dans sa peau. It translates as "good in your skin."
I think women want to feel secure with themselves and not feel the pressure to always do something more, look a different way, or act like someone else. I think we want people to accept and respect us for who we are. And that person who we are may change more than once. We may change more than twice. But to find friends and partners who will love us and appreciate us throughout all our changes –- that is a good goal in life.
Next time I find myself in an "us" conversation, I’ll be armed and ready. I want to continue to be myself. I have wonderful friends and a wonderfully Cute Boyfriend who love me and appreciate me for who I am. Maybe I’m not Oprah, but I’m doing just fine.
Lee Anne is a frustrated "contributing writer" to the Tufts Daily who has never gotten over getting dissed for a column. As a result, she feels the need to write long, somewhat amusing emails to friends and occassionally submit articles to small publications. During the day, she contributes to "what's wrong with this country" by producing television and radio commericals that make you think you are fat, skinny, hip, unhip, old, young, smart, stupid, grown-up, or just a kid again - depending on which products you buy. Her parents are real proud.
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8.15.01 @ 12:51p
I can tell you what I want as a woman: to want whatever I want. Period. No boundaries. I've learned from experience that certain things I want change from time to time...but exploration is the fun part.
I love what your friend said about being "comfortable,"though. There's great truth to her observations.
8.15.01 @ 1:56p
I want love, peace, and happiness. I want enough money that I don’t have to think about money 23 hours a day. I want to be taken seriously and adored by the exact same people. I want to be able to experience emotions without being told I am emotional. I want to have someone else deal with my car and not feel bad about it. I want to not feel conscious about how I look now, how I will look tomorrow, and how I will look in 20 years.
Me too! Me too! Especially the "someone else deal with my car and not feel bad about it" part. You think that's tough for a girl, try being a guy with no mechanical skills. (Replace "Dylan" with "Wuss".)
You gotta be you, you gotta want to be you, that's pretty much it. Boy or girl.
8.15.01 @ 2:30p
Do women make any distinction between "want" and "expect"?
8.15.01 @ 2:40p
I'm surprised "love" didn't come up more often in your analysis of what women want. You touched on it briefly, but I figured it'd be a bigger part.
8.15.01 @ 5:49p
Adam: what, exactly, do you mean by that? Just want to make sure I'm not expecting to read into your above comment anything I shouldn't.
Matt, all you need is love. I've got nothing but love, baby. And if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.
8.15.01 @ 5:49p
That is NOT a come on, by the way.
8.15.01 @ 6:02p
Well, first let me just say that I thought this was a fantastic column. Just really well written. That said, I'm reading through the lists of what women want, and it's things like "I want it all," or "I want to be comfortable," or "Women want the right to change their minds." And my question is do these women expect to get everything they want? Because I'd love to be able to indulge any "duplicitous personality traits" I may have, but I don't expect I'd be able to get away with it.
I'm not trying to be accusatory at all; I'm honestly curious about whether women feel that they can expect to get what they want. Because life should only be that fair.
8.15.01 @ 6:10p
Tracey, thanks for clearing that up. I was trying to get Lee Anne to add one more line to her essay: "But the one thing women really want is Matt."
8.15.01 @ 6:10p
And I'm honestly curious about whether you expect any of us to make a pronouncement that "women feel" a certain way. I can only tell you how one woman feels, and frankly, sometimes I don't even understand myself well enough to explain me.
I want to be happy. And I am. And I know that makes me lucky.
8.15.01 @ 11:52p
Adam raised an interesting question, for me, anyway. I asked myself, "are these things I WANT, or things I EXPECT?" and I concluded that what I EXPECT is nothing more than respect for whatever choices I make -- to have them acknowledged as legitimate choices, good or bad, not to have them dismissed because I made these choices in the person of a woman.
But even if I were a guy, I would still refuse to squish spiders. Bleeeah.
8.16.01 @ 8:11a
I really don't think the "want" vs. "expect" question can be pinned to women *or* men. All people have certain wants and expectations..and I think either gender can suffer from expectations that are too lofty/unreasonable that may go unsatisfied, especially if they are reliant on someone else to fulfill that expectation.
I beleive if you're honest with yourself, what you want will be more clearly defined and therefore, more attainable.
Unless you're deranged and break into John Cusack's house, expecting to have sex with him and wanting to have his baby. I can see where attaining that might be problematic.
8.16.01 @ 8:14a
Matt, I'm sure you're a desirable creature and all...but this is a family forum.
lee anne ramsey
8.16.01 @ 10:16a
Hmm. Interesting question about the "want" vs. "expect" - I don't know. This article was so darn long that I think it would've become like Titanic/Pearl Harbor if I had delved into that one.
Maybe people didn't focus on love as a "want" because they expect love as a given in life?
8.16.01 @ 12:46p
With so many people out there desperately searching for it, I'd be hard pressed to say that love is a "given" or even "expected."
8.16.01 @ 12:50p
Tracey -- actually I expect him to come to MY house. The rest is true.
8.16.01 @ 1:04p
Matt, I think you're right.
Jael, you shameless hussy. Wipe that drool off your mouth.... and move over! He's mine, I tell you! Mine!
8.16.01 @ 6:06p
As cliché as it sounds, it really does seem like just when you least expect it, and you're sick and tired and done with searching, and you're the furthest from thinking of it as a given, that's when John Cusack shows up.
8.16.01 @ 6:07p
Or Joan, in my case. (Ahem.)
8.16.01 @ 7:38p
Wow. We need another sidebar just to keep up with all the metaphores.
8.17.01 @ 9:29a
Metaphors, hell. I'd do Joan Cusack. I'd even do Ann Cusack.
8.17.01 @ 9:51a
Oh, I forgot, I also want flowers.
lee anne ramsey
8.19.01 @ 11:32p
I still think it is a given that people want love. And I think that most people expect that at some point in their life, be it at 20 or be it at 80, they will fall in love.
Perhaps the question for Matt is: do people just want to be wanted?
lee anne ramsey
8.19.01 @ 11:34p
Separately - I had an interesting critique about the transition from the little insight into lee anne and cute boyfriend and the rest of the article. Did anyone else find it jarring/confusing? Any writerly advice for how that could have been smoother? Should I have forgone the whole "apply to my life" opening and closing parts?
Just trying to better my writing so I can quit my day job one day.
8.20.01 @ 1:23p
Lee Anne - I think everyone wants to feel like they're a part of something, whether it's a community or a religion or a team or a sewing circle. And if you don't feel loved, you feel like you're missing out. So yes, I think everyone wants to be wanted.
8.20.01 @ 2:30p
You could have titled the piece "What Do Women Really Want?", started with the Virginia Woolf paragraph, and cut off the last paragraph, sure. But I enjoyed the humor of your Cute Boyfriend intro, and it seems appropriate for Intrepid Media, which feels more like a friendly writer's group than other public vehicles. If you submit the piece to another journal, and personal isn't appropriate, you could easily lose it.
That said, I get the same feedback (to cut off the first and last paragraphs of my columns, the personal parts) a lot. I've been told I should chop off the last paragraph of The Desert Museum, which is posted in my portfolio here, and is a sort of personal summation. I agree. I should have. It's a stronger piece without it.
8.21.01 @ 10:29a
Yeah. I was recently told that I didn't need the personal comments, but I feel that I write better (sometimes) if I feel like I'm just talking to the readers instead of "writing" for them.
Seperately, do people out there think that men and women want different things?
8.21.01 @ 4:34p
I want to quit my day job like Lee Anne.
8.21.01 @ 8:41p
Lee Anne - I thought the transition was okay, as you were questioning what you want, and trying to stretch that universally. Although it probably could have been a little tighter (hey, family forum here) it worked for me. I also thought it connected well because Cute Boyfriend was doing the "future" talk, and YOU were the one wondering "what about my future?"...which, sterotypically, is not what MOST women would be pondering when Cute Boyfriend starts talking "us."
8.21.01 @ 8:46p
damn, I hate it when I catch a spelling error after posting...Which leads to my reply to Adam: it's hard to generalize by gender, because the pit you can fall into when you do that is pretty large.
I think men and women want many of the same things...but often don't know how to communicate them, especially when it involves romance.
8.22.01 @ 12:47p
...hence the fact that Lee Anne hates conversations about "us".
1.8.05 @ 12:27a
So i ask myself a burning question what does this woman expect of me. Very cute girl that also likes to talk about Van Gogh why has she gone from intensly likeing me to intensly ignoring me