What Men and Women Really Want
Last year, James Martin, Life Coach, Speaker and Image Consultant at J. Dorthan Martin, invited me to participate in a 2-part discussion series to spark gender-focused conversations about relationships: "What He Really Wants" and "What She Actually Needs."
I was there to listen more than I was there to speak. Here's a little of what I said:
What do men want?
What men want isn't important. What YOUR man wants is what matters. If you don't have a man, then focus on yourself. Enjoy the freedom of being accountable to and responsible for no one but yourself, children excluded. Do not twist yourself into a pretzel to be what 100 different men [who don't matter] want. When you meet the one, ask him want he wants. He'll tell you.
What do women need?
What women need isn't important. What YOUR woman needs is important. She's her own woman and no one else. She may or may not live up to your idealistic expectations. Perhaps she loves football, hates jewelry, and isn't great with kids. Imposing boilerplate ideas about gender onto her will be a disaster. When you meet her, get the specifics on what your woman needs. She'll tell you.
Both questions had a range of answers, sometimes contradicting. Each panelist brought their own layers of experiences to the issues. There were no one-size-fits-all answers. That was the point of the conversations--to bring different voices with different perspectives to the table.
I wanted to share what I learned from the men and women who participated.
what he really wants
Purpose: Men offer insight on what they want from women and what they want out of relationships based on their experiences and preferences.
Target audience: Women
Audience make-up: Women
Audience relationship status: By show of hands, half of the attendees were in relationships and half were not
Panelist make-up: 4 men, 1 woman
Panelist relationship statuses: 1 single man, 1 divorced/single man, 2 married men, 1 single woman
Discussion: Before the discussion began, one panelist, a Doctor of Psychology, shared a concern with me. He didn't want the talk to turn into a "Men vs. Women" debate because he believed we all want the same thing: love and partnership. We couldn't have a productive conversation if we were arguing. His sensitivity to the quality of the discussion made me hopeful about the talk ahead. I shared his concern. I was set on keeping my comments about singleness empowering.
The conversation began on a high note with the group speaking to individual power, choices, what a man respecting a woman acts and sounds like, and vice versa.
The men on the panel wanted basic things before anything else: respect, healthy communication, and tempered expectations (not expecting him to do things that you think a man "should" do).
Everything was going good, and in one phrase, "It's your fault," things went off the rails.
A female member of the audience sought advice from the men. She was in a new relationship with a man who wanted her to send sexy pictures to his phone. She had two issues with his request: (1) they hadn't known each other long enough for him to make that request and (2) she didn't feel comfortable doing it anyways.
Side note that I shared with the group: You can take a body shot from the neck down. No face. No identifying body marks. No actual parts showing. Just cleavage, angles, and body curvature. Sexiness and deniability are the goals. Ok, back to the story.
One trouble-making panelist, whose girlfriend later told me that his goal that night was to stir the pot, replied to the lady that her boyfriend had plainly communicated what he wanted from her. If a man says what he wants, then that's what he wants. And if she didn't do it and he cheated, it was her fault.
Oh. My. God. No.
The crowd erupted. "Oh, Heeell No! Nope! Not her fault if he cheats!"
My co-panelists' eyes widened. Heads shook. Lips tightened.
The floodgates opened with questions, "Why should a woman send naked pictures to a man who hasn't even earned them? Why do men cheat? Why do they think this is ok? Why do they lie? Why don't they court women anymore? Why are they so selfish?"
This is where the conversation stayed for the remainder of the evening. I was unprepared for the amount of discussion that revolved around cheating and dating dissatisfaction, but again, I was there to listen.
What I heard from the women was:
- Fear of and heartbreak from being cheated on
- Disappointment from men trying to expedite intimacy or pressure them to do things they were uncomfortable with
- Irritation by the lack of courtesy that seems to be the new normal in dating. Like, texting an invite to happy hour on the day-of instead of planning a date
- Weariness from the absence of courtship
In a word, I heard frustration.
A panelist mumbled something under his breath about "low energy." I knew what he was talking about because I felt it, too. We'd gone from positive to Maury. That's not to say that anybody wanted to ignore negative experiences of the audience. We instead wanted to emphasize the power of making choices. The choice to say "no," to walk away, to not entertain certain behaviors, and to be ok with never seeing these dudes again. We wanted to stress openness and optimism. Dating is not easy, but your ability to recover from disappointment and your outlook on the future makes a difference. All that was a hard sell after being told that other people's shortcomings were their faults.
Thoughts: If you're a single woman hoping to be in a relationship one day, please:
(1) Discourage your thoughts from going negative. Avoid contemplating your future man cheating just as you probably manage to avoid thoughts of your future man being a serial killer. Your thoughts are energy. Keep your energy up, not down. Will any of this guarantee no disappointments? No. It won't. But being paranoid about hypothetical bad things isn't helpful either. Stay positive. It's hard sometimes, but isn't that life?
(2) Do less talking and more walking. If you know that something isn't good for you (naked selfies), say something. If you're not taken seriously or made to feel bad, walk.
(3) Do not allow people to stir your emotions by placing blame on you for others' decisions. My dear panelist did what he did for entertainment value, but I'm sure there were women in the audience who went home that night with that message of blame weighing heavy on their hearts.
What they didn't know was behind his comments was a story. He'd been through a bad break up with a woman who emasculated him for making less money than her. She ridiculed him for not having stature she thought he should have. This doesn't excuse his shenanigans, but it might explain why he did what he did.
That's my point. These kinds of comments (It's your fault, etc) says more about the person saying it, than it does about you. You know as well as I that it isn't your fault.
You have power. You have choices. Exercise both.
What she actually needs
Purpose: Women express what they desire in a relationship and men gain better understanding of what women need.
Target audience: Men
Audience make-up: Women
Panelist make-up: 4 women
Panelist relationship statuses: 2 single women, 2 married women
Discussion: Let's address the elephant in the room. This discussion was geared towards men. The hope was to have a room full of them there. Men were [mostly] absent. So it was us women, learning from each other.
The conversation began and ended on a high note. The women talked about individuality, strength, understanding, and love, and that's pretty much where it stayed all night.
Brilliant women like Tiffany Thomas spoke about dichotomies of ambitious, smart, and capable women like herself. There's a need for professional achievement. There's also a reaction to a bass voice wondering if there's something to eat. Both those women exist within herself and she's comfortable with that.
Another panelist took me to church when she said what a woman needs is to be able to live her purpose with the support of her partner. Her motto was: ask for his support, not his permission, in a wise move to avoid partners behaving like they're in a parent/child relationship.
This hit home for me because at the time, I'd just walked away from what could've been a relationship because he wanted some control over his partner--her clothes, her hair, her focus. I remember contemplating how absolutely exhausting a relationship with him would be with all his arbitrary rules for this and that, which were far more important to him than purpose.
The personal stories that the women shared with so much humility and transparency were about surviving domestic abuse, remarriage, understanding the needs of another, empathizing with and supporting your spouse, the choice to not have children, and working with each other towards a common goal.
I left the panel inspired by the women I shared the stage with.
Thoughts: The absence of men for a male-focused event on relationships was interesting. I wondered:
- Is this why most relationship books and articles are geared toward women and not men?
Fact: According to dating coach, Evan Marc Katz, the self-help section of any bookstore is 90% geared towards women. He says, "This is a market reaction to the demand for this kind of advice. Women ask for dating advice, men generally don’t." The turn out for "What She Actually Needs" suggests that this is accurate.
- Are men interested in having these conversations? See above fact.
- Is the burden on women to make relationships work if men aren't seeking any wisdom or perspective on the subject?
- Is their disinterest in relationship improvement tied to their being single? In other words, do they become interested only after getting into a relationship?
A lot of questions; no answers yet.
where do we go from here?
Challenge and reject
If you haven't already begun doing so, begin challenging, if not outright rejecting tired dating advice. Particularly advice that centers around played out gender stereotypes. You know: All men cheat. Men are wired to be unfaithful. I've heard this silly talk from men and women.
But let's say that's true, then it must also be true that women are wired similarly. You either have to believe that or believe that you've been duped into buying the myth of muted sexuality in women. Truth: It ain't muted.
If what exists is a market reaction to our demand, then let's demand better.
What does dating advice have to do with any of this?
In 2013, writer Zerlina Maxwell penned "Why Is So Much Relationship Advice So Bad?" Great question, by the way.
As she explains:
"Dating advice like Steve Harvey’s sets up a paradigm in which women are blamed for their relationship problems because they don’t understand the men they are trying to love.
It is evidence of a played-out narrative that women are single or not in long-term partnerships because they aren’t catering to their men enough. It’s never the male behavior that needs to change, or a little bit of balance between two equal partners that is suggested by the mainstream media. It is a constant narrative that women are the problem and need to change.
It sets up a cultural framework that can only be shattered if men and women both stop repeating and internalizing all of the wrong lessons of a bygone era."
Case In Point:
At the "What He Really Wants" talk, I shared a dating story to illustrate personal power and choices.
As my date and I entered the restaurant, he remembered that he left his wallet in his car. He told me to go in and he'd be right back. Ten minutes passed. It doesn't take 10 minutes to walk across a small parking lot. My mind went into low-scale survival mode, "Ok, so if he left me here, all I have to do is pay for my drink, then call a cab. I'll be ok." But first, I called him.
He admitted that he left because he didn't want to tell me the truth. He'd accidentally left his wallet at home, which was near the restaurant. He attempted to jet off to his apartment, get his wallet, then get back before I ever suspected anything. He said he was on his way back. Before we ended the call, he told me to order him a drink so it'd be waiting for him.
I told the audience that my choice right then and there was to not take him seriously. That was it for us. He lied. He lied about something silly. His inability to honestly communicate demonstrated a lack maturity. There were a few options that he could've chosen, but deceit was the route he took. And that whole "Order me a drink" thing? We were done.
Here's where it gets juicy. After sharing this, one lady in the audience suggested that perhaps I was being stuck up for how I handled it (No offense taken by this comment. I've been accused of worse). She said, guys don't like that--women who are stuck up and rigid.
This is how we've been conditioned.
What I like didn't matter. My feelings didn't matter. My role was to sit there and take it. Be thankful that he came back and paid for my meal because that's what guys like. And what guys like is more important than my preference for honesty.
The only old fashioned I want is in a glass
We're beyond these antiquated beliefs. It doesn't work anymore. If we continue hearing that women should carry the relationship load while men drink beer, that hurts both genders. It deludes men into believing they bear little to no responsibility and it wears out women. It's harmful to the whole.
We must, as Ms. Maxwell advises, stop repeating and internalizing all of the wrong lessons of a bygone era.
Photo credit: Unsplash via Pexels