Sigmund Freud spent much of his career seeking an answer to the question “Was will das Weib?” (translation “What does a woman want?”). As a husband of twenty years, with two daughters, and as an attorney watching my clients struggle with this same question, I tend to enjoy contemplating and reading on the topic. Often my male clients struggle trying to figure out what their estranged wives or baby mamas want. More often my clients who have the greatest difficulty setting clear goals for my representation are female.
Even in my own household I struggle with this issue, finding it difficult to get a firm commitment from my spouse to what she wants until I make it clear what I want. How much of this is nature versus nuture, I haven’t a clue. I do suspect that women are socialized to put their own needs second so that a clear statement of their wishes is somehow considered unladylike. A biological explanation–as the primary nurturers of children women would have reduced reproductive success, in that they would raise fewer offspring to reproductive age, if they placed their own needs first–cannot be discounted. But often simple questions like “do you want to go to a movie?” are not met with a “yes” or “no” but with a “what do you want?” Guys simply don’t answer that way. This “lost in translation” between the genders is so extreme that a simple statement from my wife this week,“did you know the Barenaked Ladies [a rock band] are coming to town” can’t be merely considered a simple conveying of information but must be considered as a possible request to get tickets to the concert. Of course, it takes my teenage daughter to note that her mother’s relaying of this information might not be a simple notation of fact but a request to attend this concert; after 20 years I remain too clueless to female desire to differentiate innocuous conversation from expressions of wishes.
In a significant number of the divorces I have handled over 16+ years, mismatched sexual needs and desires has been a strong component of the marital unhappiness. Nowhere is the questions of “What does a woman want?” more perplexing. A few months before I started my legal blog “What Do Women Want?” (link on photo below) was the lead article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. It discussed and described the latest research on female sexual desire.
Two insights from this article: 1) women might be bigger sexual freaks than men (something my female colleagues and friends often tell me, though my legal practice experience says otherwise); 2) God help men who are trying to please women sexually.