Whoever learns the answer can own the world. I found this out at a dinner party I gave in Sun Valley a few years ago. There were about twenty of us, including some of the most interesting financiers and politicians of our time.
I was seated at the end of the table, flanked by two women. The men at the center were involved in a heated and intense discussion.
In a very soft voice, I whispered to my two dinner companions: "What does a woman want?" I don't know how anyone else could have heard the question. But I must have touched a subliminal nerve because the conversation at the rest of the table immediately stopped. Everyone wanted to hear the answer. Despite the wide-ranging interests of the group, we never left the subject for the rest of the evening. In the past two years, I've asked the same question hundreds of times, at social functions, parties of all sizes and shapes, and dozens of one-on-one conversations.
Women have told me that what a woman wants is "intimacy," "respect," "to give and receive love," "financial security," "trust," "to be cherished," "character, chemistry and communication," "fidelity," "to love and be loved passionately," "honesty," "a man who is humble and listens."
I've chronicled many hundreds of answers. Every woman is different. They don't like to be classified. But there was one common theme among the women I spoke with - all of them answered the question relative to what they wanted from a man.
This led me to ponder the state of marriage in this country today. Why are there so many unhappy marriages? Why do so many marriages seem idyllic at first, and turn to dust five, ten or fifteen years later? Most men and women have fallen deeply in love at least once in their life. Why did so many of these love affairs fail? Why can't these deep emotions endure? Sex is only important at first, but then deep love takes hold, or so "they" say. Shouldn't this growing love sustain the relationship or does sex keep it alive? A man marries a woman when she wears a size six. Ten years later she can barely fit into a size twelve. If she really cared about him, would she let herself go like this? Or is his lack of attention, sexual interest and love the root cause of the problem?
Of course, the same holds true for men, many of whom let themselves go physically in middle age.
Women tell me that many of their contemporaries are attracted to men who treat them badly. Why are women so perverse in this regard? Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats presents the eternal dilemma - we are happiest just before we attain our hearts' desire: "Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!"
Pamela Harriman was called the "greatest courtesan of the century." She certainly wasn't beautiful or even particularly sexy, yet she had as lovers many of the most influential and exciting men of her era. Averell Harriman was asked on his death bed, if he had any regrets. "Yes, that I didn't marry her the first time we were involved [after World War II]." What was her secret? Perhaps she had the skill and knowledge to make a man feel powerful, brilliant, manly and profoundly good about himself.
A female friend of mine - let's call her Jane -- had lunch with Pamela Harriman ten years ago. She probed into Jane's thoughts about everything. Pamela never talked about herself. Pamela hung on to Jane's every word. She made Jane feel important, fascinating - in a way she had never experienced before. Imagine those powers unleashed on a man. He probably wouldn't stand a chance. Perhaps there is a male version of Pamela Harriman. A few months ago I was at a chic dinner party in Miami, consisting of Europeans, Latinos and Asians. I asked my dinner companions: "What does a woman want?" The topic took over the evening, as usual. After we left the table, one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen took me aside. "I'll tell you what a woman really wants," she said. She led me to a quiet corner of a small drawing room overlooking Biscayne Bay. I studied her. She had the oldest soul I'd ever seen and I sensed she was more woman than most men could handle.
She didn't need to brag, she knew it.
"A woman wants a man who knows how to empower her," she said. I found myself mesmerized by the impact of her physical presence. She was of an indeterminable age, somewhere between 35 and 50. She looked 40, but she carried the wisdom of the centuries in her eyes. She had a deep, sexy voice, with a slight accent. "I once met such a man," she said, "many years ago." Her eyes drifted into a faraway place. "I gave up my marriage, financial security, everything I had -- for him."
She sighed. I felt in her a deep sense of sorrow, loss and vulnerability. She put her hand on my arm. "There isn't a woman here tonight who wouldn't want to be his lover." Her eyes grew moist. "If they knew what I know about him." "What was he like?" I asked, anxious to hear, yet insecure at how I might measure up by comparison.
A gentle, loving smile flashed across her face, as she revered the precious moments from the past. The intervening years seem to have fallen away and I could almost see him through her dreamy eyes.
"The women tonight talked about the same things, respect, intimacy, love, closeness, trust, communication. You've probably heard the same words many times." I nodded in agreement. "Words are only words," she said, almost coldly. "Communication for most men is literal, but for women, it's feelings. What counts is how a man makes a woman feel about herself." She tossed her head, her long black hair cascading around her neck and shoulders, as only a sensuous woman knows how. "The first night we met, he spent all night listening to me, drawing out my feelings, desires, emotions - long suppressed and in deep need of expression. "Even though we were at a noisy restaurant, the room suddenly became quiet and everyone and everything seemed to disappear except for him.
"He found and launched the real woman in me. He developed it, nurtured it, drew it out. I am the woman I am today because of him.
"He surrendered to me. He gave me total power over his feelings. I realized that I owned him - his heart and his soul. Every woman has this power - but it often needs to be developed by a special man."
I looked out over Biscayne Bay and pondered this eternal truth. "But there was a hook that I didn't see," she continued. "I too became obsessed. "Within weeks I could think of nothing else but making love to him. When he called me, I would drop whatever I was doing, rush out of meetings, cancel appointments - just to be with him." "He had me walking in a daze, in a dream world, dropping purses, forgetting where I had left things." "It wasn't just the sex, although I never had more sex, or better sex. It wasn't that he was well-endowed, and no matter what the 'experts' say, it does matter." Even after all these years, she could work herself into a state of excitement over him. Tiny red capillaries rose out of the skin underneath her eyes and a light film of perspiration glistened at the top of her lip.
"He craved me with a passion and intensity that drove me out of my mind. He was the most sexually spontaneous man I ever met - he wanted me everywhere, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. We spent days and days in bed. Time and again, I'd say, I'd had enough, no more, PLEASE, and it turned out to be just the beginning. I fell into an abyss of obsessive passion. I couldn't stop. Put a gun to my head. Threaten to pull the trigger if I don't stop. I say …. pull the trigger."
"So you believe," I interrupted, "a woman really wants obsessive, sexual love?" "Yes and no. That was only part of it. He was the most romantic man I ever met. He would arrive on my doorstep, whisk me away for a week to some mystery place, along with a suitcase of the most gorgeous new clothes, all of them picked by him, and somehow, incredibly, all perfect.
"He sent me flowers constantly. We celebrated every important date. He never forgot one, ever. "He noticed even a miniscule change in my physical appearance, a slightly darker tint in my nail polish, a different wave in my hair, a new dress, different perfume, new skin cream. "He told me so many times that I was the most beautiful woman in the world that I started to believe him, and eventually became one. "He had a stimulating mind with a wide variety of interests. He showed me things I never would have been exposed to. He taught me about reading people and discovering what they were really like.
"He taught me how to laugh.
"There is a fine line between deep romantic love and laughter. We would laugh hilariously for hours on end. We had so many in-jokes that going out in public became dangerous. The smallest thing could set us off. "In reality, we craved each other so much we didn't need anyone else or want to share a moment with another person. "He cherished me. He was my best friend in the world. We had no secrets. He caressed me every night in bed, with the softest gentlest, touch …. everywhere. He hugged me to sleep every night. There was never a moment we were together that I doubted him or felt insecure. His strength, his power surrounded me, engulfed me, enveloped me and kept the harsh world at bay. "And I gave him the same, which empowered me and him simultaneously." The obvious question had been on the tip of my tongue ever since she began to describe her former lover. But I didn't have the heart to ask her.
How many women have known such a man? How many of you have been able to sustain a deep and satisfying relationship with a man over the long term? Why do so many great loves go wrong? What happened? What mistakes were made? How can they be avoided? How can these great love stories, which we all secretly long for, be sustained? _____________________________
One day I'll tell another story. This is of the woman who thinks the answer lies in BOTH passion and nurturing - - to love a man with great intensity as a powerful man, and also to love him as a helpless boy.
And so my query goes on and on .…. If there is an answer, I'll find it …..maybe. But perhaps there is no answer.
What do you think women truly want in relationships?