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Sigmund Freud was one of the most insightful men of the 20th century. Yet before he died he admitted that, try as he might, he could not answer the question that had confounded him throughout his life: "What is it that a woman wants?"
He famously ascribed to women a psychological mechanism difficult to repeat in polite company, but the gist of which is that women envy male phallic qualities. To Freud, to be a woman was to be a non-man, and until today feminists are angry at Freud, dismissing him as an ignorant and chauvinistic male who denied women an intrinsic identity.
But Freud was not the only man who failed to understand women. There seems to be a unique male blindness wherein even husbands who have lived with their wives most of their lives still cannot answer the question - what it is that their wives most want.
I have witnessed how this male mystification is the cause of many an unhappy marriage. Husbands today seem incapable of truly making their wives happy and many women now look to their children to fill the void left in their lives by an unfulfilled marriage, which accounts for why, strangely, parenthood and marriage often seem to be not in harmony but in conflict. There is likewise little question in my mind that, while it takes two to tango, the high rate of divorce is today primarily the fault of men, flummoxed as they are by a woman's deepest needs.
But surrounded as I am by a wife and five daughters, and having been raised by a single mother, and having spent thousands of hours counseling women in difficult marriages (not to mention being a male who humors himself that he is deeply in touch with his feminine side), I feel competent to answer this, the mother of all questions.
WHAT A woman wants is to be chosen. A woman wishes to be the center of her husband's universe, primary in his life, and competing with none for his attention.
Let's take a step back. Why do women want to get married? Looked at logically, marriage is a terrible proposition for a woman. She has to risk her life to have a man's children (up until the 20th century one in three women died in childbirth). She literally loses her name, as she takes her husband's name, as do the children. She makes a man a home and assumes, even in our egalitarian age, most of the domestic workload. And today she has to hold a job to provide that all-important second income.
Why would a woman leave the parents who love her unconditionally for a man whose love is so inconsistent? As Helen Rowland famously said "Marriage is where a woman exchanges the attention of many men for the inattention of one." Why would any sane person agree to so rotten a deal?
Because a man can give a woman the one thing which her parents cannot. Her parents can love her. But only he can choose her. He can make her feel special and unique. He can place her at the center of his universe, basking in her light like the earth brightened by the luminescence of the sun. A man is a dark planet, and a woman brightens and warms his cold world.
THE JEWISH nation has suffered throughout history for being God's chosen people. But even when there is a price to be paid and suffering to be had, there is still no substitute for being chosen. It's a gift that every husband must learn to give his wife.
This chosenness that a woman craves is established whenever a man puts a woman first in his life, making her the apex of his existence. At Mt. Sinai, when God chose the Jewish nation as his "bride," the first two commandments He set forth were, "I am the Lord your God," and, "You shall have no other gods before me."
These commandments establish God's demands for primacy and exclusivity in His relationship with the Jewish people. I am God. I must always come first. And second, you may never divert your attention to other gods. There can be no one else.
That is what every woman searches for in life, a relationship that will establish her uniqueness as the one and only. To be sure, men too desire to be special. But they make the mistake of establishing their uniqueness through vocation rather than relationships, through career rather than kin. They take greater pride in being corporate vice presidents than being husbands and fathers. And this is why so many men are so deeply insecure. Because the locus of their self-esteem is the fluctuations of the marketplace rather than the constancy of the family. Women, however, with a deeper and wiser approach to life, have always understood that to be loved for what you are is always superior than to be loved for what you do.
Sadly, few women today find the chosenness they seek because in most modern marriages the legitimate female need for attention is rarely matched by the male attention span. I increasingly see the despair and loneliness of married women as their husbands continue to put career, sports, friends, cell phones, cars, laptops, parents, job, employers, pornography, and other women before them. That core desire of being chosen by a man, being placed at the center of his universe, is simply eluding them and leading to misery and depression.
When the remarkable Dwayne Wade became the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals last Tuesday night, he was asked by the announcer what it felt like to win a basketball championship. He responded, "After my wife and children, it's the greatest feeling in the world." Wow. It happened. A champion sportsman put the love he gets from his wife before the rush he gets from winning. So it is possible.
So now the secret is out. Your wife, whom you think is insatiable and impossible, may want many small things. But they are all subordinate to her desire for one big thing. She may want to be professionally successful, just like you. And she may want money and fame, just like you. But more than anything else, she simply wants you.
So put aside the diamonds and give the gift of yourself.
The writer hosts 'Shalom in the Home,' airing Monday's on US cable television. His most recent book is Ten Conversations You Need to have With Your Children. www.shmuley.com