The legendary radio personality Tom Leykis used to say that men were so simple you could sum them up in six words: “I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m horny”. Guys would listen to him, grin sheepishly and nod in agreement, because they recognized the essential truth. Many of the women who called into the show agreed with Leykis completely—particularly those frustrated by the inability of their male partners to talk about stuff like “feelings”.
But like most simple analyses, Leykis’ clever saying wasn’t 100% true. The real truth is a lot more complicated.
Let me explain.
When I was growing up, the general consensus was that women were the “weaker sex”. Men were supposed to be strong, rugged, brave and emotionless. Women took care of the kids, men took care of bringing in money. Real men didn’t talk about—let alone show—their feelings, because that was for “girls”. That’s what we were taught—explicitly or implicitly– by our parents, our culture, by the media.
Then again, we were also taught that low-fat diets would make you skinny.
God, were we dumb.
For most of my years in the helping professions I’ve been like the kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes, the one who points and says “Excuse me, folks, this is a naked dude!”.
I’m about to do it again, so listen up. Most of the “conventional wisdom” about men is bullshit.
It’s time for a course correction on some of the most out-of-date notions of what men really want (and what they don’t give a shit about). (Ladies, listen up. Men, prepare to be validated.)
To illustrate what I’m about to tell you, let’s start with an example of something easy and non-controversial: Cellulite.
Every women’s magazine I’ve ever read regularly does stories on cellulite—how terribly unattractive it is, how men hate it, and the latest trendy method to get rid of it. If you listened to Cosmo, you’d think having cellulite is the ultimate relationship killer.
Now, I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms, and I’ve heard a lot of stories. I’ve listened to hundreds of men—mostly sober sometimes drunk— talk, brag or complain about their wives, their girlfriends, the women they would like to date and the women they would never date.
And never—never—in my 70 years on earth and my 50 or so years as an adult male—have I heard a man complain about cellulite.
Surprise. We just really don’t give a shit about it.
I’ll tell you what we do give a shit about.
- Admiration/ Appreciation/ Respect
There’s an old saying that if you’re a good listener, people will think you’re a brilliant conversationalist. (You don’t even have to speak.) That’s because everyone—and I mean everyone—has a deep, abiding need to be heard. To be understood. To be appreciated for who they are and what they do.
Men are complete suckers for a sympathetic ear and a caring heart. Demonstrate that you care about us, that you’re genuinely interested in us, make us aware of the things about us that you admire and respect, and we’ll pretty much be yours forever.
The “conventional wisdom” is that women need context for sex to be really hot while men just want to get off.
Don’t believe it.
Sex for men is far more complicated and nuanced than most of us let on. Erotic connection for men is a complex alchemy of emotions, rarely as one-dimensional as the women’s magazines suggest. If sex for men was only about sensation, “obligation” sex would be just as fulfilling as the other kind, and it’s not.
We want to know that you want it. More importantly, that you want US.
- Security and Adventure
We all want some level of certainty— the security of knowing that our partner is there for us no matter what. Problem is, we also have an equally strong and basic need for novelty and adventure, which thrive in an atmosphere of uncertainty. And it’s really challenging to get those two needs met in the same relationship.
So many of us in long-term relationships sacrifice parts of ourselves for the sake of getting along. We make an accommodation between the part of us that wants to have hot sex with the sultry-eyed waitress, and the part of us that enjoys the comfort and security and friendship of our familiar partner. We inhibit (or suppress) the lusty, wandering-eye part of ourselves to our partner (and they do the same for us). Everybody gets along and the boat doesn’t get rocked.
Until you get divorced.
The two needs—security and novelty– are hard to reconcile within the confines of the same relationship (see Madonna / Whore). But it’s doable. The solution doesn’t have to mean running off with the waitress but it may mean a fresh evaluation of sexual boundaries.
Or not. There are all kinds of inventive ways to deal with the tension between those two basic human needs, a tension which is probably at the heart of every break-up in the world. However you decide to deal with it, though, the one thing you can’t do is pretend it’s not there.
So what’s the first step? Recognizing the essential legitimacy of both these needs—comfort, security and familiarity on the one hand, and crazy, heart-stopping adventure and novelty on the other— and negotiating a way to meet them both is the essential challenge of any long term relationship. It’s not easy, and to do it you’ll have to think outside the cultural box. But having managed to figure out how to do it in my own relationship, I know it’s possible.
And the results are worth the effort (and it will be an effort.) My own romantic relationship has been going on seven plus years and the passion I feel for my partner Michelle hasn’t diminished a nanogram. That’s something worth working for!
So there you have it. The three basic things all men want. It’s both elegantly simple—and maddeningly complex.
If you’re trying to have a long-term relationship, pay attention.