It is said that the one question about men and women that even the great Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, could not answer was: What do women want?
Whether or not Freud actually said that is irrelevant. The very popularity of the anecdote testifies to one incontrovertible fact: A lot of men don't know the answer.
It is probably fair to say that a lot of women also don't know the answer. If they did, all they would have to do is tell men. That would solve the riddle -- and make most men and women very happy.
So, to the extent that this is a great riddle, it is so because most members of both sexes seem not to know the answer.
Adding support to the widespread belief that what women want is close to unknowable is the underlying presumption that just about everybody knows what men want.
The number of truly funny Internet jokes that describe what women want as complex and what men want as simple is a testament to how widespread these assumptions about the two sexes are. Three examples illustrate this:
The first example is the one that begins: "How To Impress a Woman."
Listed beneath that heading is this: "Compliment her, respect her, honor her, cuddle her, kiss her, caress her, love her, stroke her, tease her, comfort her, protect her, hug her, hold her, spend money on her, wine and dine her, buy things for her, listen to her, care for her, stand by her, support her, hold her, go to the ends of the Earth for her."
That long list is followed by: "How To Impress a Man."
And listed beneath is this: "Show up naked. Bring food."
The second Internet example:
"Q: What is the difference between men and women?
A: A woman wants one man to satisfy her every need. A man wants every woman to satisfy his one need."
And a third Internet example shows a box divided into two parts.
Under the part labeled "Women" are 40 dials and knobs.
Under the part labeled "Men" is one switch, marked "On-Off."
As with most generalizations, there is much truth to these.
Nevertheless, I take issue with both presumptions -- that what women want is a riddle that would stump the Sphinx and that what men want is so easy it could be written on the back of a postage stamp.
In fact, I believe that both are relatively simple to answer (though neither is simple to achieve).
What does a man most want?
Answer: He most wants to be admired by the woman he loves.