If there was one thing I never wanted to be in my relationship, it was needy, closely followed by demanding, and in third place, the real whammy: fat.
My perception of these qualities as bad, unattractive, and to be avoided began at a very early age. When I was about 11, my mother sat my sister and me down at our oak kitchen table to give us her romance advice: "If you want a boy to like you, let him do all the talking." She was a product of the 1950s, when women’s liberation meant wearing skirts above your ankles and female orgasms weren't a thing anyone talked about—much less cared about. (She also told me to think of a penis as a loaded gun.) She didn’t mean any harm. But her advice reaffirmed my suspicion that boys liked girls who were—I’ll be honest—vapid and didn’t ask for too much.
When I was in eighth grade, I recall literally praying not be chosen to be in "advanced" English class—because I believed that intelligence was not attractive to boys. And like any adolescent, I just wanted to be liked. I hid my thirst for knowledge and tried to minimize any academic achievement but ended up being the valedictorian of my high school. That equated to "not hot."
To add insult to what I already consider injury, I was overweight. I weighed 180 pounds in the seventh grade at 5-foot-3. I grew up in a family where my mom wouldn’t let us buy cereal that had more than 6 grams of sugar in it (Life cereal was a major treat). So, I didn’t eat junk. I just loved to eat—I had a big appetite. That was something wrong with me that had to be fixed, I thought.
Each of these traits I so feared exhibiting—neediness, being demanding, being fat—boiled down to one of the most misunderstood feminine experiences: unbridled desire.
Taking my mom’s advice, I carefully constructed my relationship persona as "low maintenance." This was in sharp contrast to my true personality, which was loud, opinionated, and confident. But when I got around the guy I was dating, I would clam up and try to be accommodating. "If you want a boy to like you, let him do all the talking" was burned into my psyche.
I saw this backfire over and over again in my relationships and my girlfriends’ relationships. I watched my girlfriends give without expecting anything in return, only to have their partners take advantage of them. I saw men chase after "demanding" women and I was dumbfounded. I watched my own marriage fall apart as I grew more conciliatory and my husband more distant.
I remember reading the title of the book Why Men Love Bitches with frustration. I knew I was missing something fundamental, but I felt certain that being a bitch wasn’t going to get me what I really wanted, which was love, security, and connection.
Eventually, I figured it out: It’s not bitchiness or being demanding that draws men to these women. Men are drawn to women who are full of desire—women who want, unapologetically.
More than one man has told me, "I want to give you everything in the world." I always thought it was just one of those things men say.
Now when a man says that, I believe him. I’ve seen enough evidence in my own life and through working with male clients to know that men love making women happy—they thrive on providing service to us, fulfilling our wants and needs. Ironically, many women are uncomfortable acknowledging that we even have wants and needs, let alone expressing them. But if we take away their ability to provide a service to us, they lose their sense of value in the relationship and have to seek it elsewhere.
This doesn't necessarily mean cheating. Often, it simply means investing more in alternate activities and pursuits—work, volunteering, or social engagements that give them that sense of purpose and relevance that we all need. But regardless, it results in increased distance and decreased satisfaction for both parties in the relationship.
When I was stuck in this cycle of asking for less and getting less, I never would've believed wanting unabashedly was my ticket out of relationship hell and the key to unlocking a man's undying adoration and loyalty. Our desires as women are powerful. So, how do we take them back?
Take my own relationship as an example. When we first got together, my partner sat me down and said, "I want to give you everything you’ve ever wanted in the world: attention, money, travel, support. All I need from you is that you appreciate me." I admit, this was swoon-worthy. I quickly got on board with appreciating him on the daily. After all, he sends me texts like this: "I want to cook you breakfast every day for the rest of your life." What’s not to love about that?!
I learned quickly that the greatest challenge in our relationship wasn’t, "How much is he willing to give me? Does he give me enough?" and was instead, "How willing am I to want things and to allow someone else to give them to me?" When things aren't going well in a relationship, it’s easy to blame our partner. "He doesn't pay enough attention to me; he never helps out around the house; our relationship is getting boring and he’s not attractive anymore." This is easy to talk about. What’s far more challenging—and requires much more vulnerability—is to explore what we're doing (or not doing) that's negatively affecting the relationship.
The truth is that men want to deliver on women's desires.
I know that many of us have had experiences to the contrary—being ignored, being called greedy, picky, or demanding. I know those experiences must have hurt. And what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, from years of study and interviewing, is that men are inspired into action by women’s desire and feel happier and more purposeful when they are giving you what makes you the most happy. In a relationship, part of your role as a woman is to allow your true desires to inspire both of you.
It’s vulnerable work to uncover our desires and even more to express them. I suggest you start trying to uncover your desires as if your relationship and happiness depended upon it—because they do. Your desire inspires greatness.
How do you get—and stay—in touch with your desires?
When my relationship feels flat or I notice distance forming between us, instead of blaming him or attempting to "fix" the problem, I ask myself, "What else do I want in my personal life and my relationship? Am I expressing that adequately?" Then I wait for the truth of my desire to emerge.
Try it for yourself right now. Ask yourself, "What else do I want in my life and relationship?" Then pick up a pen and paper or open a note on your computer (yes, do it right now!) and write down 10 things you want.
- "I want _____________________."
- "I want _____________________.”
- "I want _____________________.”
- "I want him to come to me with activity ideas we can do as a family."
- "I want to go out to dinner more often."
- "I want to have more fun together."
- "I want to him to listen to me."
- "I want to feel beautiful and sexy."
Keep going. If you reach 10 easily, keep going. Write down more wants than you think is appropriate. After all, your desire inspires both you and your partner, so get to it! Once you identify what you want, start expressing it, with love and understanding, to your partner, and watch the relationship of your dreams begin to take shape. And remember, this isn't a one-time activity. Check in with your desires regularly. I suspect you'll find that blame plays a much smaller role in your relationship going forward and that you and your partner are infinitely happier.
Want more insight into your relationships? Find out the two types of passion (and which one is good for your sex life), then learn the real meaning of conscious lovemaking (and how to do it).