What Every Woman Wants
The wise woman’s tale
by Jule Ward
In the town where I grew up, there was a small college, St. Olaf’s, with a beautiful campus. The buildings were red brick and quite ancient, the lawns were lush and green, and all the trees were well over a hundred years old and in October they turned every color of the autumn rainbow. No film producer could have created a better setting for romance. Consequently, many matches were made at St. O’s and many hearts broken. One of the most intriguing romances took place soon after I began classes there as a first-year student.
Reginald O’Rourke, captain of the football team, stood 6’5” in his stocking feet and had shoulders as wide as most doorways. His auburn curls were the envy of many girls on campus and his green eyes were absolutely dreamy. There’s no other way to describe them. During his first three years he had dated at least a dozen girls and broken twice as many hearts, but my first year there I witnessed Reggie getting his due.
Lily Weston, an Elizabeth Taylor lookalike, transferred onto campus from some school down south. She turned heads wherever she went. So, of course, Reggie took it upon himself to woo her. But to no avail. Lily wouldn’t give him the time of day let alone a date. In the past, a simple request had been all he needed to make a girl his as long as he wanted her. So, Reggie was stymied at first. But he knew all eyes were on him. He set about a campaign.
He sent flowers to her dorm room. He got his friend Bill, a top student and an English major to write poetry Reggie could put into letters for Lily. He found out from the barista how she liked her coffee and ordered it for her. He ran ahead of her and opened doors before she could get to them. To not avail. As far as Lily was concerned, he was simply making a pest of himself.
“If you don’t stop bugging me,” she said one morning in the coffee shop, as she pushed away the iced white-chocolate mocha he offered her, “I’m going to the dean to complain of sexual harassment.”
“Whoa,” said Reggie. “Why would you do that? Why won’t you give me a chance? I’m really a nice guy.”
She flicked a strand of black hair away from her face and stared at him with those sapphire eyes of hers, “Reggie, you are a total narcissist and you don’t have a clue what women want.”
“How am I supposed to know what woman want if you won’t let me get to know you?” he pleaded.
“From what I’ve heard, you’ve had plenty of chances to learn everything you needed to know about women, but you were always more concerned with what you wanted. However, just to prove I’m a better person than you, I will give you a chance. And here it is. You do some research. You talk to real women from whom you want nothing in return and learn what women want most in the world. Then, after Christmas break, you come and give me the answer. If you’re right, I’ll go out with you.”
It was a ridiculous proposition. Reggie could have just walked away, but he was by now bewitched by this girl who said, “No.”
He took up the challenge. He started by going to the woman he guessed must be the smartest woman on campus, Dr. Elizabeth Wynberg, the chair of the Economic Department. It took him a week to get a ten-minute appointment with her. By the time he sat across from the formidable professor, he shook with anxiety, thinking she’d be furious when she heard his question. Instead, she surprised him by bursting out laughing.
“That’s so easy, Reggie. I can’t imagine that didn’t figure it out for yourself. Women want money more than anything. Money equals power, security, and independence. It’s hard for women to get the money they want, but they’ll pursue it ruthlessly if they can.”
“Really, money. That’s it.”
“Absolutely. No doubt about it.”
He thanked her and strode out of her office, planning to go straight to Lily’s dorm and surprise with how quick he had got his answer. But halfway there, he hesitated. Maybe he shouldn’t just take one woman’s word for it. He’d better check it out with at least one other “expert.” He changed directions and headed for the administration office. I know this because I was earning part of my college tuition by working as a secretary to the dean. Every one on campus knew about Lily’s challenge to Reggie because all the students lucky enough to witness the confrontation had told their friends – and well, you know how that kind of news spreads like wildfire.
So, I kind of hoped that Reggie was there to ask me the by now famous question, which was silly of me. I was just a lowly freshman, hardly noticeable on his radar. But I had my answer ready just in case.
Reggie place both hands on the edge of my desk and leaned over, “I have to see the assistant dean. It’s really important.”
Somehow without smiling, I managed, “Let me check her calendar.” I pulled out the large scheduler from under the book I’d been reading and ran my finger down the page. “She’s got some time at 4:30 on Friday.”
Reggie groaned. “I have to be at practice then. Any other time?”
I checked again, “Hmmm, next Monday at 8 a.m.”
He muttered something unprintable, but said, “Okay, slot me in.”
I promised myself that I’d be on time for work Monday no matter what.
When I arrived, Reggie was already pacing the floor in front of my desk. “Where is she?”
“I saw her parking her car. She’ll be here any minute.”
To my total surprise, Reggie was only in her office five minutes and came out, staring at the ground and shaking his head.
“What’s wrong,” I asked.
“She said ‘honor,’ that every woman wants about all else to be honored, to be held in high esteem both by those who love her and by society as a whole, to be considered an honorable woman is a woman’s greatest desire.”
“Sound like a great answer to me,” I told him, “What wrong with it?”
“It’s totally different than what Professor Wynberg said. I’m going to have to check with another women to see which of them is right.” Shoulders slumped, he shuffled toward the door. Now, he had me intrigued. “Let me know what you find out.”
He turned his head and grimaced, “Sure, why not?”
And, thus, I became Reggie confidant. He took his next query off campus. A popular Broadway musical was in town for a one-week run. One of the guys on Reggie’s team had a part-time job working backstage at the local theater. Reggie bribed traded him the football tickets he had for the next Viking game for a chance to get an interview with the lead actress. The guy told her; Reggie was doing a piece for the college paper. Reggie played it up good by asking several questions about her life and about the current run, but then he hit her with, “What is it that women really want?”
“Oh, my dear boy,” she breathed. “We only want to be happy. More than anything, we wish to be satisfied with our lives, to be content with what we have, to feel joy in being who we are.”
“Well, then you must have what women want,” Reggie said.”
“Au contraire. I have nothing. I am anxious all the time. My whole life is a fabrication. If only I could be content to be a simple housewife, free from this crazy world. But, no. I’m driven to seek fame. I’m addicted to it. I’ll never have what women truly want.”
Reggie was so depressed after that interview that he nearly gave up his quest. But the next day, he saw Lilly sitting with Joe Mason, the baseball team’s star pitcher outside the library. No, he wouldn’t lose her to that idiot! He’d find the right answer somehow. Maybe it was wrong to be asking older women. Maybe they were too jaded. He’d ask someone younger, someone more idealistic. She could probably give him a better answer. He truly hoped it would be a convincing one.
That evening he called his little sister, an eight grader at his old middle school and a really smart kid. In fact, he hated to admit it, but he might have gotten the looks in the family, but she had definitely gotten the brains.
“Hey, Reg, long time no see,” she answered and giggled because she was looking right at him since he had Facetimed her.
“Good one, kid,” he said. “But listen, I’ve got a question for you.”
“No, you can’t borrow any money. I’m saving my allowance for a trip to the Big Apple.”
“As if…this has nothing to do with money, but it’s a question only a girl can answer and I’m not about to ask any girl here, okay? I can trust you to keep it moot, right?”
“You’ve got it,” she promised.
He didn’t tell her about Lily, but just plunged right in, “What is it that women want most in the world?”
“Whoa! Heavy one.”
“Yah, but you’re smart and I’m counting on you to know the answer.”
“Can I call you back?”
“No, if you have to think about it, it couldn’t be the right answer. If it’s what you want most, you have to know what it is. What’s something you want really bad and so do your friends?”
“Oh, now I get it. That’s easy. We want to be beautiful and stay that way all our lives.”
“That’s it? That’s what women want most in the world, to be beautiful?”
“Without a single question. If you’re beautiful, everything else comes your way. Just think about what we do to try to be attractive – things almost no guy would ever put up with – shaving off almost all our body hair, spending a fortune on cosmetics and clothes, taking up hours of our lives in salons, having our hair, face and nails improved, going on diets. The list is endless. Women practically have no time left over for anything else after all the time it takes to be beautiful.”
“You’re making a good argument,” he told her.
“Of course, I am, but right now I have to go and put on a beauty mask. Call more often I miss you.” And her face faded off the screen.
Reggie wanted to tear his hair out. Four different women. Four different answers. Which one would Lily think the right answer? Money? Honor? Happiness? Beauty? Or would it be something else entirely? Clearly, women were all in agreement. He would have to ask hundreds of women before he could get an inkling of what was the most common response. And he didn’t have that kind of time. He checked his computer but there was not article that had specifically researched that question.
He headed out for a beer, despondent. He was going to lose out with Lily. That was bad enough, but he also failed the quest. Thinking of himself as a loser just didn’t sit right with him. His head hung low over his shoulders as he watched his own feet shuffled along, and wham, he bumped with a thud into another sturdy body and they both staggered. He looked up into the laughing eyes of the campus chaplain, Dr. Marty Gilman. “Best to watch where you’re going, Reggie. Keeping your head down works better in football than on the sidewalk.”
“Sorry, Reverend. Have a lot on my mind right now.”
“Anything I can help with?”
“Nah, I …” Wait a minute, maybe he should not be asking women themselves, but someone who had talked to a lot of women when they felt safe enough to tell the truth – like the chaplain. “You know, I think you could. Can I buy you a beer?”
“Best offer I’ve had tonight,” Dr. Gilman said.
At the Blue and Gold Lounge, Reggie steered the two of them to a back, corner booth before posing his question.
“I hate to shock you, son,” Dr. Gilman paused a minute and continued, “but the truth is that women most want just what you want. They want sex.”
“Ah, c’mon, Reverend. You’re putting me on. Be straight.” Reggie retorted.
“Call me Marty, okay? And I am being completely honest with you. People are animals. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. One of our most ardent purposes is to continue the species. We get no choice in that. That drive informs almost every other life choice we make. The wonder of it is that the gift of propagation comes wrapped in a pleasurable package – so pleasurable that we humans desire the package for the package sake.”
“But that doesn’t mean women want sex more than anything,” Reggie protested.
“Oh, but it does. They may not understand it, but everything else is directed toward that desire. The wish to be healthy and beautiful, intelligent and charming, and to have the money to make those things happen – it’s all intended to make them a desirable mate, someone with whom a man will want to conceive a child. And that passion works even in woman who at the conscious level have no desire to be mothers.”
Reggie wrapped his big paws around his frosty stein of beer and stared into its murky depths. “Thanks.” He didn’t even notice when Dr. Gilman squeezed his shoulder and slipped out of the booth. It didn’t matter whether the chaplain had been right or wrong. He certainly couldn’t go back to Lily with that answer.
It began to look as though he’d never get that date with Lily. Winter break arrived and he headed home determined not to think about the disgrace he faced when he returned to campus. His status as a campus hero would be sorely diminished.
Reggie and I both returned to campus early. The football team was there to practice for an upcoming bowl game. My work in the admissions office started half a week before classes began. Out of habit, I guess, Reggie stopped by my desk.
“Did someone at home have the answer for you,” I asked.
“Nothing convincing or just more of the same and no real agreement among anyone,” he answered.
“I have an answer that Lily and her friends would agree was the correct one,” I blurted out.
“You do? Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“You never asked me.” I don’t think you saw me as a woman.
He stared at me and his face turned almost as red as his hair. So, I knew I was right. Lily’s hair was black as a raven’s wing. My thin hair had always been pulled into a mousy ponytail. Lily’s skin glowed like the inside of an oyster shell, mine was the color of coffee with cream and I was always too busy to bother with make-up. Lily’s figure would be the envy of a Hollywood starlet while people tended to refer to me as “sturdy.”
“No, no, you’re wrong,” he tried. “It’s just we sort of got to be like buddies.”
“I was just the sounding board,” I said.
He nodded. “Can I make it up to you?”
“If I give you the answer and Lily likes it, will you agree to take me to senior prom?”
At that he straightened up and took two involuntary steps back. I just stared at him watching the wheels of his brain working behind his eyes. Finally, he knew he was probably trying to figure some way out of it, I told him the answer.
The next day, coffee cup in hand, I stood a little away from the table where Lily and her friends sat, sipping their morning beverages when Reggie strode up. “I’ve got the answer,” he announced.
Lily’s lovely pink lips smiled. I was pretty sure she had wanted to go out with Reggie all along. “What is it, Reggie, that women really want?”
“They want,” he paused, took a deep breath and said, “what women most desire is to be in charge of their husbands and lovers.”
Lily grinned. “He’s got it,” one the girls exclaimed. “Totally!” said another and there was a chorus of agreement around the table. Lily laughed, a musical lilting sound, “Looks like we have a date for this weekend, Reggie,” she said.
But he had another surprise for them. He looked across the room to where I stood. “I’m booked already, Lily. Maybe another time.” And walked over to me. “Saturday night – dinner and movie sound good?”
I smiled and nodded. But the last surprised was for Reggie. When I opened the door on Saturday, the mousy ponytail had disappeared and my head was covered with a cap of blonde curls. My best friend Brie had done a subtle job with her make up kit and my skin glowed bronze and rose. Gone were my glasses. The green contacts Mom had given me for Christmas took their place. Oh, and the bra I wore lifted my breasts into a becoming shape under the soft cashmere of my pink sweater.
Reggie’s astonishment was hilarious – and heartwarming. “Well, Cinderella, he said, ready for the ball?”