What do women want? Essay: A '90s woman seeks a quick-witted man with an appreciative eye for her looks, a palate for her cooking, a mind for her career. Oh, yes, and a shoulder for her head.


I'm the woman who worries as much about having lipstick on my teeth as about landing a key promotion.

I care as much about the Mexican dishes I can cook as the stories about American life I can produce.

We're an inscrutable crowd, we professional women in our 20s and 30s. In some ways, we have rejected the '60s feminist movement that made our independence possible. We don't burn our bras, we pad them. We don't refuse to cook, we can do it in three different languages.

But we still demand respect for our work and our beliefs, and refuse to be treated like ... well, we don't know exactly how we refuse to be treated, but we know it's bad when we see it.

Welcome to the peculiar neurosis of the '90s woman. A conflicted breed, no doubt. But in our minds we offer the richness of intelligence and beauty, education and personality, thoughtfulness and fashion sense.

So, want to date us? I dare you.

Many men shy away from this apparent multiple personality creature. If she is so independent, why does she care if I don't call? If she's so career-minded, how can it bother her if I don't like that dish she made? If she's so successful, what does it matter if she looks skinny in that outfit or not?

What we long for is a man who can see the charm in our inexplicable and unpredictable ways.

So imagine my astonishment when I was thumbing through the current issue of Baltimore magazine. There, featured as one of the city's 50 "hot singles," was a man professing to love women of exactly our sort. His perfect woman, Erik Washam told the magazine, is "insane, insecure, with a healthy streak of paranoia."


Clearly this is our kind of guy. The perfect man for women like us, you see, is one who can handle at least two calls a day to discuss our outfits. Or the Middle East peace talks. Or what we should eat for dinner.

He must be smart and quick-witted, ready to change gears in a conversation instantaneously, shifting from campaign fund-raising to the J. Crew warehouse sale in a half-second flat.

If she cries, don't panic

He must not be afraid when he hears heaving sobs come over the phone in mid-afternoon. Is she upset about her article not going on the front page? Or is it her haircut?

He must not be mad when we cancel dinner because we have to work late. He must not be intimidated by our work or complain that, at times, he comes second.

He must not be alarmed when we spend $57 on candles to create a "harvest scent" in the house, or spend a week's wages on a snappy jacket.

Oh, and one other thing. He must be manly. He must have a welcome chest and big hands so that when we come home from 12-hour days all we have to do is crawl into a cradle of warmth and have our heads stroked like puppies.

Is that so neurotic? We like to think of it as being vibrant, complex and interesting. Are we nuts? Some may think so. Are we demanding? Definitely.

It seems like all the women I know are searching far and wide for such men. Some have found them. Others continue the quest. For most, success involves negotiation, compromise.

Take my friend Heather. She and her husband, Tim, dated for seven years before tying the knot. She is a woman of enormous creative energy who gets up at 5 a.m. to paint before going to her job as an agent for artists in New York City. He is a solid man who works in finance and loves sports.

She loves to chat. He is more reticent. Her hair changes color every two months. He is losing his. For a while he called her Sybil -- for all the personalities she seemed to possess.

But somehow this union has worked. Of course, both have changed their ways. She promises not to call his office -- as much. He tries to disregard any momentary madness of hers. And these days, he just looks at her adoringly as she, eight months pregnant, waddles off to her successful job every morning and waddles home to make a three-course meal.

Moving on

I had the perfect man once. For two years we were together. I called him at the office if I didn't like an article I was writing. I called him if I did. I called him and asked him if I looked fat -- every 10 minutes. And we loved each other. But when I took this job, I had to leave him in Texas, and the relationship did not survive the 2,000 miles.

But we '90s women know how to regroup and move on -- in a good outfit.

So I called the man in the magazine.

"Of course I don't like neurotic women," Erik Washam says when I query about his comment. "It was a joke."

A joke? A joke?! So this was a hoax, a sham? This man had told a generation of women that he loved us -- and it was a lie?

I was furious. "So what exactly do you mean by someone who is neurotic or insane?" I demanded.

Well, he explained, women who complain that they are being stalked by ex-boyfriends. Women who throw themselves hip-deep into body-piercing, tattooing, New Age soul searching, stuff like that.

OK, that does sound a little nuts, I think.

I throw a barrage of questions at him.

What about women who are merely hung up on their jobs and their cooking abilities? What about women who know the precise fat gram count in every morsel of food? What about women who call you a lot and ask if you like their outfits?

That's not insane, he says, that's kind of cute.

All right, ladies, we're on firmer ground here.

Then suddenly, he turns a corner. The best thing a man can do to learn about relating with women is get a cat, he says.


He explains: Dogs are loyal, they'll love you no matter what you do. Cats are different, he posits. Some days they love the toys you give them, other days they won't even touch them. Some days they curl around your feet constantly, other days they'll just toss cat litter in your face.

"A little bit of insanity keeps you on your toes," he says finally.

Bingo. He doesn't like Neurotic, but he doesn't mind neurotic.

So we went on a date -- and had fun. Of course, I didn't ask him

about my outfit. For at least 24 hours.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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