Nice men have always tried to get to grips with what women want. You can imagine, in ancient times, your caring cave man squatting over a beast he’s just speared and wondering anxiously if his missus wants the kidneys as well as the chops because he really, really wants to please her.
On the other hand, your uncaring hunter would have been keener to please himself, simply assuming the little woman would be grateful for anything he happened to drag home.

But today, everyone cares about what women want. We are in an unprecedented position of power. Why? Because we are the major keepers of the household wallet, responsible for around 85% of all household purchases. Pleasing us is complicated however, because women are such complex creatures. No standard labels can be slapped on us because our lives change so much from decade to decade.

Still, you can bet that even as you read this, people are planning for all our wants to be met to the max. And of course we’ll keep on being responsive to their efforts because we want to be well fed, housed, educated, entertained and transported wherever we want to go, whether it’s driving to the local café for lunch with the girls or flying to Europe for a dream holiday.

As a society, we’ve long been good at blurring the line between our needs and wants. There are only a few things we really need for an adequate life. But ‘adequate’ doesn’t cut it for any of us in the 21st century. Instead we eye the stuff we really want, which of course we still call “needing”.

As in, I need those lovely shoes, I need the new drapes in the living room. Oh, and also, I need an iPad, the long weekend away and dinner at that hot new restaurant. All of which, as we all know, can make us feel great. For a while. But is the ability to buy lovely things what we really want?

There’s a lovely Shrek-type tale that addresses the problem. It’s an old story about King Arthur. Out riding one day he is attacked and knocked to the ground by a rival. The winning knight is about to finish him off when he stops and tells Arthur he’ll spare his life if the king can answer just one question.

“Yes, yes,” yelps Arthur. “What is it?”

“I want to know what women really want,” says the rival, warning Arthur that he has just one year to come up with the answer. If he fails, he loses his head.

Arthur rides away smiling, full of confidence. How hard can the question be? Strangely all his friends are clueless, but then Arthur hears whispers that just one person in his kingdom might know – a wise but hideous witch.
All out of options, he goes to her cave. She says she’ll share the secret, but only if he arranges a marriage between her and Prince Gawain, Arthur’s most handsome knight.

“No problem,” cries Arthur, appalled for Gawain but also very intent on keeping his head.
“The answer is easy,” cackles the hag. “What women want is to be in charge of their own lives.”

Arthur takes the good news to his arch-rival and his life is duly spared. Gawain meanwhile has to marry the witch. Bracing himself for the dreaded wedding night, he’s delighted to find the hag has magically and suddenly become lovely.

“Because you’ve been so gallant, you’ve given me the strength to change my form,” she explains. But in the morning, after a fabulous night of love, she hands him a new dilemma. “I can be beautiful during the day or beautiful by night. The rest of the time, my darling, I have to be loathsome. Which option do you want?”

Gawain can’t decide. And so he says, “Sweetheart, you choose” - and with those magic words he enables her to be gorgeous day and night.
The moral of the story is that when we honour and respect other people’s choices, everyone benefits. Arthur keeps his head, the witch sheds her ugliness and Gawain gets a lovely bride – all neat and tidy.

But such tidiness eludes us in our own lives. We’ve all had key times when we have (or haven’t) chosen well. Sometimes they’re big and obvious moments – as in when you ask yourself, “Am I really going to marry this person?” “Am I sure about moving to the city?” “Am I totally committed to this job?”
Other times, life doesn’t get directed in conscious ways at all. Good fortune, bad luck, chance meetings and accidents can slam-dunk our destinies. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that mostly we get carried along by stuff that happens to us, rather than by events we are directing.

That’s why you can get tired of seminars where experts urge you to do all that goal setting and ladder climbing. It’s wiser, maybe, to acknowledge that we can’t always be in control and that sometimes other people’s needs must take priority. Duty and responsibility often stand in the way of our dreams, and that’s as true for men as it is for women.

But what we can do is try to be in charge of the moments that matter. You know when they’re upon you because they’re gut-churning. It’s when you’re afraid or excited and goose-pimply, teetering in a situation which demands that you make a big choice. Those seconds when you can be in charge of your life – which was the gift Prince Gawain handed to his wife – have the power to unleash a flood of energy.

And next time you're out shopping - for anything - be aware that business is striving to ensure your wants are satisfied. Every day a thousand Prince Gawains in the retail industry are saying, ‘Honey, you choose.’

So make the most of it. It may be just a loaf of bread or a whole new life you’re deciding on, but remember, you owe it to yourself to be in charge. That’s all we really, really want.

Author's Bio: 

Lindsey Dawson is a freelance journalist, novelist and manuscript editor and hosts a weekly TV show, Letters to Lindsey, which screens in New Zealand. She runs writing courses, authors a regular magazine column about the internet and speaks professionally on the power of words.