It’s the age-old question on the minds of everyone from Sigmund Freud to Amanda Bynes and Colin Firth: What do women want? The simple truth, of course, is that there is no singular answer — especially when it comes to what women really want in a partner. Researchers have determined, however, that the answer to, “What do girls like in a potential partner?” is actually not all that complicated.
Licensed counselor Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., has studied female relationships extensively, and her recent research examines “what women, from 18 to 75, need from the men in their lives.” The findings reveal that, while every person is different, a woman’s relational needs are somewhat predictable. As she wrote for Psychology Today in 2018, “Any good relationship is built on some basic, down-to-earth qualities. Women don’t need partners who invest all their energy in trying to prove how strong, manly, masculine, macho, or heroic they are. They just want men who are willing to meet them where they are and treat them fairly and equitably — and are able to make sure that the romantic spark keeps burning.”
And while none of us may ever know exactly what a girl wants — it may or may not include boarding a plane to England to find the father you never met, only to discover he’s a posh British Lord running for political office — I spoke to Claudia Johnson, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate for the PNW Sex Therapy Collective, to determine the following nine qualities that are almost definitely on any person’s list of needs for a healthy relationship. Here’s what women want in a man (or a partner of any gender, for that matter).
Women Want Transparency
Everyone knows that honesty is the best policy, and a woman doesn’t want her partner to lie to her about important matters. She wants her partner to want to share their pleasant experiences and memories. She doesn’t want them to feel like they have to lie, because when that is the case, it usually means they were stepping out of line, making poor choices and mistakes. But more than honesty, Johnson says that transparency between partners is what will keep either one of you from falling down a rabbit hole of anxiety and self-blame for things that aren’t really your fault.
“Honesty is great, but it’s also important to recognize that we don’t even know ourselves fully. We’re always expanding, we’re always changing,” she tells Elite Daily. “We might like something one day and then like something different the next. So you can’t expect your partners to be fully honest with you when you don’t even know yourself. Transparency to me really encompasses all the different identities that we hold, and what we know about ourselves at any given time.”
Johnson adds that, because of cultural expectations, women and those socialized as female are very quick to blame themselves if something feels off between them and their partner. A transparent partner might come home in a bad mood because of something that happened at work; but instead of letting their partner worry that she’s the cause of their bad mood, a transparent partner would explain how they’re feeling and provide context. Transparency shows that you’re intuitive, you’re caring, and you’re willing to put in a little extra effort to put your partner at ease.
Women Want An Active Listener
She wants you to know her — inside and out. Why? Because only then will you love her for her. We all sometimes need confirmation that we’re worth loving. The real us, not the people others perceive us to be. We may not all need such a confirmation of our value, but we all want it. But it’s more than just that. Women and those assigned female at birth (AFAB) are subject to mansplaining and gaslighting in their everyday lives and interactions. Johnson says that any good partner will go out of their way to communicate generously and to exhibit compassionate listening skills.
To anyone in a relationship with a woman, Johnson says: “Be really curious. The way [women] are socialized, [women] have to be very intelligent and really intentional in how we share our feelings because [others] will respond like, ‘You’re blowing it out of proportion, of course you’re emotional because you’re a girl, are you PMSing?’ So it’s the partner’s job to use active listening. Fully understand what she’s saying before you jump in to add your opinion. When you’re learning how to communicate with partners, it’s all about asking lots of questions. Ask them to tell you more.”
Women Want Compassion
To be cared for means not to be alone in this life. Most people are forced to care for themselves, and the truth is that it’s a lot more difficult than people let on. As human beings, we aren’t always in the right mindset to care for ourselves. To top it off, that’s usually exactly when we need the most caring: when we aren’t mentally or physically capable of doing it ourselves. Women want a partner to be there to share her burden and to make her life a little easier. On the upside, she’ll be there for you when no one else will. Fair enough tradeoff, I think.
“Caring is a great concept,” Johnson says, “but how do I practice it? How do I show up for you?” Everyone likes to feel cared for, but not everyone knows how to make someone else feel cared for. Johnson says that caring is more internal than you might think. “If you connect with someone, if they’re important to you, you’ll be more inclined to ask about their day or ask about their family,” she says.
According to Johnson, caring about someone starts with being curious about them. “If I care, I ask questions,” she says. “And the question to ask is, ‘Do I know what my partner is going through right now?’ A good check-in that I use with my clients is I ask them if they know what’s going on with their partner right now without even checking. What’s going on at work, with their boss? With their family? Oftentimes, they’ll be unsure. So I say, ask questions. Get invested. That’s how you’re going to show that you care.”
Women Want Strength
Johnson says that a common misconception about women is that they’re looking for “strong” partners, both mentally and physically. But, more than brute strength, Johnson asserts that women are looking for a partner who’s emotionally strong enough to give them space — who can support their independence and allow them some breathing room.
“Space is [a quality] that we don’t think about as much, especially as women, because we’re socialized to nurture and be always available,” Johnson says. “Of course we want a partner that will be with us through the good, the bad, and everything in between. But what we really need is space and security.”
As Johnson points out, a strong partner is someone who’s independent and allow their partner to have independence, too. “If you really love somebody,” Johnson adds, “you’re going to want to be with them all the time, do everything together. This ‘we-ness’ is really important when we’re creating the foundations for our relationship, but there’s also an ‘I.’ It’s important to not lose track of your individuality and all the multiple hats and personalities that you hold. Give space, make space, take space.”
Women Want Consideration
A considerate partner is one who recognizes that their girlfriend is carrying a lot of weight and responsibilities — and they do whatever they can to lighten her load. “Women are really good at being considerate and putting their needs last for other people,” Johnson tells Elite Daily. “Women want a partner who won’t take that for granted; a partner who can recognize ‘Wow, is my partner going out of their way to support me?’” Being considerate in thought and being considerate in practice are two different things, and Johnson says that the latter is infinitely more important.
“Women hold so many different identities and we’re always switching hats. It’s expected, and not really celebrated or recognized,” she says. “You’re supposed to be a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a partner, all in one beautiful package! A great partner will have the recognition to say, ‘Wow how many hats is my girlfriend wearing throughout each and every day, and how can I really support each one of them?’” But really, showing consideration is simple. “If you can make coffee or get breakfast going, which allows her to take an extra five minutes in the shower, then you’re helping to start her day off strong,” Johnson suggests.
It’s not all about the big gestures. “[Women] don’t want the moon,” Johnson continues. “They want a partner who will put their clothes where they go, or who won’t leave their shoes around, things like that. It’s not that hard. It’s considerate. Women are more predisposed to do all those things, not even consciously but intuitively. It’s important to have a partner who demonstrates with actions more than words. We can say ‘I love you’ 100,000 times. But if you’re having a meeting and you’re really nervous about it and you get a text from your partner that says, ‘Hey, you’re gonna kill it, you’ve got this,’ it’s going to be so much better.”
Women Want Reliability
Plenty of people have big egos, no matter their gender. That’s because almost everyone wants to feel special. They want to feel unique, and that may make them competitive and even jealous. For that reason, it’s essential for women to have a partner who’s loyal — and though Johnson says loyalty is great and all, nothing beats someone you can depend upon emotionally.
“Loyalty means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” she says. “Reliability grounds it a little bit more; your partner wants you in her corner. That’s what we all want in a relationship. Women, men, non-binary people — anyone anywhere on the spectrum — want to be with somebody that they can be themselves with. And that’s it.” She says that women need to know that it’s safe to share their thoughts and feelings with their partners without fear that their partners will bolt. “It’s about trust,” she adds.
Women Want Vulnerability
Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness. Much like transparency, vulnerability is a sign of compassion — not just for your partner, but also for yourself. “Guys don’t have to be stoic and tough. Women want a good man, not a perfect one,” Johnson says. “In dominant discourses, men are taught to be strong and emotionally bulletproof. Toxic masculinity affects all of us, not just guys. The less attuned you are, the less space you make for your feelings, the more disconnected you are from yourself, therefore the harder it is to connect with other people, especially your partner.”
A partner who allows for some vulnerability in their relationship will make a woman happier than a partner who holds everything in. “If you’re able to say, ‘I’m feeling a little anxious,’ or ‘I’m a little afraid,’ that opens up an entire new layer,” Johnson explains. “Sharing a feeling or a fear makes you vulnerable. When your partner shares their inner world with you, it’s a lot easier to collaborate and build understanding.”
And when you make yourself vulnerable, you invite your partner to make themselves vulnerable as well. “Your partner might then respond with, ‘Actually I feel the same way,’ or ‘This is happening to me, too,’” Johnson adds. “Women are socialized to be very good at emotionally communicating and holding space for other people; we do that with our friends, our family. It’s hard when we do that with our partner and our partner is not necessarily meeting us where we are. That emotional burnout is a thing.” A degree of vulnerability will go a long way in lessening that burden.
Women Want Security
You don’t need to be a millionaire to make your partner feels secure. Well, for some women, you very well may need to be, but hopefully you’ll only end up with one who admires the traits required for turning oneself into a millionaire and not the money alone. Generally speaking, the right woman will love you for you, but she does need you to make her feel secure. She also wants to feel that you will protect her from physical harm. She wants to know that you’ll keep her safe, healthy, and comfortable.
Johnson says it’s a myth that women are only looking for financial security from their partner. “Women work. We take care of ourselves. We don’t need financial security [from someone else],” Johnson says. Instead, she says women want to feel safe — and respected. “There are so many things in this world that don’t necessarily make spaces safe for women,” she says. “If you are in a heterosexual relationship with a man, having a partner that can help make those spaces safer is more valuable than any economic resource. Microaggressions happen all the time. Having a partner who says, ‘Hey I didn’t appreciate how you talked to my partner, she had a really valid point’ — that could be a make or break experience for us!”
And it’s not just emotional safety Johnson is describing. It’s intellectual safety as well. “We’re equals. Treat me as an equal,” she says. “When everyone else out there — when society at large, especially in the workplace, in our everyday interactions, when we’re getting catcalled, all those things — women want a partner who can present that safety and hold that space and look out for us. We can fight our own battles, but isn’t it lovely when your partner’s also by your side fighting?”
Women Want Confidence
The absolute best thing you can be in a relationship? Yourself, of course. “We’re always thinking ‘I am not enough.’ We tell ourselves, if I can do this another way, if I can have this thing, if I can change this here, then I can be myself. And I don't like that at all,” Johnson says. “We’re beautiful and we’re perfect in our own little imperfect ways already.”
If you really want to impress a woman, Johnson says you should simply be yourself. “Notice what you’d like to bring into your relationship and incorporate it in a way that feels good for you. Be you!” she adds. “There’s a reason why your partner wanted to be with you. Having somebody who wants to be with you is a freaking gift. How do you want to honor that gift? Love is a choice. She’s choosing you for a reason. Spend less time thinking about the ‘why’ and more about what you’re going to do with it.”
Not all women want the same things, of course, when it comes down to it, the things women look for in a relationship are exactly what you’d expect. So just be decent, be honest, and above all, be you.
Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., licensed counselor
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
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