The Pursuit of Female Happiness

We asked seven writers to give their views on what women really want. To some it was a complex question of socioeconomics. To others the answers were as simple as sex, security and shoes.

Men will fake attention the way women fake orgasms: to get it over with. The difference is, we can tell. By Ariel leve.

Growing up, my mother had a much older, very wealthy boyfriend. She was never upset that he didn't spend his money on her, because he gave her something far more valuable: his time. He would sit quietly and listen to her for hours. She would talk to him about me, her career, her mother, financial problems...

He never interrupted, only nodded, with a placid smile on his face. Then one day, after 15 years, she noticed something in his hand. "What's that?" she asked. It was his hearing aid. He had been taking it out every time she started to talk. Finding out that he hadn't been listening to her all those years was worse than finding out he had been cheating. Because, more than anything else, women want to be heard and understood. What makes women happy isn't when a man pays for dinner, it's when a man pays attention. Attention is the invisible currency. It is the only thing that can buy a woman's happiness and devotion.

Ask a successful lothario: what is the skill that matters the most? Most likely he'll say it's the power to make a woman feel special. A woman feels desired when she feels she is being listened to. Is that too much to ask? Often it is. And if you have to ask, it's too late. Whenever people talk about the reformed lothario Warren Beatty, they mention that he has the ability to make the woman he's talking to feel as if she is the only one in the room. There is indeed something to be said about that when it happens. I've experienced it a few times, and it's intoxicating.

Attention, for it to count, has to be genuine. Because, if they can, men will fake attention the way women fake orgasms: to get it over with. The difference is, we can tell.

When I'm on the phone with a man and the TV is on in the background, I know straight away that whatever I'm talking about has become white noise. I could tell him my arm was on fire and his response would be "Uh huh." But attention, like wealth, is relative. Some women need more than others to be happy. Here's the line I get: "No matter how much attention I give you, it will never be enough." Really? I'll let you know. Chances are, given my low expectations, having my hand held will feel like a round-the-world honeymoon.

I've been accused of needing too much attention, but this is like being accused of needing too much air. I take issue with the term "needy", because in my experience it has meant requesting permission to finish a sentence.

Besides, if I just wanted attention, I'd get a boob job, publish a sex journal or wear a miniskirt. Or all three. It's the quality, not quantity, that matters. Anyone can get noticed. But when someone notices what you care about, and appreciates it, that's rare. The psychotherapy industry is built on a tremendous void that had to be filled. Freud's real genius was figuring out that women would actually pay money for someone to listen to them for 45 minutes.

We live in a world where everyone's attention span is so fleeting, we have to exist in constant "wrap it up" mode. So when someone takes the time and effort to really understand who we are, what we care about and why, it's blissful. Because the only thing that is better than feeling there's someone willing to listen to you explain yourself, is feeling you don't have to.