Sigmund Freud once stated, somewhat plaintively, “What does a woman want?”
When I once included that line in an article, a female reader suggested I write a column about what men wanted. More specifically, she raised the question, “What gestures make men feel appreciated?”
Good question. Let’s find out.
Before setting out on this adventure, I decided to limit even more narrowly the boundaries of my inquiry. The Army lieutenant who receives an unexpected promotion to captain for his bravery on a battlefield is appreciative. Ditto for that guy who puts in 12 hours a day, 5 days a week in the office, and receives a hefty raise and a prodigious Christmas bonus.
No—Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and so I decided to limit the question to married men or men in romantic relationships. What gestures from the women in their lives make men feel appreciated?
I began my search for answers by cracking open my laptop. In “10 Things Men Want From Their Wives,” Sheri Stritof offered an excellent summation of ideas I’d found on other sites. Important to men, Stritof writes, are such things as understanding, respect, support, and affection, and she gives some specific concrete examples and advice demonstrating how women can make their men feel more loved and appreciated.
That Sheri Stritof was female caused me to reorient my investigation. Originally, I had thought of approaching only males in my survey. But what would females think of the question? What would they say were gestures of appreciation valued by the men in their lives?
Time to close down the computer and seek answers in the real world.
The Coffee Shop Survey
My search began at the Happy Creek Coffee Shop, where I know the staff and several of the customers. I made the rounds, explained my project, and received these responses.
Sharon, a cook and baker for the cafe, has been married for nearly 20 years. She told me, “I think it’s the little things men appreciate. Like when I make a pot of coffee and bring a cup to my husband when he’s on his laptop. It’s a sign I love him.”
Alex, unmarried and a 20-something barista, emphasized that men liked women to spend “quality time” with them.
Unlike his two fellow employees, Jeremy, again young and unmarried, had to ponder the question for a moment. He then reported that when he is on a date, he feels appreciated when the woman volunteers to pick up the check. He rarely lets her pay, but the offer makes him feel that she is enjoying his company.
Annie, a mother and wife, fired off a list of ways wives can show their husbands appreciation. “Make him lunch and take it to his workplace. Thank him in front of the kids for taking the family to supper or on a vacation. Encourage him to have a guys’ night out. Do something with him he wants to do, like seeing a certain movie, even if it’s not your cup of tea.”
Like Jeremy, and unlike the women, my friend John, a regular at the cafe, and a husband and father, had to mull over the question before coming up with an answer.
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “Mostly it just has to do with the overall relationship.” He paused, thought again, and then added: “When I’ve had a tough day, Lisa reminds me of the importance of the work I do. I appreciate the support.”
The Quest by Phone
Next, I picked up the telephone. A call to my sister and her husband brought some sweet responses. Penelope, a nurse, thought that Bob, who is retired, appreciated the little treats she brought him from the grocery store—“Snickers Bars or sherbet”—and holding hands. Like Jeremy and John, Bob’s first response was “That’s a tough question.” (This initial hesitancy seems to be a guy thing, maybe because few people ask us such questions.) Finally, he said, “Penelope kisses me every time she leaves the house. And I love when we’re watching television and she puts her head on my shoulder.”
“I don’t need presents,” said my brother Doug, a retired chemist. Of his wife of nearly 40 years, he said, “When Rosanne gives me a hug and says ‘I love you’—well, that goes a long way with me.”
My sister Becky, a banker and married for over 40 years, told me, “Tom likes when we’re sitting together watching television, and I put my hand on his knee.”
A Last Gift
Now for a personal note: In May of 2004, I called my wife for some information needed for my homeschooling classes. The literature class was waiting for me, and our conversation was hurried. As I was getting off the phone to race into the classroom, I heard Kris say, “I love you.”
Those were the last words she would ever speak to me. When I returned home, I found her collapsed and unconscious on our bedroom floor. She died five days later of an aneurysm of the brain.
That “I love you” remains her last great gift to me.
Small Is Beautiful
So what can we gather from my informal investigation? What gestures from women make us men feel appreciated?
Sometimes we do treasure extravagant gifts—an unexpected weekend away with the woman we love, that widescreen television we’ve wanted for years, a surprise birthday party at a restaurant with friends and family. Who’s going to turn down a romantic night out with the woman we love, away from the kids, just the two of us?
As we can see, however, it’s the little things that matter most to men, the sweet, daily intimacies that make them feel appreciated: a hug, a touch of the fingers, a kiss, an affectionate glance, encouragement about our work, a bottle of wine shared on the deck at sunset.
Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “I love you.”
And it is these small gestures of appreciation that should make every day a Valentine’s Day.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C., Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.