What Freud Said
“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul is: ‘What does a woman want?’”
- Sigmund Freud
Back when I was studying English at university, I chose to write my final extended essay on Feminist Theory. Since founding the LSA, I have dug out some of my old texts and sought to apply some of their theory to the practical business of building attraction in the 21st century. A lot of it was self-important nonsense but I did enjoy reading two theorists who were concerned with “desire”.
Rene Girard and Jacques Lacan were French philosophers who came to prominence in the middle of the 20th century. They were hugely influential in such fields as history, psychology, literary theory and social science. For the purposes of this post, I want to examine their theories of “triangular desire”.
Girard and Lacan argued that, in essence, all desire is triangular- that is, all desire has three elements. Before Girard and Lacan, desire had traditionally been represented as linear:
man – woman
woman – man
woman – woman
man – man
But this is fundamentally false. Without THREE ELEMENTS, desire would not, could not exist. This is pretty hard to follow in the abstract, so let me illustrate with a couple of examples.
2 Men and 1 Woman. Imagine you met a girl who had been out with George Clooney. You would probably desire her because of the “relationship” between you and George Clooney (by relationship, I just mean your relative social standing). Your desire for her would be based not on HER intrinsic value but on HIS; his value would have been transferred to her, and you would want her because, at some point, he wanted her.
2 Women and 1 Man. Triangular desire is even stronger in the FFM paradigm. If a woman (F1) discovers that another woman (F2) desires you, it is her relationship with the other woman that will largely define how she feels about you. This usually works in your favour either way. If she feels that F2 is of higher status than her, then F2’s desire will raise your value. If she feels that she is of higher status than F2, often she will want to “win” you to confirm her position above her rival.
This is what the theorists like Girard and Lacan meant when they said that desire is fundamentally heterosexual but homo-social. Women want you to show that she’s better than other women. Men want women whom other men have determined are sexy.
If you know how to build attraction, you can end up becoming a cipher for the female rivalry. If you get women fighting over you, it really doesn’t matter who you are- the nature and value and relationship of the various women are all that matter.
So sometimes asking the question “what do women want?” is the wrong way to look at the problem. If you want to turn a female friend into a girlfriend,for example, forget the professions of love and the flowers and the meals out. Just show her that another woman wants you. Ideally, show her that someone with whom they have a relationship (best friend, worst enemy, sister!) wants you.
I’ll leave you with a couple of witticisms which I think summarise the concept. I’ve always rather wanted to write advertising jingles. Men who can get women get women. Women want a man whom women want.