The perfect gift for your female partner over 50 cannot be found in jewelry or clothing stores. You have likely bought her enough sweaters and jewels to last 50 lifetimes -- and much of the stuff has never come out of safes and drawers.
What aging women want most money cannot buy. What we want most is to be left the hell alone -- and to be loved.
I know this from interviewing hundreds of wives and lovers over the course of a long journalism career that birthed six books focused on intimate relationships. I have learned a lot about the angst and dreams my gender has in common, despite our differences in age and backgrounds. I know some crucial answers to the centuries-old question: What do women want?
Central to our sustenance is not bling, nor designer wraps. What women want most of all is to feel independent and worthy. This comes from being surrounded by people we love and doing work that we love, work we are valued for, work that adds value to other people's lives, work we choose to do, paid or unpaid.
What women of a certain age don't want to be told how we should act, how we should feel. In fact, we don't like the word "should". We vary in our missions; some of us are hungry to lean into the boardroom and cultivate multi-million dollar deals. Others want to lean into grandchildren and/or gardens to cultivate a bounty of beets and kale. The goals we set for ourselves are based on personal emotional and financial needs therefore are the right choices because they stem from our hearts, and not societal expectations.
This is the definition of my brand of feminism -- to gain independence and self-esteem from decisions that make a woman feel her most powerful and most real, and not allow others to shape or define her. The word "feminist" is not scary; it means "let me be" and many men claim to be feminists too.
What women don't want is to be judged on any front.
The pain of being judged is not limited to lifestyle choices; we as women (of all ages) are constantly evaluated by our physical appearances. We are too fat, too scrawny, too busty, too pretty, too homely, too done up. We have thunder thighs or thick ankles or bad hair. If Hillary Clinton runs for president what we women want, no matter the party, is to discuss her credentials and not whether her hair looks good or she has lost weight. Men do not get that same superficial scrutiny and some of these guys in the public eye look really bad, with shoe-polish dye jobs and paunchy guts.
Some of you readers may wrongly equate the word "feminist" with "man-hater". Yet many willful and accomplished women openly, with gratitude, credit their men as a primary power source. I often write on how to sustain long relationships and I find that the majority of the alpha-wives I interview are paired with spouses who give them free reigns on their lives. My favorite quote on this subject comes from a 92-year-old artist in Los Angeles who had just celebrated her 70th wedding anniversary.
"For all of these 70 years, anything I've done in my marriage, my husband always told me, 'go, do, be'," she told me. "Our marriage was never about submission for me. As a strong woman who is also a wife, you need to keep your own identity. That's the real secret to why we lasted so long: I have a husband who has been the wind behind my wings. So I am free."
This is what every woman I know yearns to feel. It is the answer to the ancient question that King Arthur searched far and wide to uncover: "What Does Woman Really Want?" According to legend, he was ordered to discover this mystery that has baffled all men throughout time as a punishment for being caught poaching in the forests of the neighboring kingdom.
An ugly, old witch agreed to show him the light at this steep price: King Arthur had to get his closest friend Gawain, the noblest knight of the Round Table, to take her as his bride. He persuaded his ever-courteous, chivalrous buddy Gawain to come through for him. The best ending to this tale is interpreted by Jungian storyteller Robert A. Johnson in his 1991 book Femininity Lost and Regained:
"When Gawain was prepared for the wedding bed and waiting for his bride to join him, she appeared as the loveliest maiden a man could ever wish to see!," Johnson writes. "Gawain, in his astonishment, asked what had happened. The maiden replied that because Gawain had been courteous to her, she would show him her hideous side half of the time, and her gracious side the other half of the time. Which of the two did he choose for the day and which for the night?
"Noble man that he was, Gawain replied that he would let the maiden choose for herself," continues Johnson. "At this, the maiden announced that she would be a fair damsel to him both day and night, since he had given her respect and sovereignty over her own life."
So much for critics of feminism who feared that what woman really wanted was to rule the world. What we want most of all, as King Arthur discovered, is the choice to define and rule ourselves.
Wise men want this, too, for their women and for themselves.
Iris Krasnow is a bestselling author whose books can be found on iriskrasnow.com. Her latest book is book Sex After...Women Share How Intimacy Changes As Life Changes.