What Do Men Want in a Woman? The Modern Woman’s Guide

Starting a Relationship

By: Milena J. Wisniewska

The typical modern dating horror story: 

You’re out with your potential Prince Charming at the hottest wine bar in town, thinking, “This could be something special!” 

But days later . . . crickets.

It’s time to update your dating playbook with our answers to “What do men want in a woman?” 

Table of Contents:

What Do Men Want in a Woman?

When it comes to what men find attractive in a woman, everyone has their own tastes. I mean, you may be into Henry Cavil’s intense energy, while I prefer a Timothée Chalamet-style soft boy. 

But on a basic level, all people want similar things from a partner. Things like confidence, honesty, empathy, independence, and kindness. 

A partner to laugh with, cry with, and rob banks with! 

If I asked you to spit out the first three things that pop into your mind when you think about what men are after, you might say looks, femininity (good luck defining that), and a laid-back vibe.

But at Break the Cycle, we’re not interested in perpetuating sexist tropes and stereotypes. If you’re a woman who dates men and you’re looking to attract the right one, here’s a tip: Be a good human. 

Here’s a rundown of basic good-human skills to refine if you’re hoping to snag the perfect bop to your pop.

Emotional connection and intimacy

Cultivating a strong emotional bond and nurturing intimacy are essential for creating a healthy relationship. 

In her interview for the School of Greatness podcast, a world-renowned sexologist, Esther Perel, puts it simply: “For men, emotional intimacy is about being able to express vulnerabilities and feel safe.”[1

Essentially, they desire partners who are willing to share their inner thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities. Such emotional transparency establishes a foundation of trust and mutual support in a relationship. 

In the illustrious Still Face experiment, psychologist Ed Tronick asked mothers to 

coo, smile, play, and make eye contact with their babies and then to go stone-faced and unresponsive. The babies — both boys and girls — became distressed when they couldn’t get their mother’s attention, screeching, looking away, crying, and eventually giving up, dejected. Study after study finds humans are inherently relational, regardless of sex.[2]

Men, like all humans, need an emotional connection to feel safe and happy. 

Trust and loyalty

Trust and loyalty are the backbone of any relationship. 

Simon Sinek, an author and inspirational speaker, discovered something interesting during his time with the Navy SEALs: Trust in the team is way more important than just being a top performer. 

He quotes the SEALs, saying, “I might trust you with my life, but do I trust you with my money and my wife?” This highlights that SEALs would rather go into a battle with someone who’s an average performer but totally trustworthy than with a high achiever they can’t rely on. [3]

This reference might sound pretty intense, but the point is universal: The ultimate goal in any relationship is to have someone you can trust with your money, your heart, and your life. 

So, before your next date, focus on growing your trust and loyalty muscles rather than your glutes. Practice being a partner who’s reliable and dependable, not someone who leaves others guessing like a human question mark.

Respect and appreciation

Every relationship requires respect and appreciation to thrive, just as plants need water and sunlight. 

Seriously, nothing makes a guy’s heart bloom like knowing his partner truly values and appreciates him. And Matthew Hussey himself confirms that most “men don’t want to be treated as the solution to a woman’s problems. They want to be valued for who they are.”

“Men don’t want to be treated as the solution to a woman’s problems. They want to be valued for who they are.” 

– Matthew Hussey

Mutual respect in a relationship is just common sense, but I guess I’ll spell it out anyway: 

DON’T make fun of his hobbies (even his lightsaber collection).

DON’T mock his feelings.

DON’T scoff when he’s taking forever to find the airport exit. 

Respect his quirks and imperfections as much as you appreciate his abilities and . . . attributes.

Don’t forget to also respect his boundaries. I can’t stress enough how important personal boundaries are, both yours and his. Even in a casual dating relationship. Both parties’ rights and responsibilities should be respected.

Not only are respect and appreciation appealing to men, but in giving respect, you’re more likely to receive it.

Companionship and shared experiences

The whole reason people date and search for that one special person comes down to companionship. Someone to share experiences with is the icing on the cake of life.

A study of older couples, published in the journal Gerontology, found that “couples with higher average companionship showed lower overall negative affect, more overall positive affect, and higher overall closeness.”[4]

You can easily apply the same logic to a dating relationship.

So, focus on creating unique moments of connection. Ask him open-ended questions about himself. That way, you can tell similar stories about your own experiences or suggest an activity for the next date that reflects his interests.

Personal growth and support

You’re not looking for love so that you can find a man you need to fix. Even Taylor Swift had to learn the hard way that you can’t fix him. 

What you can do, however, is support his personal growth by encouraging him and lifting him up. Show your date that you’re his most devoted cheerleader and #1 fan, and he’ll want to come back for more.

It’s tough out there, but it’s so much easier to go through life with a loving, supportive partner by your side. Someone who celebrates your wins and offers a safe haven from life’s challenges. Someone who pushes you to be your best self but isn’t afraid to call you out on your BS. 

President Obama often highlights that he couldn’t have achieved anything without Michelle. He praised her as not just a great First Lady but his rock. Michelle, despite loathing politics herself, stood by him every step of the way, an embodiment of a supportive and intelligent woman. 

So, be the rockstar who knows when to cheer, when to challenge, and when to laugh. 

Remember, Michelle didn’t just smile and wave; she kept it real. So, be his hype person with a dash of sass. 

That’s not just attractive; that’s downright irresistible!

Physical affection and intimacy

Physical affection and intimacy in a relationship are more than just sex — they’re also the little things in between. Whether it’s placing your hand on his leg while driving, stroking his hair, or offering a comforting hug, these gestures speak volumes.

Men, like most people, want to be touched, and they want to be desired. A simple, nonsexual touch makes him feel cherished, while a bold, playful gesture lets him know you’re into him. 

Sure, everyone’s got their comfort zone with physical affection, but many of us need it like oxygen.

As Esther Perel puts it poetically, “Eroticism is the antidote to death.”[5] In her extensive work, she often discusses how eroticism and physical touch are essential components of a fulfilling relationship, helping partners maintain a sense of aliveness and closeness.

Long story short, whether it’s Netflix-and-chilling or simply holding hands in the park, men want a partner who understands the impact of a well-timed hug or a playful gesture.

What Are the Biggest Turnoffs for Men in a Relationship?

I hope you’re ready for some hard truths. 

Lack of trust and honesty

Trust and honesty are the bedrock of any solid relationship. Without them, the whole thing collapses like a Jenga tower in an earthquake. Lying, cheating, or hiding crucial details is a sure way to send anyone running for the hills.

A study from the University of Rochester emphasizes that “honest expressions may prompt a partner to feel trusted and motivated to reciprocate with honest expressions, bringing individuals closer and strengthening intimacy, communication, and understanding. Thus, honesty is desired, affiliative, and strengthens relationship quality.”[6]

So, dial down on the mysterious woman trope and focus on speaking your truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. 

Men are seeking a partner they can trust, not someone who could outmaneuver Loki. 

Constant negativity and complaining

Constant negativity and endless complaints can suck the life out of anyone. 

A certain amount of complaining and negativity is perfectly healthy for identifying and addressing areas of your life that need improvement, but excessive negativity is outright harmful.

Nobody wants to wake up next to Debbie Downer.

John M. Gottman’s What Predicts Divorce? discovered that “the more negatively the partners interact, the more their marriage is at risk. It is not merely the presence of negative affect but the relative balance of positive and negative affect during conflict resolution that predicts divorce.”[7

His research team found that when the ratio of positive to negative interactions in conflict is less than 5:1, the marriage is likely to end in divorce.

So, channel your inner Leslie Knope and choose to celebrate the good stuff and see the positive.

Channel your inner Leslie Knope and choose to celebrate the good stuff and see the positive.

Possessiveness and jealousy

Possessiveness and jealousy scream insecurity. They are massive turnoffs and for men looking for a stable relationship, major red flags.

In The Jealousy Cure, author Robert L. Leahy warns, “In the place of love, jealousy instills anger. Jealousy can power all kinds of relational conflicts from passive-aggressive all the through to domestic violence and murder . . . in the end, jealousy is often the thing that drives away the person one most desires.”[8]

One moment, you’re a successful editor at a New York publishing company, and before you know it, you’re boiling a little girl’s rabbit.

While I doubt you’ll go all Fatal Attraction on someone, you may push a nice guy away by constantly micromanaging his every move and undermining his loyalty.

Disrespect and belittling behavior

Disrespect and belittling behavior are the express tickets off anyone’s MVP list.

No man enjoys being with someone who makes him feel inferior or deficient (unless that’s his kink — hey, no judgment). He might be a skater boy, and you might do ballet, but that doesn’t give you the license to look down on him (or anyone else, for that matter). 

Respect and kindness go a long way, no matter what your interests or backgrounds are.

So, if you’re in it to win, make sure you show him the R-E-S-P-E-C-T he deserves. After all, we all look for a partner who lightens our load, not add to it! 

Lack of personal space and independence

A lack of personal space and independence can turn a relationship into a claustrophobic cage. 

Relationships that lack independence are profoundly enmeshed, says author Nicole LePera. In her book How to Do the Work, she cautions, “In this dynamic, emotional lines blur because no one . . . has the space to develop autonomy or express their authentic Self fully. This is called enmeshment. In the enmeshed state, there is a complete lack of separateness.”[9]

In a healthy couple, the relationship between “you,” “me” and “us” should look like this:

Being joined at the hip 24/7 can feel more like a prison sentence than a partnership. So, if you’re serious about that guy, remember that a little breathing room is key to keeping the spark alive! 

Inability to communicate effectively

In the Art of Communicating, the late Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that communication in relationships is as essential as food. 

He says, “Many of us suffer because of difficult communication. We feel misunderstood, especially by those we love . . . Nourishing and healing communication is the food of our relationships.”[10]

So, effective communication not only prevents and resolves conflicts but also, and maybe primarily, brings us closer together. 

No man (or any person for that matter!) wants a partner who avoids difficult conversations, resorts to passive-aggressive behavior, or plays guessing games. 

Conclusion

If your dating life looks like Groundhog Day, consider rewatching the movie and taking its lessons to heart. Spoiler alert: Breaking free from the vicious circle can only be achieved through genuine self-work and authentic connection. 

Put less energy into the superficial stuff and focus more on what really matters, like mutual respect, emotional connection, and effective communication. Watch out for behavior that could push him away, like dishonesty, negativity, possessiveness, and jealousy. 

At the same time, remember that men are humans, too. They have their unique tastes and preferences, so don’t sweat it if you’re not everyone’s cup of tea. You’re not supposed to be.

Your only job is to be unapologetically yourself until the right person, who loves precisely your brand of weird, shows up. 

Check out our page to read more about getting into a relationship.

FAQ: Your Relationship Questions Answered

What does a real man want in a relationship?

A “real” man wants a relationship based on mutual respect, trust, and support. No time for games or drama, just a mature, emotionally healthy connection. 

What are the five needs of a man?

The five needs of a man are typically respect, appreciation, physical intimacy, emotional connection, and recreational companionship. While these needs are common, every man is unique, so it doesn’t let you off the hook regarding open, effective communication.

What does a man find attractive in a woman?

What a man finds attractive in a woman can include confidence, intelligence, emotional maturity, a positive outlook, and of course, a great sense of humor. But remember, every man is different, so just be yourself and let your awesome qualities shine!

References

1. Howes, L. (Host). (2017, October 11). The truth about infidelity, intimacy, and love. (No. 548) [Audio podcast episode]. In School of Greatness. https://lewishowes.com/podcast/r-esther-perel-the-truth-about-infidelity-intimacy-and-love/ 

2. Finkelstein, J. (2022, February 8). Men really want emotional intimacy. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/demystifying-talk-therapy/202202/men-really-want-emotional-intimacy 

3. Villamizar, G. (2022, November 17). Simon Sinek – Trust vs performance (must watch!) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTo9e3ILmms 

4. Lüscher, J., Pauly, T., Gerstorf, D., Stadler, G., Ashe, M. C., Madden, K. M., & Hoppmann, C. A. (2022). Having a good time together: The role of companionship in older couples’ everyday life. Gerontology, 68(12), 1428–1439. https://doi.org/10.1159/000524089

5. Ferriss, T. (Host). (2017, May 21). The relationship episode: sex, love, polyamory, marriage, and more (with Esther Perel) (No. 241) [Audio podcast episode]. In The Tim Ferriss Show. Apple Podcasts. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/241-the-relationship-episode-sex-love-polyamory/id863897795?i=1000385667509

6. Le, B. M., Chopik, W. J., Shimshock, C. J., & Chee, P. X. (2022). When the truth helps and when it hurts: How honesty shapes well-being. Psychology, 46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2022.101397

7. Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Psychology Press.

8. Leahy R. (2018). The jealousy cure: learn to trust, overcome possessiveness, and save your relationship. New Harbinger Publications.

9. LePera, N. (2021). How to do the work: Recognize your patterns, heal from your past, and create your self. Harper.

10. Thich Nhat Hanh. (2013). The art of communicating. Rider.

Author

  • Milena J. Wisniewska

    Milena might not be a relationship professor, but she's definitely been through it all, learned her lessons, and is here to spill the tea. She combines the wisdom of renowned relationship specialists with her own romantic adventures to offer relatable and practical advice.

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