Freud famously asked: what do women want? And I think that after two marriages, a dozen long-term relationships and a thousand-and-one dates, I’ve discovered the answer to that great mystery: they want a man with a beautiful house.
In my twenties I thought that what women wanted was a man who was funny, intelligent, sensitive and kind. A man who would be faithful to them and a good and caring father to their children. Yes, for the modern woman those are all desirable qualities in a man; but they won’t seal the deal.
No, what women really want — well, many women — is a man with a big beautiful house. Preferably, a man with a big beautiful house in the beautiful British countryside or the south of France.
They say size isn’t everything, but it’s amazing how the possession of a big house will alter a woman’s perception of a man. He doesn’t have to be tall and handsome to attract women. He can be a short, bald gargoyle with bad breath — but thanks to his beautiful big house, there are women who will see him as a tall sexy beast.
How do I know this? Over the past two years I’ve met three truly awful men with truly amazing women in their lives. Men who were narcissistic, obese and immature. Men of exceptional mediocrity. They are the kind of men you look at and wonder: what does she see in him? Big heart? No. Big brain? No. Big penis? No. Big house? Yes! It is no coincidence that all three of these men have a beautiful big house in the countryside. And two of them have very nice flats in London as well, which makes them pretty irresistible.
Of course that’s nice for these men, but bad news for the rest of us who, when it comes to property, aren’t so well endowed. I’m thinking of men like me. I have a small maisonette flat in north London. It’s clean. It’s tidy. It has attractive features (two nice balconies). But it’s not a big beautiful house in Notting Hill or Norfolk. When women come to my place for the first time I can hear the disappointment in their voices when, putting on a brave smile, they say: ‘This is …nice’ — which is a polite way of saying: ‘I will never, ever marry you.’
So is the idea that women will love you for who you are simply a romantic myth? No. Women will love you for who you are. They just won’t marry you for who you are. They won’t have babies with you for who you are — unless you have a big beautiful house.
In case you are thinking this is just the sour grapes of a romantic loser, for the purposes of this piece I asked one former girlfriend of mine if it was true that the reason she didn’t want to marry me was because I didn’t have a beautiful house.
Of course, put like that, very few women would actually be brave enough to say yes. After all, it makes one sound so shallow and superficial. My ex-girlfriend, who years ago had rejected my proposal of marriage, claimed at the time it was because she just didn’t want to, but eventually conceded that yes, my housing situation was a major factor. ‘Women want the security of being with a man who has a substantial property,’ she said. ‘It’s something hard-wired into us.’
The journalist Esther Walker publicly admitted all this when she wrote in an article that she married the journalist Giles Coren because she fell in love with his five-bedroom Victorian house in north London. Esther points out that her husband-to-be had many attractive qualities. ‘But’, she wrote, ‘what got me hot under the collar and made me go weak at the knees was his house. I really fancied his house.’
There’s nothing new about women falling for a man because of his property. Consider Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; it should be called Pride and Property. The book’s heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, spends the whole novel complaining about Mr Darcy — and ends up falling in love with him. When she is asked by her older sister, Jane at which point she changed her mind about him, Elizabeth replies, ‘I believe I must date it from my seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.’ At that point, ‘she drops her pride and her drawers’, as my friend Natasha Garnett once put it.
But how does this ancient primordial drive to acquire property via a man fit with modern-day feminism? Women I know, who were brought up by their feminist mums to believe in equal rights, a woman’s autonomy and not to depend on a man — women who proudly call themselves feminists — still expect the man to provide the beautiful house. I suspect that the sheer difficulty for young women of getting on the housing ladder, at least in London, means that pragmatism will trump principles.
But even divorced and single women in their fifties who have property of their own and are financially comfortable still want a man with a big beautiful house; it’s the ultimate symbol of not only status but of security. They feel safe with such a man.
And I don’t blame women for wanting a man with a beautiful house; one with a lovely kitchen, luxurious bathrooms and wardrobe space as long as the Great Wall of China. They don’t want to make a life with a cute, funny man with a small flat. I get it. And what’s more I have a confession: I want to find a woman with a big beautiful house and live happily ever after too.