Yesterday, someone asked me “What do women want?”

Short answer – sex and chocolate (or cake), but not necessarily at the same time and not necessarily in that order.

Long answer – different people want different things- these may change over time and it”s probably just a true for men as women.

In my parent’s generation, many women wanted a good provider, a nice home, the social status that went with marriage and probably to get away from their parents. And, yes, love often came into it – and sex, although in the days before the Pill, that could be more problematical. And companionship.

I suspect that in the past, people were more pragmatic and had more realistic expectations, but for others it may have been a matter of conformity or social pressure – “better wed than dead”.

One set of my grandparents had what amounted to an arranged marriage or, at least, an arranged introduction and lots of family pressure – the other grandmother found herself trapped in an abusive marriage to a nasty alcoholic.

There’s been a lot in the news recently about a survey which found that women who aren’t married and have never had children are happier than those who are. It seems that married women answer questions about happiness differently depending on whether their husbands are in the room.

Married men are happier than single men and marriage is good for society because marriage tends to have a calming and civilising effect on men. If you ask a woman who her best friend is, she’ll often name a female friend. If you ask a man who his best friend is, he’s more like to say that it’s his wife.

The problem isn’t necessarily “What do women want?” any more than it’s “What do men want”? It’s more “What does this particular woman want and is it compatible or complementary with what this man wants?” and “Is what either of them thinks they want the same as what they actually need and what will make them happy?”

A woman may find a man attractive, may enjoy his company, may be “in love” and may involuntarily project that into a narrative of a future life together which includes the assumption that the man must want the same thing.

The man may do the same thing, but that’s not the same as wanting the same thing.

And daydreams aren’t the same as plans – they leave out the difficult bits and don’t respond kindly to change.

And assumptions can be wrong.

Like it or not, western men and women are trying to make their way against a backdrop of Hollywood (meet “Mr Right, fall in love, live happily ever after” and rampant consumerism (“You can have anything you want and you can have it now – refund if not completely delighted”).