Written by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.
There are two functional definitions of "appreciation," roughly categorized by my friend Steve as "the British sense" and "the American sense."
The American sense of "to appreciate" is to express a positive assessment of and gratitude for something. You appreciate a favor someone does you or a gift someone gives you or a compliment someone offers. "Thanks, I appreciate that!" you say, meaning, "I'm grateful to you. This thing you contribute to my life is valuable and I'm glad you're willing to provide it."
The British sense of "to appreciate" is to express a sensitive awareness and understanding of something. You appreciate the subtle complexities of a fine wine or a work of art or a policy decision or, indeed, a woman. You Get It, deeply and thoroughly.
When I say "women want appreciation," I mean both of these things at the same time, though I expect that for non-women the British sense is harder to achieve than the American sense.
American appreciation merely requires increasing the volume in your mind of the stuff a woman does, says, is, or gives that makes you happy, and then saying it out loud. "You cooked dinner! This is great! Thanks!" or "You're beautiful!" or "You're completely right about that, I never thought about it that way before!"
British appreciation requires actually understanding her, which is hard because women are governed by rules more intricate than the "if-then" conditionals that describe the behavior of simpler animals.
Think about it this way: If hungry, then eat, you might think. But no. If you're a woman in the western industrialized C21st, it's more like... If hungry, then, mediated by body image, availability of appetitive food relative to nutritive food, social acceptability of being seen to consume food in any given setting, guilt, shame, mood, hormones, etc., etc., etc. ...eat.
Women want to be appreciated. Since it's fairly simple to give American appreciation, start there. Add on British appreciation over time, as you get to know her gradually over time.
Men are* at a disadvantage because it is in the nature of a woman's complexity to allow her greater subtly of empathy. Men, with their clunky emotional imprecision, will only get really good at British appreciation when they use a womanly exactitude of compassionate understanding.
To that end I offer you three strategies for increasing British appreciation:
1. Be affectionately curious. When something about her behavior surprises or confuses you, offer American appreciation (this requires that you really do love and value this about her) and then ask her to help you understand what went into her choice. Increasing your awareness of what it's like to be her requires getting information from her.
2. Catch yourself using men's behavior as a template for a woman's. It's different for girls. We are a stew of hormones, emotions, judgments, ideas, hopes and fears that have little to do with the internal lives of men. If you find yourself thinking, "Why can't she just do it the way I would?" it's time to reframe. Think instead, "What stops me from doing it the way she does?"
"Why can't a woman be like a man?" asked Henry Higgins. It's because they're not men (and it's not like men are any kind of standard). They were in charge for ages and look at the mess they made (she said more flippantly than she can justify, but just take it as rhetorical shorthand, please). Which brings me to the third strategy.
3. Look for what you can learn from her. The delicate web of interconnectivity in the life of a woman has a lot going for it, compared with the robust simplicity of men. (I know it's not that simple a divide, but it helps to clarify the point.) Robust simplicity can too easily result in rigidity and limited power. Like a bicycle with only one gear, there may be fewer parts to break and it may require less maintenance, but when you're faced with a mountain or a steep decline, 24 gears, for all their fiddliness, are a welcome help. Women are made for all terrains. Learning to be more like a woman and you'll learn to appreciate, in the British sense, what being a woman is like.
And when you appreciate that, and express that appreciation, she'll feel good, your relationship will be better, you'll get more and better sex, and then, you know, world peace happens. And I'm only exaggerating a little.
*With apologies for the gender binaries and gross generalizations.