08/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What Do Women Want, More Than Anything?

This is part of a serial, "Sex Love Enlightenment." To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

Well, lo and behold, we're in an exclusive relationship. "Diving in," as Billy says.

At the end of our last phone call, I'd told him, "I don't want to be involved with you unless it's one on one. Has anything changed?" I said, expecting the answer, "No."

"Well," Billy said, "I'm willing to be exclusive while we figure out what's between us. There's something that won't let go of either of us."

"What about Kitten?" I ask.

"I haven't seen her again."


"She picked someone to date exclusively, and it wasn't me."

So... He hadn't chosen me. The other two had dropped out.

Billy says he'll take his profile off and tell the women he's been emailing that he's not available now.

I tell him I feel wary and guarded. He asks if he can come see me. "We won't have sex for a while."

"That's good," I say. "How long?"

Billy says, "That's completely up to you."

This moves me. I tell him about an Arthurian legend I first heard when I was in my 20s. In the story, King Arthur was riding alone in the forest when he was surprised by a strange knight in battle armor. The knight drew his sword to slay the king, but Arthur protested, "I'm not armed, this is against our code of honor." The knight relented, and made the King promise he would return to the same spot, alone and unarmed, in one year. The King's life would be spared only if he brought back the answer to this riddle: What do women want, more than anything?

King Arthur rode back to the castle and related what had happened to his nephew, Sir Gawain, the most handsome and chivalrous knight in the kingdom. Sir Gawain said, Don't worry, I'll ride in one direction, you'll ride in the other, and we'll ask every creature we meet: What do women want?

At the end of the year, Sir Gawain and the King had a book full of answers, but King Arthur knew he did not have the right answer. He was prepared to meet his fate, when he was approached by a hag called Dame Ragnell. She was fat, hairy and covered with warts, had a big nose dripping with snot and gave off a terrible odor. She told the King she alone had the answer and would tell him on one condition: "You give me Sir Gawain as my husband."

The King refused, he couldn't commit his nephew to such a fate. But Sir Gawain insisted he would marry the dame, gladly, if it would save the King's life.

So King Arthur accepted her terms and said, "Now tell me, what do women want more than anything?"

"Sovereignty," she said.

When the King rode back to meet the knight and told him the answer, his life was spared. But now he had to marry Sir Gawain to Dame Ragnell. After the ceremony, she turned up her hairy snout to be kissed. Sir Gawain could hardly bear to look at her, but shut his eyes and kissed her. And as he did, she was transformed into the most exquisite and sensual woman he'd ever seen. They spent the night making love and as the sun was rising, Dame Ragnell said, "My beauty will not hold, sir, so you must choose. Either have me beautiful by day, when the world can see, or ugly by day and beautiful at night for you alone."

I pause in the story to ask Billy: What would you choose?

"I don't know. Both have advantages."

I ask you, dear readers: what would you choose? To have your partner beautiful for the world or for you alone?

I tell Billy, "Just say what comes to you."

"Be beautiful when you want to be," he says.

I'm floored. Sir Gawain had said the same thing, in different words, to Dame Ragnell: "My lady, I leave it up to you." And when he said that, she became beautiful all the time.

I've been telling this story for 30 years, and nobody has ever given that answer. They choose one or the other, but don't think to leave it up to the woman.

I'm having to do some mental gymnastics now. Billy says he's willing to commit, and he's giving me sovereignty.

When he comes to visit and walks in the door, I extend my hand. "Hi, I'm Sara." We go out to a neutral place--a tea shop with cozy sofas--and spend a long time hashing and rehashing what happened between us. I come to understand that, for him, the relationship began when he first contacted me online in November, so he went through months of rejection and no encouragement. For me, the relationship began when he came to see me after my ski wreck, and promptly started dating two other women as well. He says he was shocked when I switched horses on him, and didn't trust that I was sincerely interested. He says he didn't really grasp, until now, how pained I was by his dating other people as we were becoming intimate. He thought I was trying to control him.

In addition to talking, we do a lot of laughing, which has strong healing power. After dinner, he sleeps in the guest room, and the next day he suggests we drive to an obscure theater in Denver to see "Chicago 10." Billy has a knack for finding interesting, out-of-the-way cultural events, and the film captivates us. It uses animation and archival footage to recreate an iconic moment in time. I knew many of the players in the Chicago trial--Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis, and the lawyer, William Kunstler--and it's enthralling to see them revivified.

Billy wants to drive to Lone Tree afterward to show me his house, but I suggest we take a break. We need time to regroup, readjust, for me to begin to trust him and he to trust me.

Not much time. Two days later, after confirming our agreement of no sex, I pack a bag to visit him in Lone Tree. His house is a McMansion--7000 square feet--in a development of luxury homes that are not well designed but built on a scale to impress. He'd bought it with his second wife and kept it after the divorce. But it's an absurd amount of space for one guy--three floors of rooms upon rooms. Billy had treated it as an art piece and furnished each room differently. One guest room has a safari theme, with a giant giraffe sculpture, zebra rug and tented bed as in an African camp. I choose the safari room to sleep in.

What's enchanting is that the house is set among massive pine trees, with nothing else in sight. The windows run from floor to ceiling and aren't covered, so at night, I see the dark shapes of trees close up with a full moon shining through branches. It's like sleeping outdoors, but warm and enfolded in a regal bed.

We spend another two days in nonstop conversation, punctuated by laughter, great meals, music and movies. When I hug him goodby, I tell him... I think I'm ready.

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT. How did you answer the question: would you want your partner to be beautiful for the world, or beautiful for you alone? And what do you think women want most?

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