What Don Draper Wants in a Woman

 Posted by on August 20, 2013 at 7:00 am  Characters, Mad Men, Themes
Aug 202013


When Don met Betty, he was drawn to her sweetness and Grace Kelly-like beauty. In a flashback, he raved to Anna that he had met a beautiful, happy girl and he loved the way she laughed and the way she looked at him.

When he met Rachel, he fell in love with her intelligence and the way she challenged him. Sure, she was an attractive woman too, but what Don seemed to respond to the most was the way she talked, the things she said, and the fact that she, like him, was something of an outsider.

With Megan, he saw some of the same qualities he saw in the young Betty (charm, innocence, beauty), and also that she would make a great stepmother for his children.

With Sylvia…it’s a bit complicated. What exactly did he see in Sylvia? The first time we saw them together, he told her he wanted to end things. “I want to stop doing this,” he said. But the lure of her was apparently too great to give up. Throughout season 6, she remained the object of his strongest desires.  Sylvia was pretty (although not as model-beautiful as Megan), she seemed smart, and despite having an affair, she had a strong sense of morality and guilt.

Betty, Rachel, Megan, and Sylvia. Arguably these have been the main women in his life. (Not counting Anna and Peggy, women he had platonic relationships with).  Faye, Bobbi, Midge, Suzanne, and others were important to him for a while, but I would argue not as important. He never discussed marriage with them, or running away with them, and he never seemed in any way obsessed with them.

So what does Don want? Based on his history, he wants a sweet, model-beautiful woman to marry, but the dark, complex women like Rachel and Sylvia are the ones that get under his skin and make him feel understood.  He loved Betty when he met her, but after they were married, she often wondered, “Who’s in there?” Megan knows more about his past than Betty did when he married her, but he still often keeps her in the dark about things. It is often hard to tell just how much of himself Don is capable of sharing with one woman. He can share parts  of himself, but not all.

If Don divorces again, will he ever find “everything” he wants in just one woman? The sweet docile beauty of a Betty/Megan combined with a tough, complicated personality like Rachel/Sylvia.  Or maybe he doesn’t really want it all in one woman. Maybe he will always seek out a certain type of woman to marry, and another type of woman to have an affair with.



  42 Responses to “What Don Draper Wants in a Woman”

  1. I think Don saw himself in many of these women, the simplicity of a friends with benefits relationship with Midge, the outsider with Suzanne, the balls- out ambition with Bobbi, the orphan with Rachel, the domestic perfection ideal with Betty, and finally the conflicted family person with secret urges with Sylvia. I honestly think he identified less with Megan, and loved her for herself the most, even if he only saw an abridged version of her. It’s all about him, basically. Long ago someone told me that many egotists actually hate themselves, usually with good reason.

    • I never finished that thought, did I? In essence, I think what Don wants in a woman is the fictional “other half”. He sees himself as unfinished, incomplete, a big puzzle missing a piece. Good luck with that.

      • Mad Chick and Kturk — thank you for your thoughtful comments.

        I read some interview with Matt W that was all about how much Don truly loved Sylvia. I think this is one of these things that I didn’t get initially, but on repeated viewings is starting to sink in. It would have helped if we saw how Don and Sylvia started their affair to understand what he saw in her.

        One of the reasons why Don falls so hard for Sylvia is because he can’t have or control her (even though he tries), yet she represents so much about what he is and wants to be. Ultimately, he falls for her and she is part of the catalyst for his change (Don really change?) — if Sally hadn’t walked in on Sylvia having “thank you for helping my son not get sent to Vietnam” sex, where would Don be other than in the same repeating cycle of bad choices?

        IF Don is capable of change (that remains to be seen), then it would only be fitting that he ultimately ends up with Megan. Not only because “he loved her for herself the most,” but of all of the women he has loved, she is the one who has loved him the most unconditionally as well as accepted and loved his children. She also stands up for herself, challenges him and seems to be as sexually aggressive as he is. He also made the biggest sacrifice for any woman he loved by supporting Megan, despite her rejection of advertising to pursue acting, when he got her the Butler shoe commercial.

        I guess all of this is leading me to think that maybe next season Don tries to repair his relationship with his kids and Megan, and to do so might mean that he is out of the advertising game or he willingly takes a backseat to promote Megan’s career. At some point I think that Don just wants to be done with the anxiety involved in keeping secrets, and that includes with the woman he loves.

        If Don does decide that Megan is everything he wants in a woman, Megan may not be willing to stay with Don.

        • Polly, it’s true that Megan has given him a lot of unconditional love. I’m just not sure if she will find it worthwhile to give him another chance, especially since she is passionate about her career and they don’t have children together. But, time will tell.

        • So is Don capable of being in love with more than one woman at a time? I still think that he loves Megan. I remember MW once said that Don cheats because he’s looking for a mother. So does he see his mistresses as a sorogate mother? He seems to let himself be more vulnerable and intimate with them than his own wives.

      • Kturk, what you say makes a lot of sense about him seeing himself in some of these women and also wanting someone to complete his other half. Thank you for your posts.

        I also think that in Betty he saw what he didn’t see as a child. Watching all seasons we’ve seen good and bad in Betty—and definitely a lot of less-than-stellar mothering. But, in season one, Don and Betty discussed her going back to modeling and he told her that she was valuable as a mother to Sally and Bobby. I remember the pathos which which he discussed the beautiful, angelic mother that he had never had.

        If a parent dies, and the son/daughter has children of their own, the son/daughter can try to recreate good memories of his/her own childhood–or create new memories that were much better then he/she ever had. I do think Don saw in Betty (and his children) the chance to do better, the opportunity to create something that was never really there before in his own life. It’s quite poignant when I think about it.

  2. I agree with your main thoughts, but I offer a small correction: Don did discuss running away with Midge. But I agree that this isn’t because she was especially important to him — that was more about AWAY than WITH MIDGE.

    • That’s right. Two tickets to paradise, he ended up giving them to Midge and her insufferably snotty beatnick lovah.

    • I took that to mean them taking a trip to Paris, not running away for good. I always got the sense that their relationship was mutually understood to be nothing serious.

      • Yes– I did think of Midge (“Paris. Now.”) when I wrote the post, but as Jared said, I took it to mean a temporary trip rather than them running away for good.

    • a similar thing occured with susanne, who had one of the best tv breakups ever imo (i literally watched the scene where he reveals his past to betty thinking ‘is susanne still in that car???’)

      • You know I always wondered about his relationship to Susanne. He seemed to be really falling for her but the first thing he did after he confessed to Betty is break up with her. I remember him saying something about how he’s ” Happy now.” Was the fact that his marriage to Betty was built on a lie that made him unhappy? And did he value what he had with Betty more than what he had with Susanne? He seemed to be more intimate with her than with Betty. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  3. I see Sylvia more like the school teacher and the comedian’s wife than Betty/Rachel/Megan. Don seemed to be drawn to her more due to the fact she reminded him of the prostitute he had his first time with. I thought that was the revelation at the end of the drug trip episode. Perhaps it may be my reaction in the audience that I didn’t think much of Sylvia just like I didn’t think much of the school teacher.

  4. I was wondering about Faye. Thoughts? She was bright and charming but ultimatly Don chose Megan.

    • Possibly he saw Megan as “easier” to be with. In his office she was lovely and sexy and accommodating and then in California she was all that as well as potential stepmother material.

    • And it wouldn’t have been as interesting a story line if Faye had won the day. Matt and the writers could really have fun with an actress as opposed to a therapist.

  5. She knew too much! When Don confessed to her, she encouraged him to follow through and resolve his AWOL status. He wasn’t ready to face his past, like at all. So he buried his shame in the greener fields of Megan and put Fae in the cornfield. Like Megan and Rachel, she was too good for him anyway, and he knew it. Plus, Fae was a real grownup and not likely to abide his bullshit, so I think he has largely forgotten her. Maybe Tilden Katz has a single brother.

  6. Megan loved Don unconditionally because he was honest with her about his past from the beginning. He was never like that with Betty. He was only willing to expose a bit about himself with Rachel, but even with her, he wasn’t completely honest.

    And yet . . . was Don really that honest with Megan when he married her? Sure, he told her about his past. But his reasons for marrying her were still dishonest. He shrouded her in some kind of illusion, the way he shrouded Betty. And he may have been honest about his past with Megan, but he still failed to be his true self with her.

  7. So what’s the root of Don’s cheating? When he was with Betty, I thought it was his lie. He knew Betty only loved the idea of him so I thought that he was searching for a wan to actual love him through his affairs. He seemed to have true feelings for some of them. I also figured that’s why he was so in love with Megan in season 5. She knew about his past and loves him for who he was so I figured he didn’t need to cheat if he found unconditional love but here he is doing it and with his ex. Which also makes me wonder, did Don actually love Betty or just the idea of her? He seemed to be happily married to her. She didn’t seem to be the cause of his unhappiness.

    • I’m not sure. I will say that every show I see that has a “troubled” man as protagonist–that man cheats on his wife. Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire), Ray Donovan–they all cheat.

      Maybe, as Faye Miller once said, Don only loves the beginnings of things. I think he tries to change. It seemed like he tried with Betty, for a brief time between Season 2 and early Season 3. (Okay, *very* brief). And then he tried with Megan. I don’t know. I think he sees himself wanting to be this happily married man, but then when he’s actually married, nothing is ever enough for him. I don’t know what it is. I do wonder if he needs more than one woman to feel fulfilled. (And even then–*is* he fulfilled?)

    • The root of Don’s cheating is his childhood. That man has serious mommy issues. According to Matt Weirner, Don is looking for a mother in his mistresses. Both Betty and Megan full his wife void and they both made perfect wives that he loved but he still has this mommy void. That’s why he falls so hard for these other women. It’s not because he stopped loving his wife, he just really wants to fill that hole.

      • This makes a lot of sense thank you! It always annoyed me how people would blame Betty( and now Megan) for Don’s cheating.

    • I think Don and Betty had a mutual infatuation with each other. They were always affectionate and had a sex life but not much more. MW said in a season 2 interview that Betty married Don because he looked good on paper. I do think that they really did care about each other but I don’t think they were ever in love. How could they be? They didn’t know each other. I don’t think that has anything to do with why Don cheats. I think he’s just trying to fill this emptiness inside him. I think Betty is truly in love with Henry though. You can tell by how to talks to him. I mean, she was able to get fat and openly flirt with other men and he’s okay with that. I’m happy that she found him:)

  8. I think Don is like his advertising in that he wants the current version of a product. Betty was the 1950’s version of the wife, Megan is the new and improved version, and don’t you just wonder what the 1970’s version is going to be? The package is the product and reflects the current and perhaps future vision of “wife”. The real person behind the role is probably irrelevant, as contrasted to Ken who points out to the group at one meeting that his wife is part of his real life, not as an advancement in his career. When you do not form close loving ties in your childhood you don’t have a clue on how to do this in your adult life. So you learn it like a part in a play that you are writing yourself with the help of current media, what Don wants in a woman he can’t explain, doesn’t really know and certainly doesn’t recognize. What he thinks he wants is determined by what popular opinion says a wife is at that time in history. Having said all that, I do believe he would have stayed married to Betty is she had not left him. He is not bothered by the lack of trust and commitment in a relationship because he has never known what it feels like to have that. He doesn’t have any friends either, just fellow workers. His friendship or attempts at friendship with Dr. Rosen mimic friendship attempts by children in elementary school. How isolated he must feel.

    • You’re right, Donna–Betty left him. Otherwise I think he did want to stick it out. At that time, anyway. (Hard to say for sure what else might have happened down the road)

      • I honestly thought, at that time, Don would have stayed faithful to Betty. I know he tried( and failed) in seasons 2 and 3, but I always thought it was his lie that caused him to cheat on her. Like he knew that Betty only loved the idea of him( not her fault) and because of that, he was looking for true, actual, unconditional love. But he found that in Megan and he still cheats on her. Now I agree with Dani, it must be deep seeded mommy issues.

  9. I am one of those who really didn’t “get” the Don-Sylvia relationship. Jon Hamm and Linda Cardellini are such gifted actors that they could make great entertainment out of wordlessly passing a rubber chicken back and forth between them for ten minutes while sitting in bridge chairs on a bare stage. But the writing of this affair, and of Sylvia herself, just did not do it for me.

    I just did not get why Don was obsessed with Sylvia, or that she was “the love of his life” or something like that; I didn’t know what was unique and special about her that he could never find in anyone else. She just seemed like someone he wanted only because he couldn’t have her; had he been married to her, and Megan to Arnold Rosen, he’d probably have had an affair with Megan, for the exact same reason.. That actually would have been an interesting dynamic to explore, but it never got that far. I got a feeling that a lot of stuff was left on the cutting room floor that would have explained things better.

  10. You know, I am still hoping Betty and Don will get back together. The way he calls her Birdie on their telephone conversation on the last segment makes me think he must still have feelings for her. It seems Betty still has feeling for him. That way he can have a HOME for his kids instead of the broken home feeling he knows they have now. Wishful and olf fashioned thinking I guess.

    • Don and Betty do seen like they are meant for each other. I think Jon Hamm and January Jones must get along really well to have that kind of chemistry on set. Plus when Don wasn’t cheating or being a possessive a hole to Betty, he was kind of a good husband. I mean, he listened to her, did what ever he could to make her happy and feel loved like making her breakfast in bed, buying her whatever she wanted, taking her father in etc. I think that’s why it was so sad when he cheated in her. To see him be so loving and attentive to her in one scene, and sleep with another women in the next scene.

      • The twist is that NOW Betty understands exactly what he is like. She syspathises with Megan because she knows Megan is now in the same boat she used to be and just as blind. Megan might have gone into the relationship with more knowledge than Betty about Don but really what good has it done her? He still cheats on her without any remorse it seems.
        I went back to see the pilot for Mad Men and its astounding how you don’t even realize he is married until about the last minute of the show when he arrives home and Betty is all smiles greeting him home. That sums it up right? He had slept with another woman during the day then courted a different one during lunch and lastly his wife and kids waiting at home.

  11. It bothers me tht people think Don falls out of love with the women he marries. I thought his love for Betty throughout their marriage was constant but he would lose interest in her and neglect her when he found another woman who could fill that void that she couldn’t. I think the same thing is going on with Megan.

    • Don’s idea of love is shallow and self-serving. “If you make me feel better about myself, I love you.” But the minute his own pain returns, he looks outside himself (booze, women) to fix it.

      • But do you honk he ever stopped loving his wife? He was hurt when Betty told him she didn’t love him anymore and he was consistently affectionate with her. And even though he treats Megan like crap, I still feel like he wants to keep what he has with her. I mean, she’s the only woman he’s ever been with who loves him for who he is. Why doesn’t that mean more to him?

        • He has, as I said, a very shallow idea of love. Does he love Betty? Megan? Rachel? I think it comes and goes depending on how he feels. He’s a man who runs away from feelings and commitments. He’s a man who takes selfishly. How can we judge who he loves when his very idea of “love” is distorted?

          • Hmm, that makes sense. I always wondered when watching seasons 1-3 if all the romantic Don and Betty scenes were there to let us know that his marriage isn’t what’s making him unhappy.

  12. no I don’t think hell find that perfect woman, because he is deeply flawed and disturbed, and it is not about these women at the end of the day, Don has an attachment disorder, he lost his mother from birth, his father died, e was raised by an abusive stepmother and grew up in a whorhouse, there has never really been any one he can say he could trust. So women are the least of his problems,this man needs some serious help. I saw the episode the other night where he told Megan that when children are born and people are patting you on the back and passin out cigars, you don’t really feel anything for them , but you pretend you do.

    Hell continue to cheat on whatever woman he is with because at the end of the day, he needs someone else to need him, he is not emotionally developed enough or even possesses enough empathy in my opinion to let himself truly fall in love with ayone

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