A close male friend of mine relayed the following story:

"My then-wife once asked me to go to the store to pick up a bottle of shampoo.

"What brand of shampoo?' I asked her, wanting to make sure I got it right and didn't blow such a simple request, which I am prone to do."

"Any brand," she said.

"An hour later, I returned with the shampoo, and a sense of pride knowing I had accomplished this menial task without incidence. She pulled the shampoo from the bag, looked at me and said: `I didn't mean THAT brand.'"

I share this little vignette to illustrate my theory that men should never shop for women because, invariably, they are going to get it wrong. Case in point: my friend had spent a rather lengthy amount of time sniffing shampoo scents and decided that "herbal" over "floral" was the aroma of choice. An argument later ensued.

"Why would you think herbal over floral would appeal to me?" she asked. "Does herbal define my personality?"

He explained.

"Herbal is earthy," I responded, hoping she would accept this as a compliment,

"But floral is feminine," she retorted, becoming slightly emotional. "Wouldn't you say I'm more feminine than earthy?"

"Can't you be both?" I cowered, feeling slightly intimidated by the question.

"Decidedly no," she said, "Earthy and feminine have different connotations. Frankly, I always considered myself to be the girlie type."

"Girlie and earthy," I agreed, "not to mention feminine, too."

"So, why did you go for the "Herbal Essence" when you could have chosen "Freshly Floral?"

"You told me it didn't matter."

"It doesn't matter, but I assumed after all this time, you knew me well enough to make a decision based on your perception of who I really am."

"Who are you?"

"Not herbal," she said.

"I can return the shampoo," I told her, trying to be conciliatory,

"This is no longer about shampoo," she scolded. "The shampoo is merely a metaphor for our entire relationship."

The interesting part of this story is that this man happens to be a psychiatrist. He is smart, savvy and can identify a neurosis from across a room. Sadly, he can't identify shampoos.

"Months went by," he told me, "when one day my then-wife asked me to pick up some ice cream since I was going to the store. What flavor?" I asked.

"Whatever," she said.

"You need to be more specific," I insisted, reminding her of the shampoo incident.

"I'm over that," she admitted, "I was being difficult and childish."

My friend, relieved that his wife had made a major breakthrough, honored her request with renewed hope.

"I returned a while later with a pint of chocolate chip caramel nugget ice cream."

"What's this?" she asked. "You know I don't like caramels. They stick to my teeth."

"I didn't know," I told her. "I thought it sounded exotic and playful."

"You would have been safer with vanilla," she said.

A year later, my friend and his wife divorced. I told him that in the future he should stay away from all requests to purchase items for another person, especially a person of the female persuasion.

"Who knew?" he said.

"You're the shrink," I reminded him.

"That may be true, but let me ask you this: wouldn't you be happy if I brought you a pint of chocolate chip caramel nugget ice cream?"

"I'm more the strawberry passion fruit type," I told him.

"Oh," he said.

Perhaps Freud had a point when he asked the great question that has never been answered: "What do women want?"

Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every other Wednesday. She can be reached at: joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com