She’s not high maintenance, you’re just low effort. ~Unknown
“High maintenance” is a great way to make a woman who puts tons of effort into her own life sound like a burden on a man. ~Unknown
Having standards doesn’t make you high maintenance. It makes you a bitch who knows what the fuck she wants. ~Unknown
I’ve in and out of the online dating world since last fall.
Something I’ve noticed on many CIS/hetero male profiles are the phrases “No high maintenance” or “no/low drama“. These are code words for “I want a woman who I can walk all over and won’t state her needs or wants or, if she does, she won’t demand or fight for them.” These are code words for “I don’t want to have to deal the consequences of me being a jerk or selfish or inconsiderate of another human being I’m being intimate with“. These are code words for “I’m the only one who actually matters, who is actually fully human, in this relationship.“
I don’t think (most) men think these things consciously. They have been trained in this culture just like we all have. We have all been trained that women are meant to be accommodating, submissive, quiet. We have all been trained that when a woman is angry or frustrated then she is being hysterical and unreasonable. We have all been trained that when a woman states her needs or wants that she is being demanding and just too much.
And as a dear friend says “Priviledge. It’s a hell of a drug.“
This past week I read an article in the Paris Review titled The Crane Wife. It is a written by a woman telling the story of her breaking off her engagement and cancelling her wedding, the reasons why, and the ways she sold herself out in the name of not being a “burden” or a “bother” or too demanding.
I related to this article as if I could have written it myself. I look back on the twenty years I was with my ex and see all the ways I was “accommodating” and all the ways I “compromised” which translates to mean all the ways I didn’t ask for nor demand some of my own basic needs and wants. The ways I convinced myself those things weren’t important, that I didn’t need them, that I was expecting too much and being… unreasonable. I look back and see all the ways I gave my Self up, piece by piece, in the name of love, in the name of not being too much, in the name of not wanting to rock the boat and cause conflict.
I would love to be able to say that this behavior was all in the past. That I learned from the disintegration of my marriage how to not give up pieces of me, to stand up for myself, to honor my own wants and needs.
I’d love to be able to say that.
But I’ve realized over this past few weeks, that I can’t. The pattern is still there, it’s just a different layer now.
I noticed over the last couple months how I was falling into this same pattern again with the person I’m currently dating. It looks different this time, of course. With my ex I wouldn’t state my needs or wants until I was completely overwhelmed and triggered, which always lead to a huge fight. I would bottle and suppress and try to convince myself things didn’t matter when they did, and there always came a point when I couldn’t hold it in anymore and would basically explode.
That hasn’t happened with the person I’m currently dating. And to that I say thank the gods and goddesses for therapy and growth. What has happened however, is that my own insecure anxious attachment has been triggered, more than once. Each time I have taken a step back, analyzed the situation, and then decided if it made sense for me to say something or not.
Good so far, right?
The problem became apparent when I constantly and consistently decided that it was all on me. That is was just my anxious attachment, my childhood trauma, the wounding from the betrayal of my ex. For a long time I didn’t say anything to the person I’m dating. I didn’t mention how much certain behaviors were hurting me.
And that wasn’t fair to him, just as it wasn’t fair to me.
Over the last couple months I have begun to speak up. I have begun to say how certain behaviors were hurting me, I’ve asked that he tell me before he’s going to do certain things. I’ve stated my needs and wants.
I haven’t demanded he change. I haven’t told him he’s a horrible person or blamed him for my wounding.
I have told him clearly what my needs and wants are.
There, with all relationships, of course, needs to be some compromise. There needs to be understanding of circumstances. There needs to acceptance that sometimes we just don’t have enough spoons to be the person our partners or friends or family may want or need us to be and sometimes they don’t have enough spoons either. This is life.
It is also true that we cannot be the only one being “understanding” or making concessions. Just as we know those close to us have their own struggles, they too need to understand we have ours. This doesn’t mean anyone accepts abuse. It does mean we all recognize that we all can’t be our Very Best Selves 24/7. And if we can look at the whole and see how the hurtful or stressful behaviors are the exception and not the rule, then that is when it makes sense for us to compromise. But again, only when we can look at the whole and see those behaviors as the exception.
We also need to look at our own patterns and determine if we have expressed our needs in a way and at a time that they can be heard and acknowledged. I found myself in a variation of my old pattern of not speaking up, and this wasn’t fair to the person I’m dating. It also wouldn’t have been fair to yell at them or tell them they were a bad person for doing the things that were triggering (because they are not a bad person, they are actually a pretty great person!). What was fair and appropriate was realizing my pattern, and then stating my needs and why I need them. Not demanding. No threatening. Asking if he could do what I needed.
This is all a bit of a challenge. We get to own our own wants and needs. We get to express them. That doesn’t make us “high maintenance” or “high drama”. It makes us humans who have a right to having our needs and wants honored, by ourselves and others.
It means that we are humans and do not have to sell ourselves short or shrink ourselves or give away pieces of our Self so that we aren’t a bother a or a burden.
It means that we have as much right and deserving to be respected, heard, and regarded as any other person.
It also means we need to do the same for those in our lives. To hear their asks and decide if it’s something we can do. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. That’s true both ways. And when those we care about can’t meet our needs and wants, we need to then decide what our own next courses of action are; be that getting some of those needs met by friends or family or ourselves or if we need to examine the relationship as a whole and decide how we want to go from there.
Another person not meeting a specific need or want at a specific time doesn’t need to be a deal breaker. A consistent pattern of a person not meeting our needs or wants perhaps should be. When looking at the pattern, consider the circumstances, the context. If there are legitimate reasons for a behavior, not that it makes the behavior okay, but to understand it more. When we are able to learn to do this for others we can also learn to do this for ourselves.
We are all human. We all make mistakes.
For each of us, it is important to be able to state our needs and wants, to not shrink ourselves or give away pieces of who we are. To not try mold ourselves into someone we aren’t. Rather, we need to be our whole selves, the messy, the not messy, and the complex, both with ourselves and with those we are in relationship with.
This essay was originally published in my newsletter on July 29, 2019 and has been edited for publication here. If you’d like to read my most recent essays and learn about my current offerings, you can subscribe to my weekly(ish) newsletter here.