Are We High Maintenance? Labels for Women: Part I

It occurred to me completely out of the blue one day.  Sometimes, you can't trace exactly what it is that makes you stand up and challenge something, but it changes you.  You have an inkling that this thought will completely change your life, even though you don't fully know how or why.  But you know it.  You feel empowered by it, and suddenly things seem just a bit more clear than they did before.  This is how I felt when the thought first came to me. Actually, I'm not high maintenance.  You're just a jerk. All day long, women try to pretend we don't feel the things we do, that we're not insulted by the things that insult us, and that we don't expect more than a woman in today's world should.  We do what Kristin Wiig does in the opening scene of Bridesmaids, where she tells the man she's just slept with, "Oh nooooo.  I'm not expecting anything. I'm not crazy, you know, the way other girls are. I don't want a relationship either.  That is, unless you do?" And my girlfriends and I laughed at that scene, even though it hit a little too close to home. We glanced nervously at each other because despite the widely held belief that girls talk about everything, it's hard to admit that you aren't perhaps the strong and independent and liberated woman we're all expected to be these days.  But we've all said things like that, and we've done it because we don't want men to think we're clingy.  We don't want to be labeled 'high maintenance.'  We don't want to be 'that girl.' And because of this, I finally realized, we've lowered our standards so much that they are barely recognizable.  This is, of course, part of the problem - we don't even realize when we're being treated badly, or at least we don't admit it to ourselves, because the conversation in our world stereotypes women as needy, clingy, overly emotional, and as always, that ever dreaded label: high maintenance. Now I have plenty of male friends who are, actually, interested in a relationship and who do want to find someone to settle down with.  But they are far and away the minority in a culture that tells women to stop being so emotional.  So intense.  To stop being so naggy and expecting so much and for heaven's sake to just relax.  Chill out.  Put a lid on the emotional stuff.  Because otherwise, we scare off the men. When Tracy McMillan wrote her controversial piece "Why You're Not Married," she basically told women that we were all nagging, slutty b*tches who would never get a man if we didn't start to recognize that "boys will be boys."  And I almost cried when I read Brianne Walsh's response:
And so we learned how to expect literally nothing from a man.  We learned to let men treat us like crap. We came to believe that men were doing us a favor by settling down -- because otherwise they would be out spraying the world of willing women with their abundant seed. We were taught to be grateful if a man showed interest in us, and we became fearful at all times that he would leave us once he did."
The definition of "being treated badly" is clearly relative, and I recognize that.  But I have literally been told by trusted male friends that I should stop harassing my boyfriend for being late all the time and not calling - after all, it's not like he's beating me.  So many women around the world are treated so badly by so many men, that it's an insult to them to define my boyfriend's behavior as "bad."  And I've actually stopped to consider the merits of that argument. (Because there's nothing like being told by men how to be a better feminist). And then I realized that this is exactly the trap we've fallen into, articulated so poignantly by Ms. Walsh.  That I should just be grateful that he's around at all, and I should let the "petty" things slide.  Because of course, this all neatly fits into all the other stereotypes about women that men have been promoting for years - that we are not only nags, but we nag about petty, insignificant things.  Who cares if he's late?  Who cares if he cheated - it was just the one time, after all.  Who cares if he didn't wash the dishes? It's not the end of the world.  And besides - it's not him, it's us.  We need to chill out. But one day it occurs to you that it's not your fault.  That it's not that you are naturally clingy or needy or high maintenance because you are a girl, or even that you are in this particular instance.  You don't have especially high or unreasonable standards.  You just expect to be treated with some respect, with some common courtesy.  It's just that you have minimal standards. And once we stop being afraid that we'll be called high maintenance, once we stop being afraid that we won't be as popular anymore, or that we'll fall into a dreaded stereotype . . . then we'll start to fight back.  We'll start to raise that bar, inch by inch, so that these types of men aren't quite so surprised anymore when we expect them to respect us - all of us.  And when they finally start to learn that it's not us, it's them. We're not high maintenance.  We're just being treated badly.  And we've ignored it for far too long.
  • Kelly O’Sullivan

    The dating part of my life is way behind me and I married a man who does indeed meet (and exceed) some very clear minimum standards. I started out self-assured and picky (not a fault, and not to a fault) and it has led to a fulfilling life. I saw Bridesmaids and was so underwhelmed and often offended at the portrayal of today’s modern woman. Desperate, overcompensating out of fear, unable to say what they mean directly, and reduced to begging? Who cares if everyone ended up “happy”.

    Yes, up the standards and hold your partners accountable.

  • Lew

    What defines “happy”? How does this group of young successful women define success? I would be very interested reading that follow up.

  • Gina Finocchio

    Larry asked me to read this because it generated quite a discussion between us, not to mention some mild disagreements. I’d like to say that as a 54 year old woman, who’s been there, done that, that I have all the answers, but alas I don’t. Keep in mind that I was part of the ‘I am woman hear me roar generation’ and I can’t say that I don’t agree with you on most points, however there are a few points I’d like to make. When you use the term ‘high maintenance’, I don’t associate that term with a woman who’s clingy or naggy or overly emotional. High maintenace is the woman who pampers herself to the extreme, makeup, clothes, shoes, waxing, botox, a woman who needs hours to get out the door in the morning. That to me is high maintenance, but I could be wrong. But that aside, I agree that we have been taught that we need to be independent, liberated, strong, self sufficient women in order to be repected, that we need to put the emotions aside and be more like MEN. But the problem with all that is that we’re not men, we are different, physically & emotionally. And we need to be true to ourselves. We need to be women and if we’re labled as needy and emotional so be it. You say it yourself at the end, you need to take control and it’s not about fighting back, it’s not a war. It’s about coming to terms with your differences and deciding what’s really important to you. When you compare a guy being habitually late to one who cheats, that’s not fair. A cheater you toss to the curb, a guy who’s late or who doesn’t do the dishes, you deal with or not, you pick your battles, you don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s a 2 way street, respect goes both way. Recognize and celebrate the differences, no need to go to war. Above all else women need to respect themselves first, not succumb to peer pressure and yet remain positive that the right person will eventually come into their lives. Keep up the passion and introspection, it’s good for the soul.

    • Abigail Collazo

      Thanks for reading, Gina! I want to address a point that you make about the difference between being late and cheating, because a number of people have brought this up with me.

      It’s true – they’re different. But my point was that I don’t think women are unreasonable – it’s not like we break up with guys or get angry if someone is five minutes late to meet us. But many of my girlfriends have to deal with NUMEROUS disrespectful and inconsiderate actions on the part of men, and they add up. But we’re afraid to say anything because we don’t want to seem petty or naggy.

      So I guess what I’m saying is that I think it’s easy to say “cheating is a deal breaker, but being late isn’t.” The truth, however, is that relationships between any two people are more complicated than that, and there is always more to consider.

      IMHO, the way a man handles the minor things is indicative of his respect for me, whether he cheats on me or not. That was really my point – that we’ve been letting all the little things slide because we’ve been told to relax, chill out, not sweat the small stuff, and not take such things so seriously.

      Well, I’ve decided to stop letting all the little things like that go by without standing up for myself. You get lightly pushed once a day for your whole life and at some point, you just decide not to take it anymore, even though it was never really a big deal independently.

  • Grace

    I think the first, most crucial, and hardest step is to completely love yourself and have confidence in yourself. This involves coming to the realization that you do not need a man to make you happy and to be honestly okay with being single for the rest of your life — not that that would be a likely or desirable outcome. Once that is in place (yes, it’s hard), everything flows from that. If you aren’t happy with the way a man treats you, it doesn’t hurt quite as much if you need to leave him — because you love yourself and you don’t need to detract from your own well-being to be with him.

  • Suzanne

    This post really caught my attentiopn. Once, men owned our reproductive systems. They were our “protectors” – in control of our sexuality. If women strayed from the rules of respectable society, we were cast out. And, ironically, then often the only way we could support ourselves was thropugh prostitution. Our fathers, our brothers, our grandafthers “protected” our virtue so one could be assured that the males born in a blood line were the actual heirs. But for the purposes of this comment I rpopose that they “protected” out virtue because they knew what men are.

    Now we are responsible for protecting our own mental and physical health (since virtue is an outmoded woprd). But we have this responsibility is a world that expects women to have the same sexual appetites and needs as men. That is – easy, casual, without regret.

    in this, as in so many things, social development has gotten ahead of bipology. And, as in so many things, it has to the advantage of men. I am telling you, it’s not what they want AND it’s not what we want, either.

    Sure, everyone likes some no strings attached yum yum now and then. Okay, call it that and move on.

    But if you want an honest to God real relationship? One of mutual respect? I am telling you, make the guy work for it. And work hard. Because either he wants it, and he’s willing to prove he wants it. Or – he’s just looking to get laid.

    Biology is destint, chicas, and these guys have millions of sperm to sow before they settle down. Us, with our few precious eggs – and the years it takes to nurture a child and launch him/her successfully into the world – we are biologically driven in another direction altogethera. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Men are hunters and they’ve got to hunt. So lead them on a merry chase for weeks or months. Withhold as long as you can, physically and emotionally. See how he responds to set backs. Because if he’s not all the way in for the hunt, he’s just not that into you. Sorry.

    Bottom line: bitches get the best men.

  • Carey

    Great article! SO true. There is a surplus of crappy guys in this world and it’s partly our fault as women because we have learned to put up with it. Think about it for a second. The whole reason for this is insecurity. Insecurity that if we don’t put up with his crap, he will go out and find someone who will and we will be left alone. Because, let’s face it, there is someone out there who will, but not someone who is as special as you are.

    To Suzanne’s point I held out for many years on having a relationship. My friends would tell me I was too picky. I didn’t have my first true relationship until I was 21 years old. He was caring, loving, and respected my body and my mind. I made him work for it. Not on purpose though, but because I actually wasn’t sure if I liked him or not and didn’t want to lead him on with an actual relationship if I didn’t think it was worth it. This in turn caused him to dote on me more in order to get me to like him and suddenly the idea of “the game” made sense to me after all those years. Guys do love to chase girls. But to Grace’s point make yourself worthy of the chase. Love yourself. Respect yourself. Don’t feed your insecurities of him running off to another woman by not speaking up in your relationship.

    It’s one thing to nag it’s another to voice your opinion and stand up for yourself. If your partner thinks you’re “high maintenance” for doing such, then it’s time to find a new partner.

  • Asif

    its true that we are “responsible for protecting our own mental and physical health”…

  • The Very Truth

    high maintenance women are so very pathetic nowadays since many of them think that they are God’s gift to men. such losers.

  • Obviously

    they all have a Limited IQ.