The first time I heard the term “high maintenance” was in the film When Harry Met Sally. Harry accuses Sally of being high maintenance. Sally indignantly denies it. She’s not. She just knows what she wants. High standards or high maintenance? The debate has raged ever since.

And it’s likely to rage on for some time; because it’s a term that means different things to different people. The thing is; everybody has their own idea of what high maintenance means. You have yours; your friends have theirs; but do you all agree on what high maintenance means? Probably not.

And then there’s men. Men have their own ideas about what high maintenance means too. And one thing I’ve noticed is that their standards for labeling a woman “high maintenance” are usually lower than ours. Sometimes a lot lower.

Now hanging labels on people, especially negative ones, is not a great habit to have. But the term high maintenance is bandied about a lot between men, enough to make it at least worth finding out more about what it means. High standards or high maintenance? Which are you?

1.  You Have a Lust for Material Things (and They Have to Be the Best…)

This is the woman whose tastes take serious money to indulge. If she doesn’t have it, her credit cards are permanently maxed out.

She watches the Home Shopping Network, sees a piece of costume jewelry she likes, and calls Tiffany to get it made up in diamonds. That new BMW convertible? Can she have one in maroon with cream leather interior? She does the fashion shows in New York, Paris and London. She has separate closets for her dresses, skirts, blouses, coats and shoes (250 pairs and counting…); in a room twice the size of her bedroom (which is huge).

Her dog has pedicures and a diamond collar. She has a private jet hire company on speed dial. You get the picture.

To some men, this is not a deal breaker. If he has the financial clout to support her desired lifestyle, he may be willing, even happy, to do so. Some men like to display their material success through their women; and if she is genuinely appreciative, then he may get real pleasure out of seeing his girlfriend or wife looking a million dollars.

But it’s very easy for a woman with this outlook to appear greedy, materialistic and entitled. And these are not attractive qualities.

2. You Have an Obsession with Your Appearance

There’s a degree of overlap here with the case above. That woman would undoubtedly insist on her manicures and pedicures, frequent trips to the hairdresser and the rest of it. But we’re talking about something much more here.

This woman never leaves the house without full make-up. She frets about her hair being windblown, rushes to the restroom when she arrives at her destination to touch up her appearance, and has hysterics if a tiny mark appears on her immaculate clothes. She won’t go anywhere she might get dirty or muddy, and makes her man wait until they get home to kiss her, in case her lipstick is smudged.

She might make a religion out of her physical wellbeing too, spending hours at the gym and obsessing over her diet (there’s never anything on the menu she can eat, because she has excluded so many entire food groups).

Of course, looking after your health and your well-being is something we should all do. But it can take up a lot of time and energy, and so it works best when a couple are making similar investments in their personal appearance.

But some women take it to such excessive levels that they are always thinking about it.

They are invariably late (because it takes them so long to get ready), and they are always looking in the mirror (or looking out for a mirror to look into. When someone starts checking their appearance in shop windows, alarm bells should ring). They never want to do anything spontaneous (in case their clothes get spoiled, or their makeup ruined), and they will never, ever go anywhere or do anything where they might get dirty or sweaty (except the gym. They can shower and apply full makeup before they leave, so that doesn’t count).

3. You Are Too Emotionally Needy

This woman calls her boyfriend 3 times before breakfast. She wants his advice on everything, even (or especially) things on which he doesn’t feel qualified to advise (what should she wear, what should she have for breakfast, should she take a change of clothes to work with her). She calls him when she arrives at work to tell him she got there safely and to ask if he did too. She calls him mid-morning to ask if he thinks it’s OK to have a snack. She calls him before lunch to ask what he thinks she should eat. She calls him after lunch to check he’s eaten too…

And she doesn’t see anything wrong with it. After all, he’s her boyfriend. They’re connected. They’re in love. So of course she has to tell him everything.

It’s true that some couples do like constant affirmation of their emotional connection. I once worked with a woman whose husband was too “delicate” to work (her word), and she was forever on the phone to him. She called him “pet lamb”, and urged him not to do anything as strenuous as the washing up if he didn’t feel like it. “It’s alright, pet lamb, you just rest. I’ll do it later, when I get home”. These couples do exist.

But not many men will tolerate this for long. If you need constant reassurance of your boyfriend’s love, and your own desirability in his eyes; then you probably have self-esteem issues, which you need to work on. As it is, you are coming over as far too needy and clingy.

4. You Are Too Functionally Needy

You are the woman who is hopeless with something – or possibly with everything. Whenever something difficult or adverse happens, your first instinct is to get someone else to help – or, better still, do it for you. Maybe you are naturally dependent; maybe you lack confidence in your own ability to grapple with technology or practical problems; maybe you’re just lazy. Whatever the reason, you’re always expecting someone else to take over for you.

Now a lot of guys will enjoy doing things for you, especially things that make them look strong, competent or clever (intellectually or technically). But expecting him to rush to your rescue every time you need to change a light bulb; well, that’s just going to make him think “Wow! Can’t she do anything for herself?” (That’s unless he’s very insecure, in which case he’ll probably feel validated by being so constantly needed.)

But even if you can get away with this in your private life, you’ll be in trouble if you try to carry it into your workplace. In that case, the best thing you can do is to offer to help out yourself whenever you can.

High Maintenance Isn’t Always Bad…

As I’ve shown, none of these behaviours are intrinsically bad or wrong. The second one, especially, is something that anyone with reasonable self-respect would practice, to some degree. But there is a cut-off point, and that’s the point where you cross the line: the point where high standards become high maintenance.

And the main difficulty is that everybody’s cut-off point is different. So you need to be in sync with your boyfriend about the difference. High standards or high maintenance? As long as you both agree where the line is drawn, you won’t have any problems.

There’s definitely an element of having high standards in this debate. And there’s nothing wrong with having high standards; on the contrary; it’s greatly to your credit. So how has this debate even arisen?

…But There Are Reasons Why Men Don’t Like it

Well, it arises because there’s something about the high maintenance woman that grates with men. There’s something about her that they really don’t like. And that something is centered around a man’s concept of freedom.

A high maintenance woman (as men see it) drains a man’s reserves; his money, his time, his energy and his patience; and with it, his freedom. With a high maintenance woman, a man is no longer free to be himself. Instead he’s working all out, every day, to give her whatever she wants. He’s walking on eggshells to preserve her peace of mind; to stop her feeling offended or slighted. Or else he’s feeling inadequate, because she’s not satisfied with whatever he provides.

High standards or high maintenance?
Whichever way he looks at it, he’s not happy.

However, the man who actively labels his woman “high-maintenance” is much rarer than the man who just knows he’s not happy with this woman. For him, the problem is that she seems to be impossible to please.

A man measures his success with a woman by how completely he can make her happy. A happy woman equals a happy man. But a high maintenance woman will make him feel that pleasing her is a struggle. And that means that life with her will be a struggle; and that being with her will make him feel like a failure.

This is why men tend to avoid women they consider high maintenance.

High Standards or High Maintenance – But Which is High Value?

Don’t confuse being high maintenance with being high value. Being high maintenance is all about how much you feel entitled to demand. It’s got nothing to do with your standards.

All high value women will have high standards, but those standards shouldn’t be arbitrary, petty or based on selfishness and greed. A high value woman is defined by how much she has to give to a relationship; not how much she can manage to take.

And you should always try to be a high value woman. But that’s another post…

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Alice

    My boyfriend broke up with me because he said I am high maintenance and a drama queen. I don’t agree, but I still love him. How can I change so that he will want me back?

    1. Sarah

      Don’t change to please other people because it will make you resent them. Think about why he sees you like that and whether you want to change anything about yourself and if you do, work on it.

  2. Helen

    My ex said I was high maintenance. A bit of background: we lived abroad for a year and he said that he felt he had to be a father to me during that time and that he wasn’t enough to make me happy. I’m a very sensitive person and he said I was hyper-sensitive and over-emotional and he just found it too much to deal with. When we got home he withdrew and said he needed space and that made feel jealous and insecure and so I acted much too needy. I’m trying to work on building up my confidence so that I don’t come over so high maintenance (in all the wrong ways) in future. I really hope he will see how much I’ve changed and that we can get back together. Any advice?

    1. Sarah

      You are doing the right thing; confidence is very important as is loving yourself first. When you love yourself you lose the crippling dependence on other people’s approval which is what makes people needy. Well done!

  3. Chloe Shaw

    A couple of men have called me high maintenance, but I simply don’t agree. Once I almost told a man that while he might think I’m high maintenance, I thought he was a slob. But I do really want to find someone and be happy. Does that mean I will simply have to lower my standards?

    1. Sarah

      Why were you dating a man you thought was a slob?

      It sounds as if you are setting the bar too low at the beginning. Maybe you think you can change a man into what you want; well, you can’t, any more than he can change you. And you shouldn’t want to. Don’t start dating a man who doesn’t fulfil your basic standards. It will never end well.

  4. Jim

    Most women nowadays are very very high maintenance with their very very high standards too.

    1. Sarah

      Everyone needs standards. But they shouldn’t rely on other people to attain or maintain them; that’s the difference.

      1. The Very Truth

        Another excellent reason why so many of us men are still single today, because of these type of women that are all over the place nowadays unfortunately. Grow very old all alone with a bunch of your cats ladies.

        1. Sarah

          Of course that means you will grow old all alone too – but without the cats for company.

      2. Reema

        I disagree. I think relationships do involve relying on people to an extent. If I am giving my time to talk to a guy or show interest, I do expect him to be a man and be initiative, be available for an emotionally balanced and committed relationship. I have been told that by one of my exes who said he couldn’t give me what I want which translates to “ I don’t have the bandwidth and I don’t want to give you the investment towards this relationship.” I have high standards (taller than me, college educated and shared direction into the relationship as well as shared political ideologies with respect to interracial relationships and spiritual values). I definitely do not expect myself to be dating a John Mayer type but I also wouldn’t be open to dating a guy too short for me (I am 5’8” so I am tall for a woman) or a guy who is not working towards his career or smokes pot or a staunch conservative.

        And if this guy doesn’t exist for me, I am totally okay with staying single. But I definitely wouldn’t want to settle for less in terms of character or values and yes, chemistry as well as some physical characteristics

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