One of the most damaging and destructive beliefs or fears I have ever had was that I am “high maintenance”. I lived in fear of asking too much, of wanting too much, in fear of being judged as selfish and needy.
There were two places where this manifested: in my romantic relationships and at work - and the effect was the same.
Over and over, I prided myself on being low maintenance. I took care of things myself. I never asked for help. I learned to be modest, never asking for what I really wanted.
I thought out my requests to my ex-husband, boyfriends, lovers. I rarely asked or said anything that would hurt their feelings, inconvenience or overwhelm them. I learned to hold back desires - what I wanted to do, where to go, in sex - to compromise, to ask what had the most chance of being provided, but rarely what I had actually wanted. I toned down desires, calculating what would a “low maintenance girl” want.
Most of all, I feared them leaving for the low maintenance girl. The “it” girl was easy-going, put-together, stable and most of all - undemanding.
The most damaging place where I learned to hold back was restraining my emotions and adhering to the stoic masculine model of pushing through emotional challenges. I strived to be "calm and normal".
I held back what was really happening inside. Every time I said “I am fine!”, I closed the door on a fire that burned inside. Every time I did not ask for a hug when I needed it, I cut blood flow to my emotions and watched a part of me wither away and die, like a limb from a gangrene. Every time I did not ask to slow down when my body said it wanted to, I denied myself the attention I really needed. Every time I did not ask for quality attention, I deaden a piece of my sexuality, my womanhood, my femininity.
With every neglect of what I needed in the name of being low maintenance, I developed resentment. The part of me that needed hearing was being silenced. The part that needed to be held was being abandoned. My fire was dimming - and I was the last one to know.
This deep cycle of holding back and resenting, retreating back further and then resenting more, kept playing itself out in every relationship (and relationships at work were no different). And I resented the men because the desires were still there. I resented them even though it was I who did not express my truth.
It was I who held back. It was I who believed that my needs and desires were not worth the attention. I had shirked from my own responsibility to express my desires and ask for what I needed.
“To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.”
~ Federico Garcia Lorca, Blood Wedding and Yerma
I watched my relationships fail from the sidelines, helplessly, in resentment. It is from this place that hell broke loose. I created drama to get attention. I burst out in anger and blame when my needs were not being met. I shut down and withdrew, in hopes that someone will come to rescue me. Paradoxically, I had become the woman I feared I'd be - the "high-maintenance bitch".
Eventually I buckled at the knees in resignation and began the slow descent into invisibility and reclusion. Along the way, this behavior became an unconscious habit. I had learned to be helpless. It had become a way of life.
Every time we compromise and hold back, keep silent and do not ask what we want and need, we cut blood flow to what was essentially us – our emotions and our desires.
“Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.”
~ Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
Women know this type of sacrifice really well. It’s in our culture. It's in the fiber of everyday language and thought.
But we have no one to blame. It is us, women, who teach men to look for women who are low maintenance. We hold back lest he'd think we are high maintenance. And the worst part is that women tear each other apart for asking for what we want, vying for the low maintenance status as if were some prize. I commonly hear “She is so high maintenance; I don’t know what he sees in her” used to criticize and demonize women who have the confidence to know and ask for what they want.
Women, it's time to take responsibility for our own part. Every time we hold back, we reinforce the stereotype that women are high maintenance and not worth the attention that we need. We reinforce the norm that women should not take up space.
It's time to create a new feminist movement, where we take responsibility for taking up space for being a woman - and where we teach men how to meet us where we are.
And it's not going to be easy. We live in a culture – a global culture - where the marker of success is a masculine one. Where powering through emotions is the standard and feelings are just obstacles in getting to the goal.
This strategy worked well when women had no space in decision making and society. Thanks to the feminist movement of our mothers' generation, women got a seat at the table. They fought against men using their own tricks, with force and rational thinking. And they've come a long way: we got a chance to express our voice.
Yet something was lost in the process. Women learned to be men to succeed in this world. We matched men at being masculine: at thinking linearly, tapering down emotions, toning down our passion. We lost our ability to connect and work collectively; we lost the power of seeing multi-dimensionally; we lost our connection to feelings; we lost the ability to communicate heart to heart instead of bottom line. We lost love.
Along the way, we – men and women alike – confused femininity with the high maintenance of the sort when women manipulate and control. We feared losing "the one" because he could be scared off by the “controlling bitch”. We chose to lie to him and diminish our desires – our life-force and our birthright – in fear of losing him.
Our culture calls it compromise. I call it self-sacrifice.
We grow up with this cultural belief that attention is selfish. That asking for attention from others means intruding or bothering them. Essentially, we adopted a position that we are not worthy of attention.
It's time to change that. We are now in a different place. This is a new feminist movement where women are taking responsibility for reclaiming their woman and teaching men what that means.
Because, the opposite of being a "high-maintenance bitch" is asking for what you want and how you want it - and owning your desire. Your desire is most potent at the time when it arises. Let it out fully, and let your fire roar!
Women, my plea to you is: take up space and learn to ask for what you want. Be as emotional as you need to. Ask your man to hold you where you are - whether it’s in ecstatic laughter or a cathartic cry. Do not apologize for not being one way or another. Just be.