In fact, can we retire that annoying term once and for all? Asking for what you want in a relationship is always smart, says dating guru Madison. As a dating coach and relationship columnist, I travel the country talking to young women about their love lives. What I hear over and over again is that they aren’t satisfied in their relationships—but they aren’t telling their guys what the issue is because, they say, “I don’t want to be high maintenance.” Well, why not? Being high maintenance isn’t bad; it might even improve your relationship. Let me convince you.
First off, what you think is high maintenance isn’t.
Many women I talk to are neurotically obsessed with projecting a laid-back image to guys, which affects everything from what they’ll eat on a date to how much time they’ll wait before responding to a text. “Women worry about losing a guy if they ask too much,” says Joy Davidson, Ph.D., a New York City therapist. “So we tend to put men’s needs above our own and hide what we want in a relationship.” One 31-year-old researcher from San Francisco told me she was afraid to discuss exclusivity with a guy she’d been seeing for months: “I didn’t want to weigh down the fun with ‘the talk,’” she says.”But in the end, the relationship didn’t progress; it just fizzled.” A 25-year-old fashion retailer in Manhattan has had similar concerns: “I worry about telling guys I’m annoyed about something they’ve done because I don’t want to seem too sensitive.”
Ladies, we’re being ridiculous! Wanting to know where a relationship is going is not high maintenance. Wanting to eventually get married is not high maintenance. Wanting to hang out with a guy you’re dating or getting upset when he does something upsetting—not high maintenance! These are normal human behaviors and basic relationship rights.
Besides, guys can be high maintenance too.
Let’s turn the tables. Take a moment to define “high maintenance.” For Tammy, 29, a Miami lawyer, it’s “being generally annoying, imposing your preferences on others, and refusing to compromise.” Now ask yourself: Don’t some typical “male” behaviors fit that bill? Demanding silence during a big game, texting “wat r u up 2” at three in the morning, or refusing to plan an evening more than a few hours in advance? Those habits are far more annoying than expecting a guy to text you back or wanting to know if he’s sleeping with other people. Yet we never question men’s needs. Can’t we give ourselves the same freedom?
And guess what: Men want to make you happy.
Perhaps we’re afraid of expressing ourselves in relationships because deep down we fear that the men we’re with don’t want to be with us. We worry that if we make a peep, we’ll wake the sleeping giant and he’ll suddenly realize, “Holy crap! I’m dating someone! Run!” First of all, good riddance if he’s that squirrelly. Second—brace yourselves—“guys enjoy and seek out relationships,” says Niobe Way, Ph.D., the author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection. The 1,000-plus men I’ve interviewed back this up: Most don’t want just a hookup; they want a partner.
Another reason we should banish the term “high maintenance” from our vocabulary: It implies that men look at relationships as obligations or chores (like the dishes!). Yes, they take work. But most men get this and are happy to oblige. “A guy who cares about you,” says Davidson, “isn’t going to be turned off by having to make a bit of an effort.”
Finally, being high maintenance means being you.
One reason showing your high-maintenance side can be scary: To get what you need, you have to say what you need, and that means being vulnerable. But what’s scarier? Pretending everything’s peachy all the time, because then you’ll end up with a guy who treats your feelings the way you do—as if they don’t exist. “Finding someone who is right for you means being you, and that means expressing what you need to be happy,” says Davidson. “When someone dazzles us, it’s easy to lose sight of that truth.”
Erin, 30, a publicist in New York City, says she recently “made a pledge to stand up for what I want and don’t want. I don’t settle for behavior that is unacceptable.” Her tactic is working: “When a guy I was seeing went to hang out with his friends one night after we’d been out together,” she recalls, “I didn’t play it cool. I told him it made me feel awful, and we talked it through. It didn’t work out with him, but my pledge stayed in place, and now I’m with someone who listens. Every woman deserves that.”